How to Farm For New Clients

Playing the long game builds solid business relationships, a stellar industry reputation, and a serious income.

Licensed from Adobe Stock // Jacob Lund

elcome to the age of lazy where everyone clamors for fame and figure-figures within the next five minutes. A time where people find me adorable for being patient, while I nod, smile, and review revenue projections that inch toward $210,000 in 2020. Believe me when I say that bragging about one’s income is gauche — this is more to demonstrate that you can have a viable consulting career without falling prey to shiny objects and shady growth hackers. You can be an introvert or fly under the radar and still shout your shine. You can do the work that makes you proud without scamming your clients because someone told you to “fake it until you make it.”

You can shine without worrying if you’ll flicker and flare out from the heat.

Brief aside: don’t use your clients as a training ground. Clients hire pros, not predators posing as house pets. Learn your skill from classes, a full-time gig, apprenticing or working for a pro. Don’t sell web design services when you don’t even know how to use Photoshop.

Here’s the clincher, so hold on to your pantalones, friends — you can be a decent, ethical person, who’s not raking in follower counts and projecting larger-than-life personalities, and can earn a sustainable income. You can do the work that doesn’t make you feel as if you have to shower afterward. How?

But how, Felicia? HOW????!!! WELL, FRIEND, LET ME TELL YOU. Start by focusing on three perspective shifts:

1. Define what is your “enough”

There’s a scene in Wall Street where Gordon Gekko regales Bud Fox with his hunger for world domination. Forget about being an executive making $400,000 a year and flying first class, no, no, no, Gekko wants to be liquid. Later on the film, in his moment of reckoning, Bud wonders how much is ever enough.

I’ve thought about this concept of “enough” in a culture that shouts “more.” I don’t care what other people make unless it’s for education and context for how I price my work. I’ve mapped out how much I need to take in a month to pay my bills, prioritize how I want to spend my money, and account for few nice things each year whether that be a trip or a fancy bottle of perfume.

When I start to salivate for more without a logical reason that grounds me in the way I want to live my life, my work starts to become blinded by that want. I need X amount to live, but do I really need Y? Sure, if I get Y, I’m not going to kick it out of bed, but sometimes it’s good to work within self-defined constraints. And if I earn more than I need, how can I put that money to good use? How can I share my privilege with those who matter to me?

Realize that a prospective client or peer relationship’s value isn’t rooted in how much money you can pilfer out of their pockets. I’ve been chatting with a VC, whom I met through my Medium brand development articles for a year before he granted me access to his client portfolio. One would think I was wasting my time, he was stringing me along, I should have “always be closing”— and I’m here to tell you that’s an unfortunate way to think.

My relationship with this industry titan gave me access to points-of-view and a network I wouldn’t ordinarily have been exposed to. His expertise and experience formed a business mentorship that was lacking in my life. When I started pitching the idea of doing week-long brand intensives, he challenged my model considerably. Poked holes in it. Offered suggestions and ideas. Someone who doesn’t have time to waste took an hour out of his day to help me see through what a brand workshop could look like. It’s when I came back to him with a revised model that he introduced me to his clients.

Regardless if he had ever offered me a single piece of business, the value of his time and mentorship is incalculable. The mentorship was more than enough — the money was icing. And I truly believe this is one of the reasons I’m now his go-to consultant when it comes to brand and story development. I can see and appreciate the big picture.

Playing the long game is all about seeing past the fast dollar and understanding the nuances of a mutually-beneficial professional relationship.

2. Keep your eyes on your own paper

Over the past two years, Facebook and Google fucked everyone gently with a chainsaw (a Heathers reference for the Gen-Xers in the house) with their ever-changing algorithms, which made spends less effective and efficient. Spending $50,000 on an IG influencer won’t guarantee you a single sale, but you keeping doing it because you were taught to hunt. Catch and kill. Shoot what moves.

For the growth bros who’ve growled and condescended in my mentions: while growth tactics play an integral role in every business, the problem becomes when people get high on their own supply. When they value growth above all else. If it doesn’t make money right now, it doesn’t make sense. They become allergic to fundamentals and tethered to tactics.

I’m not advocating against growth marketing, obviously, rather I’m preaching balance.

Let the Slack hackers peddle their get-rich-or-die-trying tips. Watch them publish the hollow garbage that’s already been played out in Forbes, Inc., Fast Company, and Business Insider. There’s always someone hungry for a shortcut. There’s an endless supply of people who don’t want to do the work.

Fact: you can’t hack your way into someone’s head and heart. And while you may have suckered your way into their wallet once, they’ll catch on to your game and grow tired of it. And of you.

Grab the tools you need, but focus on your own hustle. Someone’s middle or end should never be your beginning. You don’t know the hot luck they had, the privileges afforded or how hard they’ve worked behind the scenes. You just see the highlights reel — even when they’re being real.

3. Be a farmer, not a hunter

Be a farmer and stop looking at the land next door and down the hill. Plant your own seeds, till the soil, reap the harvest. Focus on your own game, keep your eyes on your own paper — don’t crib off someone else because you’ll be one of the sea-of-same. Someone who’s flare — when the trends end — will invariably flame out.

Here’s a fact: My VC friend has been in private equity for twenty years and every single company in his portfolio has experienced positive earnings and long-term growth.

Here’s another fact: 85% of my clients over the past year are a result of the Medium articles I’ve been publishing for the past five years.

Know what’s sexy? Picking up your hoe and farming every single day and hunting strategically. Hunting when you have a solid product or service. Hunting when you’re surgical about the customer you’re going after. Hunting when you can tell a decent fucking story.

How do you start farming if you’re a city girl like me and you bring pepper spray to the garden in the event of snakes? YES, I’VE DONE THIS AND I’M NOT PROUD.

1. Show your smarts

I’m going to be blunt — there are a lot of stupid people out in the world. You know the type. Shamelessly strutting in their YouTube videos, speaking in exclamation points. They insert “innovate” and “ideate” into every sentence. Their blind arrogance is grating. They dole out advice on how to do the thing they’ve never done successfully, consistently, over time. Their LinkedIn posts and Medium articles are low-grade Seth Godin circa 2009 rip-offs.

Now is the time when humility, authority, expertise, and experience are revered. You don’t have to have a fancy degree or twenty years of experience. You just have to know 10% more than the person behind you at the checkout line. You share the work once you’ve done the work. And you give away your smarts for free. It not only serves as a counterpoint to the uninformed, hollow garbage teeming in the online space, but it demonstrates to people that you are (or are becoming) an authority.

That you have something real and tangible to share based on experience — not because some hacker told you that sharing fake advice you cribbed off Business Insider was going to make bank.

You build trust. And you can’t manufacture trust with Facebook ads or co-opt it in influencer campaigns. You have to earn it. You have to prove you know your stuff, and you have to be generous with how you share it.

Whenever I get on the phone with a prospective client — whether they end up hiring me or not — I give them one valuable, actionable tip. I tell them something they didn’t know so they walk away from the call getting a taste of what it’s like to work with me and they feel good because they learned something they didn’t know thirty minutes ago.

Whether it’s on LinkedIn, Medium or IG Stories, show what you know. Show up consistently and deliver value. You may not earn the cash money millions now, but you’ll bank on longevity when all the hackers flare out.

2. Build real relationships

Business is not a numbers game. If someone tells you this, run. I don’t care if you’re in your penguin PJs or boxers, RUN. I think of my network as a series of three concentric circles. The innermost ring is composed of my megaphoners — these are friends, peers, former colleagues who can vouch for my work and smarts.

They introduce me to people in the second ring, my adjacent network. The third, outermost ring represents people in my industry but isn’t directly connected to me or my peers.

My work is to nurture my innermost ring by catching up with them in-person, via Zoom or email on a consistent basis so they know I’m still alive. My first ring helps me cultivate relationships in the second ring through introductions.

And then I build relationships in the third ring via online circles and communities, offline conferences and events, creating content that doesn’t put people to sleep, or by simply hitting the reply button on a list I’m subscribed to and chatting up the author because I like what they have to say.

Here’s the most important thing — don’t be a selfish motherfucker. Don’t befriend only to use and pillage. Remember trust? You don’t earn it by being smarmy and using people. No one likes to be used. I can’t tell you how many strangers have the audacity to ask me for things without even making a point to form a business relationship.

Give without expectation. Give with high intent and low attachment. Make introductions to people in your network. Refer to them projects. Be a decent, kind person.

Over time, the relationships you’ve built will become your miniature army.

3. Create a knock-their-socks-off customer experience

People may not always remember the specifics of your products or service, but they’ll remember their experience with you and how they felt as a result. You can be the smartest kid on the block, but if you’re arrogant, lazy, disorganized, or unhelpful, people will remember that above all else. People forget a little thing known as RETENTION.

You know, keeping a customer once you’ve acquired them. Ensuring they’ll blab to all their friends about you.

People remember efficiency, effectiveness, and the care you’ve taken to make sure they’re satisfied with the product or service they’ve purchased. You deliver a stellar customer experience from pitch to post-purchase.

Because there’s nothing more cost-effective and valuable than referrals. People who’ve paid you their hard-earned money and are willing to vouch publicly that you’re not an idiot.

We’re in a unique moment where shiny is losing its sheen. People want to go back to basics. A solid product. A compelling story. A memorable experience. You don’t get that through Facebook or PPC ads — they help, for sure, but that can’t be your sole play. You succeed by showing up, doing the work, and being human. Every single day. You tend to the land. And watch the wonderful harvest you’ll reap.

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Felicia C. Sullivan

Written by

Marketing Exec/Author. Work in Human Parts, OneZero, Forge, Index & Marker. Hire me: Brand & Content eBooks: List:

Falling Into Freelancing

All the tips, tools, and resources you need to thrive after your 9 to 5.

Felicia C. Sullivan

Written by

Marketing Exec/Author. Work in Human Parts, OneZero, Forge, Index & Marker. Hire me: Brand & Content eBooks: List:

Falling Into Freelancing

All the tips, tools, and resources you need to thrive after your 9 to 5.

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