Take Me To The River

I play basketball every Monday night in my town’s middle school gym. It’s always a fun time, and although the gap between my age and that of the average player seems to grow exponentially with each passing week, I don’t mind telling you that it’s one of the things I look forward to most during the winter.

It doesn’t come without a cost, however. Within minutes of leaving the gym, various parts of my body begin to stiffen up and hurt. My knee, my neck, my lower back… you name it. By the time I get home, I’m walking up the front steps looking like Fred Sanford (if you don’t know who Fred Sanford was, you may be too young to be publishing an E-Newsletter).

I go inside, eat dinner and take a few Advil. Then I go upstairs and get in the bath, staying there for about 30 minutes, or until my wife Linda yells through the door: “You’re not sleeping in there again are you?!” The next morning, assuming I have not died, I get up and limp off to my office.

In between those fun but difficult Monday nights, I go swimming. Swimming differs from basketball in two important ways.

First of all, when I swim, I rarely come in physical contact with either the “playing field” or the other participants. Second — and I think this is related to the first point just mentioned — nothing hurts when I’m done swimming. In fact, rather than hobbling out of the gym as I do on Monday nights, I bound out the door of the YMCA pool — feeling much better than when I came in.

The interesting thing is that both activities — basketball and swimming — “give me exercise.” We could argue over which one is more effective in this respect, but I think you’d agree that they are both reasonable paths towards physical fitness.

When it comes to growing your business (i.e. getting more clients), you’ve also got several reasonable options at your disposal. And, just as with basketball and swimming, some of these are more painful than others.

The most common approach among professionals looking for work is to target potential buyers of your service, find ways to get in front of them, and convince them to hire you. Into this category fall such tactics as newspaper advertising, sponsorships, direct mail and (brace yourself) cold calling. All reasonable, all proven.

In my opinion however, this “chasing strangers” strategy is the “Monday night basketball” equivalent of growing a professional service business. Because while it may get you to your goal, it’s hard work, often painful and the longer you do it, the more you begin to wonder if maybe you’re getting too old to be banging up against a bunch of people half your age.

Another option — and the one which as far as I’m concerned, is a lot more like swimming — is to worry less about the strangers and spend more of your time and effort cultivating the relationships you’ve already got. In other words, instead of constantly trying to expand your reach, focus your attention on strengthening connections with the people you already know.

After all, if you’ve been walking the Earth for 40+ years, you’ve probably got hundreds (thousands?) of names in your rolodex. Shouldn’t you be leveraging these relationships?

Not only that, if like most professionals, you’ve discovered that referrals and word of mouth bring you the “best clients,” wouldn’t it make sense to shake the relationship tree more systematically and more often before you look for ways to increase your circle of prospects?

Bottom Line: With 2006 just around the corner, I urge you to dedicate yourself to maximizing your firm’s most valuable asset — the people you already know. Cultivating existing relationships can get you just as much business as continually trying to identify and meet new people. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s a much more enjoyable way to get and keep your business in shape.

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