Need clients and referrals? Why taking a targeted approach is best

All too often, we get a request out of the blue for a meeting from someone we haven’t seen for years. This happened to me with one individual about a year ago.

We met for a coffee and he proceeded to tell me he was out of his long-term job. He had started a consultancy business and thought it might be beneficial to my clients.  Eight months went by and I received another request for a meeting so “I can tell you what I’m doing now”. A quick LinkedIn search revealed he was doing something completely different. Out of politeness, I suggested we do a quick telephone meeting so he could update me.

BNI (Business Network International) tells its members that to get referrals from fellow chapter members, it is important to have visibility – for example, show up at meetings and have regular 1-2-1 meetings. Consistency is key. Suddenly trying to rekindle past relationships is not the best way to go if you want to build your client database.

If people are considering starting their own consultancy or subcontracting, they will gain a lot more from their contacts by understanding anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s “number”. He proposes that humans can confidently maintain 150 stable relationships. These are personal reciprocated relationships. If you subtract family, extended family and close friends, you’re left with a core number of people you can have meaningful business relationships with at any time. 

So, if you’re setting out to build a consulting or professional practice, you need to be clear on who can help you on your journey – and who you can help. Develop meaningful, reciprocated relationships with them prior to embarking on your enterprise (if possible) and interact with them as quickly and as often as possible.

Whether you accept Dunbar’s research findings or not (they are in his book, How Many Friends Does One Person Need?), there is a limit to the amount of information you can hold in your mind at any time. Therefore, developing a list of people you should be in touch with and monitoring your interaction with them is crucial to building a successful practice.

Dealing with many people in the start-up phase of a professional technical practice has yielded the following best practice:

  • When contemplating setting up, be clear on what it is you are offering and who you will offer it to.
  • Work out a list of contacts who may be either interested in your service or influential with the people who would engage you.
  • Enter these people into a CRM (customer relationship management) program.
  • Develop a plan to interact frequently with these people, whether it is face to face, electronically or by telephone.
  • Monitor that interaction and take note of what you could do for them.
  • Stick to the plan – the results will take time, but they will come.

The adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” certainly applies when starting a professional practice.

If you need help setting up your professional practice, email me at

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