November 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio November 1999 Current Issue
November 1999 Independent LifePLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:




An independent's most difficult job is lining up the next client

Along with the perks of being your own boss comes the never- ending challenge of finding new business. Those who have never thought of themselves as salespeople have to face facts: A large part of an independent planner's job lies in marketing and sales. You have to continually dig for new clients, and connections need to be followed up and nurtured. And, even when you do everything possible, the majority of business leads will not bear fruit.

Finding new clients can be especially frustrating when you calculate the time spent prospecting for new business. But it must be done. The following methods work.

The best way of gaining solid leads is to have existing clients recommend you to others. Referrals are worth their weight in gold. Clearly, it's nice to know that someone who has experienced your capabilities thinks enough of your work to pass your name along. And for prospective clients, recommendations from colleagues can be a critical factor in decision-making. When finishing a successful job, let your contact know how important referrals are to your business, and make sure he or she understands the scope of your services.

Do not hesitate to ask acquaintances if they know of anyone who needs your expertise. And follow up on all suggestions immediately.

People generally like to do business with known entities. Meeting potential clients face-to-face in a neutral business setting, such as a gathering of Meeting Professionals International, can set the stage for future collaboration.

Don't forget to reach out to other groups whose members may have the need for an independent planner. This includes most, if not all, professional associations. Volunteer to be a speaker or a moderator. This is an excellent way for people to see your skills at work, and it puts you in front of decision-makers.

Remember, each person you meet at these events can be a source of new business, either directly or indirectly. Always have business cards handy and your one-minute "who I am and what I do" speech down cold.

Placing well-designed advertisements in professional publications is another good way to call attention to you and your skills. At many annual events, organizations publish some type of booklet or journal that accepts supplier advertisements to offset the costs of the meeting.

To hold the line on your own purse strings, target your pitch to the types of groups you want to have as clients, and keep the ad size reasonable. Before buying space, determine how many potential clients will receive the publication, and get a copy of the mailing list. This way you can calculate your potential return on investment and purchase space only from those that offer the best value and opportunity.

Having a good Web site serves two purposes: It is a place to refer prospective clients who want to know more about your services, and, if it is listed in a good search engine, it becomes part of a global directory accessible to anyone who types in "meeting planner."

No matter your method of searching out new business, you need to articulate clearly who you are, what you do, what unique services or qualities you offer and how clients can contact you. And again, you must follow up. Making contact just once will not result in new business. Do not be concerned about being a pest. New business only comes with effort. The more effort you put into prospecting, the better your chances of success.

Mike Kabo is president of Solutions Inc., a New York City-based consulting firm specializing in travel and meeting management.

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