by Monique de Maio

I had a big win the other day. The contract was enough all by itself to keep me busy for a few months. As soon as the deal was locked up, I breathed a big sigh of relief, I did a little happy dance at my desk—and started planning how to find more work! After a long time in this business, I’ve learned that I need to fill my pipeline when I have more work than I think I can handle.

All contracts end eventually, even when the project is a wild success and your client loves you and the work you do. That’s why the absolute best way to keep your pipeline full and keep work rolling in is to treat the clients you already have like royalty. Under-promising, over-delivering, being consistent and reliable, and treating everyone you work with integrity and respect is a surefire strategy to keep your hopper full. Repeat business and referrals have always been the bread and butter of my business, and they don’t cost a dime in advertising or marketing.

When I get busy, I am blessed to have a talented and reliable internal team already in place to manage the workload. Luckily, this bench can help me manage the strategic work as well as the tactical execution. The secret to scaling quickly (“ondemand”) beyond the core team is to also have the “go to” reserve bench that is tried, tested, long-standing and knows what is expected of them.  Having these folks ready to go means I don’t have  the added pressure of bringing someone brand new in when the heat is on. By planning beforehand, you can build relationships while you still have the time and attention to ease new collaborators into your work flow and business to ensure a good fit.

I am always on guard against “shiny object syndrome”—the tendency to only give your full attention to whatever or whoever is brand new and right in front of you. I strive every day to make sure that none of my clients ever feel neglected, and that they get the same level of service whether I have many other commitments or none. That’s why the pipeline is so important—by proactively keeping work lined up all the time, I can spend more time on each client and offer them better service, because I make sure that I’m never scrambling or grasping at work that is outside our core competencies.  This helps us–but more importantly, it helps the client know we have subject matter expertise because that is what we do intentionally.

If you’ve ever found yourself in the precarious position of hunting down more work while you already desperately need it, you know that being less busy doesn’t give you ‘extra time’ to follow up leads and build new connections. It just puts the squeeze on, and impacts your judgement and ability to be effective. Following your gut on an opportunity is critical and taking an assignment that is not a fit simply because you need the cash is a very rough position to be in.

Paradoxically, it is more difficult to spend time networking and marketing when you don’t have the resources already in place. THAT’S why you need to look for work when you don’t technically “need it”. With the new contract, I can invest more time and money in new marketing initiatives, and get some conversations started with some new faces. My business doesn’t close sales in a day, and trust is paramount. Starting early gives me the time to build that trust and move smoothly from one commitment to the next, since I’m never scrambling to keep the lights on.

Even if it seems like you’ve earned the right to take a rest and bask in the glow of success, when you’re doing well is when you should be MOST focused on bringing in new business.

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