By definition, serendipity is unforeseen—you can’t plan for it. Another synonym is “good luck.” When it happens, it feels great: A former client calls you out of the blue and within a few days you suddenly have a major new contract that you never could have anticipated in your business planning. An executive at an existing client unexpectedly leaves her company, and immediately contacts you to see if you could help her in her new role. An old contact gives your name to a corporate executive who emails you because it turns out he has a need in your area of expertise.
No amount of planning can predict these unexpected opportunities.
Or can it? You can’t anticipate the exact break you’re going to get, but you can plan on doing things that will greatly increase the odds of these serendipitous events occurring. And they will—if you do the right things.
In short, when it comes to growing your client base, you actually can plan for the unplannable.
Here are six strategies that will amplify the serendipity in your professional life:
1. Reach out regularly. Contact current clients, past clients, and your most important VIP relationships on a regular, rotating basis. Your goal is a meeting (phone, video, in-person as circumstances allow) to discuss their issues and share helpful insights and perspectives with them.
How often do you reach out to the individuals in your core networks? If you only do this a few times a week, that’s not enough.
2. Educate your market. Make sure clients, prospects, and yes, friends, actually know what you do and the extent of your/your firm’s full capabilities. If they don’t know, then when they have a problem that you could help them with, they won’t bother to think of you.
Personal Example: I got tired of having the large roofing companies not show up to fix my roof issues at our house in Santa Fe. So I hired an individual who repaired roofs, who ended up doing a great job. One day, I offhandedly mentioned that I needed to repair some stucco. He said, “My brother does stucco repair.” So I hired his brother as well. Further down the road, I asked his brother, “So, what do you specialize in? What kind of work do you like to do?” Turns out he’s an excellent painter, so I asked him to repaint my garage and basement area. And on it went—soon, he was also refinishing some woodwork for me. And building a “coyote” fence around my garden…and adding a flagstone path on one side of the house…
You get the idea.
Are your clients familiar with the full extent of your capabilities? Do you share examples with them about the kinds of work you are doing for other organizations?
3. Give visibility to your thought leadership. Write and publish regularly, so that your name and your content is not just visible to your prospective clients but also well-catalogued in search engines. Gaining new business from existing clients, getting enthusiastic referrals, and earning word-of-mouth praise are certainly your gold standard for business development. Yet, many clients do online research around issues of interest and also search for providers online. “Publishing” these days is a pretty broad term—it could mean a full-length article that is featured on a magazine or newspaper’s website, or it could simply be a short blog or podcast interview that you post on your own or your firm’s website.
Are you actively building your recognition in the market?
4. Put yourself at the crossroads of the marketplace. The more you are out talking to people in your market and in your field of expertise, the more you’ll have to say to the next prospect or client you call. Be like a bee or butterfly who alights on dozens of flowers, both depositing some of the pollen from the last plant they visited and also taking some of the new pollen with them, stuck to their legs, to share at the next the stopover. You never know what interesting tidbit you might pick up from a conversation, or when someone you connect with might remember you a year later and mention your name to someone else.
Are you having lots of conversations with interesting people in your field?
5. Help Clients on a Personal Level. When clients feel you’ve helped them personally as well as institutionally, they become far more likely to talk to friends and colleagues about your work and refer you to other potential clients. A personal connection creates passion and enthusiasm. Personal help can mean many things—for example:
- Providing advice/being a sounding board on career issues and opportunities.
- Introducing your client to valuable contacts and expanding their network
- Adding value around issues that are important but not a direct focus on your work, e.g., helping them to improve their team’s effectiveness, become a better communicator, build a better relationship with their own manager or boss, strengthen their leadership skills, and so on.
- Facilitating an interest they have outside of work (culture, sports, nonprofit, etc.)
Are you connecting personally with clients, helping them succeed as individual executives, and creating “personal promoters”?
6. Be generous and caring. If trust is the lubricant of relationships, generosity fuels them. Generosity is winsome, appealing, and builds trust in your character and intentions. The all-around handyman I mentioned earlier was once finishing a job at my house. I needed to move several heavy pieces of furniture out to my driveway for pickup by Goodwill. I said to him, “Do you have another 20 minutes or so to help me move this furniture? Of course we’ll add the time to your hours.” We nearly broke our backs lifting several heavy bureaus up some stairs, down another flight, and then out the front of my house. I then went to get my checkbook, and he waved his hand dismissively, saying to me, “Andrew—you’re a great customer—I’m here to help, and I won’t take any payment for moving this furniture. Forget it.” And he quickly departed.
Are you generous with your time, wisdom, and relational capital?
Do these things regularly, and you will soon find yourself marveling at that unexpected client opportunity that seems to just fall into your lap. But this time, you’ll smile and realize it’s not just happenstance…