When I started doing consulting many years ago, I was told that what you really wanted were clients who paid you on a recurring basis. After all, when you don’t need to market all the time you can focus on your clients more.
I bought into that model and used it for many years in my business.
Then in 2004 my mother died and I needed to take several weeks off. I emailed each of my clients, explained the situation and told them that naturally I would not bill them during the time I was off.
Two things happened. My income immediately stopped. And my clients became impatient, thinking that surely I could not mean “them” when it came to not working. They sent emails asking questions. They called asking for a quick conversation.
As I reviewed my relationship with my clients I also realized that with few exceptions, I cared more about their business than they did! Sure we met every weeks or two, but it was often to discuss the same thing we had talked about two weeks before – and they hadn’t done a thing with it.
And between calls, I was the only one coming up with new ideas, sending them new opportunities. I was working for them 30 days a month – not just on the few calls we scheduled! I was spending more time and attention on their business than I was on mine.
So with the combination of those clients who weren’t doing anything and those who kept wanting me to do more – I fired them all. In retrospect I perhaps should have chosen a few to keep on retainer. But I was fragile at the time and it was easier to just say “everyone must go.”
It was shortly after that that Vickie Sullivan, a brilliant marketing and positioning strategist and good friend, told me I should be charging for the “quick calls” I did with people, as they were trying to determine whether or not they wanted to hire me – or buy a product. Those quick calls often turned into 20 or 30 minutes. And I gave away so much information in that time that they didn’t feel that they needed to hire me! It wasn’t a very profitable model of marketing to consulting clients.
So I took Vickie’s advice and started charging for marketing. Anyone could sign up for a Brain Drain Special. I would spend a dedicated hour with them, answering any questions they had and giving them as much advice and direction as I could in that hour. I recorded the call and created a client page for them with links to resources I mentioned.
And the beauty of this system is that once I hung up – I had no more obligation to that client! Likewise they were not on the hook for a recurring consulting fee. It was a win-win situation.
Since then I’ve done a LOT of Brain Drains – and each time I enjoy it. Some people do an annual Brain Drain – just to set their strategy for the coming year. Others come once and are never heard from again. One client told me it took her nine months to get through the list of tasks we generated in that single hour.
Valerie Dawson was the first to show me that Brain Drains can also provide recurring revenue. Val completed all of the tasks I gave her on our Brain Drain within a week – and was back for more. We continued to schedule a Brain Drain each time she felt she needed more help. So for a time it was recurring – but on her schedule.
What did I learn from firing my clients and moving to Brain Drains?
1. Don’t make hasty decisions during a personal crisis. I still feel badly about some of those clients I “dumped” so quickly. Some came back under the new model, but many just disappeared.
2. Find a model that fits your personality and joy. I love getting people started. I don’t love maintenance. So doing Brain Drains is perfect for me. In fact, I charge more for the ongoing client than I do for the one-time client – just so I can focus on the Brain Drains.
3. Charge for your marketing. If you sell consulting services, consider how long it takes you to “sell” a client. You may talk to several people before one buys. So you are spending a lot of time – time that you could be paid for – doing your marketing. Charge for it. It doesn’t have to be much, but it will not only help you recover costs, but it will set you apart.
Nothing says “my time is valuable” more than a simple – “I’ll be glad to talk with you and answer your questions. I charge $x for an initial consultation.” And at the end of that hour – you KNOW whether or not this client is for you. And they are certain you are worth it!