How to “Get” Clients for your Private Practice

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By Nel Slater.

So you’re looking for clients, eh?

As I contemplate the topic of how an independent career practitioner “gets” clients, I realize that my own practice has grown organically over the past 5 years; however, there are a few intentional things that I do as well.

If you’d like to attract and secure more clients for your private practice, read on. Found within the description of each of the four tactics that have worked for me, I have some questions for you to consider.

1. Get Clear About Your Goals

To begin, while this first point seems less about “tactics,” it is absolutely essential. I began my practice by following the same advice I give my clients; that is, I got really clear about my own goals. It’s amazing how internal clarity leads to external results. As Edna Mode (The Incredibles) says, “Luck favors the prepared.” My own internal clarity comes from knowing what my favourite skills and gifts are and what kind of people I want to attract.

If you are having a hard time getting clients, I would begin by asking you about your goals. How clear are you on what you love to do? In what area of expertise do you feel most confident? You don’t have to be good at everything but you should be good at one thing, at least to start. I’ve known many practitioners who try to cover all the bases, and in doing so spread themselves thin and dilute their effectiveness, as well as their own confidence in what they offer.

What do you picture yourself doing when you are in “the zone?” When do you lose track of time as you are helping your clients? The answers to these questions offer clues to your best gifts and talents, and you should be building your practice around these areas. Then daily, picture yourself doing this. No, really. Get clear on your direction and watch the road miraculously unfold in front of you. For me, I love generating possibilities for people! So, personally, here’s how I think about this:

“I coach professionals who feel stuck or purposeless, so that they find clarity about their new direction and the action steps to get there.”

Now you do it:

I help (ideal client) to (overcome challenge) so that (desired result).

2. Listen More Than You Speak

Second, whom do you talk with naturally and how does the topic of your business come up? For me, it seems that everyone I meet knows someone with a career problem. Often, when I meet someone, I end up hearing about their day and their life. (This has been my story my whole life, and was actually part of my epiphany in the decision to become a career coach.) Note my approach, though. I focus on the other person. I naturally do more listening than talking, so that’s my natural approach.

I just can’t seem to get excited about “sales”, but I do believe in “serving.” When I realized that one of my motivators is to serve by helping people get real clarity on their goals, it dawned on me that this is the only way I want to connect with potential clients. I have literally walked away from opportunities to “sell” if I didn’t feel the match with who the person is and what I have to offer. I also readily refer people to other high quality services when there’s a more fitting option available.

However, when I do feel that a conversation points toward the possibility that I can serve someone professionally, I don’t hesitate to pass along my card. Even my personal email address has my business signature which provides info about my practice and how to contact me. Are you focused on serving or selling? What is your natural way of connecting with people?

3. Ask for Referrals

My third approach is to simply do a great job with existing clients and then invite them to refer me to others. When do you feel you’ve done a great job with a client? How did that make you feel? Be sure to bottle this energy! Take it in, and let it build your confidence. Post the thank you note or email you receive from the client. Write down the verbal comment he or she made.

Then, follow up with a brief request that they pass along your name to others. You might say, “I was so encouraged by your appreciation of our work together! Would you mind if I asked you to pass along my name to others? If you know of anyone who is a professional feeling feel stuck or purposeless, I’d love to be able to help so that they find clarity about their new direction and the action steps to get there.” See how I used my statement crafted earlier? When you are clear about what you offer, it helps your  satisfied client think of specific people who might benefit from your service.

If you don’t have a compliment to start from, you can simply include a statement in an email or say this at your last client meeting: “My business comes from personal referrals; thanks in advance for passing along my name to others. I so appreciate it!”

Do you ask for referrals? What is your favourite way to suggest that a client pass along your name? 

4. Leverage Your Network

My fourth approach to getting more clients is to make connections with people who have reason to promote me. For some reason, I have a number of good quality friends and acquaintances who really believe in me. They have become champions for my business. As I look back, I realize that I have simply let them know about the work that I’m doing, and how I love helping people find clarity. My passion and professionalism show through.

What people do you already have in your life who have access to a wider network of people? Do you talk with them about your work and what you love to do?

In addition to my natural connections, I have also broadened my network with other business people through community or networking events, as well as through arranging informational interviews to simply meet more business professionals. My primary goal is to learn more about them and my local community, and, as I listen, sometimes these people become champions for my business as well.

Yes, I post occasionally and have plans to make my social media appearances more regular and focused. Yes, I connect on LinkedIn and Facebook. But the majority of my efforts are about setting clear intentions, showing up with an attitude of serving, asking for referrals after providing great service, and connecting with real people.

Nel Slater is the founder of KW Career Counselling – Bringing Clarity to Career, Life & Business. Amongst the many types of clients she serves, Nel enjoys coaching career professionals who feel stuck or purposeless, so that they find clarity about their new direction and the action steps to get there.

Photo by katemangostar on Freepik

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Hi Nel, words of wisdom in your article. I don’t like to sell and like you focus on serving others. I find posting comments on Linkedin and writing articles, helps get the word out about my services. I have gotten clients from being “active” on Linkedin.

Hi Elaine,
Thanks for your comments.
I totally agree that LinkedIn is also very useful; it’s a great way to make natural connections after people resonate with the articles.

HI, Nel good points I also connect with people of influence- we all have those people who are natural connectors who know everyone and love to connect. I also have connected with Executive Recruiters and Executive Coaches who regularly refer people to me. Also after they refer to me I thank them for the referral and try to reciprocate referrals to them. A soft-sell approach is that I connect my clients for informational interviews and I find by doing this it triggers them to think of me when they hear of someone looking for a resume update or career assessments.

I have also put up a flyer at a local coffee shop in an area with a high number of professionals living that has garnished people for me. I regularly meet people for a coffee in all walks of life not promoting my business directly but indirectly and get referrals that way. I also attend employer events -different industry talks ie Artificial Intelligence, engineering, technology environment etc. -the people attending are all in the specific industry and I am the only resume writer there so I pick up clients there and learn more about an industry. The people are impressed I am there and have said: “what a great idea so you are current on our industry I will use you when I am looking for work”. Connecting is fun and you don’t have to see it as marketing but more about learning about industries and people.

Hi Dorothy,
I love your suggestions of connecting with Executive Recruiters and Coaches. I have a few of those in my network already, but I could expand further for sure. You have great suggestions on connecting with various industries, and I totally agree with viewing it as enjoyable. I love your website!

GREAT POST, Nel. Very much enjoyed reading it. Love this “….It’s amazing how internal clarity leads to external results. As Edna Mode (The Incredibles) says, “Luck favors the prepared.” This is so true in looking for a job, in a project or in your business. As you said, we coach this all the time. To take it one step further I recently listened to the book: “Measure, What Matters by John Doerr”. This made me realized that not only do we need to be clear on our ideal client, the service we want to provide. We also need to be clear on our objectives, especially our numbers. In setting up measurable daily, weekly and monthly goals, we can see our progress and where we need to make changes. Being clear matters!

Hi Joanne, Thanks for your comments and additional book suggestion. I like Doerr’s OKR system of setting Objectives with Key Results. I agree that we need to apply this to our business objectives.