I was chatting with a colleague the other day, who was concerned that she had not heard from a client in a while and she was starting to imagine all the worst possible outcomes. “The client hates me. He’s found someone else with lower rates. I made a horrible mistake and he hasn’t told me.” Blah blah blah… I know; we have all been down that road.
She decided that she would focus her attention on updating her web site to reflect a new aspect of her business. I suggested she call a few clients and ask them to tell her how they describe her to their colleagues, on the assumption that those would be effective words and phrases to use in her web site.
Then the lightbulb went on — what a great reason to call the Silent Client! She called him and left a message that she was updating her web site and would like to chat for a few minutes to find out how he has described her to his business partners. He was happy to talk, and she got some compelling phrases she will work into her marketing material.
But the real payoff was that the client then mentioned the delay in sending her the expected project, explained that they were in the process of landing a big contract themselves and would be back to needing her services by the end of the month. Now she knew she could expect more work from this client soon, and she had some new ideas on how to describe her value to prospective clients.
This is a great reason to reach out to a client you have not heard from in a while, a prospect you think could be ready to use your services, or a colleague with whom you expect to share referrals and subcontracting. And yes, it requires that you pick up the phone; email completely misses the point of the contact, which is to engage the person in a conversation and find out their current situation and concerns. You will probably get sent to voice mail, so write out a short, friendly message like this:
I’m reviewing my marketing material and reaching out to some of my clients/colleagues to find out how they describe me to a colleague. I would love to chat with you for a few minutes to get your thoughts. I’ll be around all day today; feel free to give me a call at …”
Every conversation you have will give you useful information, and you get a great reason to invite someone to think about when to call you. It also helps you self-correct if you hear people describing you in ways that do not highlight your value. If the feedback you hear does not reflect how you would like to be seen, this is a good opportunity to update (not correct or argue with!) your contact on the additional ways you have worked with similar clients. Be sure to remove descriptions from your marketing material and web content that downplay the value of what you do, based on the feedback you get.
You may also learn that your clients and colleagues see you more expansively than you do. If your stomach clenches when you realize how you are seen, you know you are on to something useful. Check out my thoughts on the Imposter Syndrome, extracted from The Reluctant Entrepreneur: Making a Living Doing What You Love.