Building a client base

Building a client base is a challenge for OH professionals. If you are a start-up business, you face the inevitable catch 22 – you don’t have a proven track record, so providing references can be difficult. And because you can’t provide references, doors close.

However, even if you are established, you face the difficulties of sustaining the business in the face of increased competition, red tape, and numerous business responsibilities.

Here are some of the ways that may help you get the edge in building a client base that is not only sustainable, but will also provide future opportunities.

Develop a business plan

Make an inventory of all of the resources you have available. Be realistic about the time, personnel and money that you have, together with the energy and commitment you can provide. Decide how these can be allocated to clients to achieve maximum benefit. Know where you are and where you want to be in the next one, two and three years. Review that business plan, and update it to reflect changes in your business.

Be honest

When you are approaching potential new clients, do not try to disguise what you are, or what you are not offering. Instead, focus on what you can offer explain clearly how you can benefit the client, and how this is going to help their business prosper.

Understand which clients are right for you, and have the willpower to turn down those who are not. Having a client base that does not provide synergy with you or your organisation can seriously hinder the growth of your business, waste valuable resources and time, and cost you money.

Develop a realistic fee schedule

Know what doing business costs you – develop a costing model that can be updated regularly. There are plenty out there on the off-the-shelf market, or your accountant can develop a model that you can update.

Establish your pricing and be clear about it with your clients. If you need to discount fees, clearly indicate how much you would normally charge. That way, your clients will at least know what you would usually charge when they recommend you to others. If possible, instead of lowering prices, add value – clients will pay for services they think will enhance or assist their business.

Start small

If a potential client is hesitant because you cannot provide years of business experience, offer to do smaller projects, or to be part of a larger project. Not only will it take the initial pressure off you, but it will also provide you with opportunities to learn how to handle and resource larger projects.

Form partnerships with other providers. Not only could this provide you with a steady workflow, but it will also enable you to establish valuable relationships, with each partner’s talent, skill and expertise complementing the others. You also have an ‘on-tap’ resource for larger projects or moments of crisis.

Network

Everyone knows it, but as you grow your list of contacts and build solid relationships, you will find that the best way to gain new clients is through your existing client base. Make sure that you network through the whole structure of an organisation, not only at the top. Remember that those below move on and move up, so keep in touch. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting or, at the very least, a regular telephone call.

Be visible

When people see and hear you, they begin to see you as an expert, so make sure that it’s you they see and hear, and not your competition. Develop a short, focused introductory presentation and offer it free of charge to as many organisations as you can at client HR meetings, chambers of commerce events, trade associations, seminars and workshops.

Bring in an expert – hire a salesperson with all the right business connections. They can be expensive and are only as good as their knowledge and contacts, but if performance is tied to remuneration, it can be a worthwhile investment. Not only does it remove some of the workload from you, but it can also provide additional credibility as you grow.

Genifer Foster, MSc SHRM, FCIPD, is managing director of Medigold Health Consultancy, and the director of COHPA.

Useful resources

  • COHPA (the Commercial Occupational Health Providers Association) promotes OH, provides mechanisms for networking with other OH providers, and holds the largest known directory of OH providers in the UK.
  • The Virtual Assistant’s ‘Building Your Client Base & Marketing 101’ Manual and Workbook, M Haaren and C Durst, Entrepreneurship Publishing Co, ISBN 0970645724
  • Clients for Life: How Great Professionals Develop Breakthrough Relationships, Jagdish Sheth and Andrew C Sobel, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0684870290
  • Get Clients Now! A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals and Consultants, C J Hayde, Amacom, ISBN 0814479928
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