This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of PRSA Tactics and was authored by Mike Fulton. He teaches IMC 638 – Public Affairs for the WVU IMC program.
One of the most common questions that new PR and lobbying professionals ask me is: “How do you find clients and how do you keep them?”
I have been in this profession for more than 25 years and am blessed with some fantastic clients whom I love to work with. You have to love what you do and give 100 percent, every hour of every day.
During the first few years, when I worked for a PR/government relations agency, I serviced the clients that my boss sold. All of the pressure was on the back end, as I sought to exceed expectations in achieving each client’s objectives. As the firm grew and more senior executives joined our team, I had to build my own book of business on which I would be judged and compensated.
Although I am a hard worker, I had never been the lead dog on the sled, so to speak. I was anxious and apprehensive. However, I soon learned that business development is more of an art than a science.
Through the years, I have learned many lessons that led to some solid professional guidelines. Here are some highlights:
1. Pursue specific clients where you have relationships, experience, and knowledge first. This can include alumni from your alma mater, former business partners or coworkers and organizations with needs that are in the news and have deadlines for solutions.
2. You cannot network with enough people. People sell people — not websites, brochures or videos.
3. Be thoughtful in your follow-up with prospects and do so immediately. Every day that passes after a successful meeting with a prospective client significantly reduces the chance that you will work with them.
4. Even if you get a “no,” say thank you and keep in touch. Many people have come back to me for various reasons after they told me “no,” “not now” or initially hired someone else.
5. Doing great work for current clients is just like selling. You always want to retain the clients and seek ways to expand your business with them as you offer spectacular service.
6. Do not chase other consultants’ clients; there is enough business for everyone without cutthroat tactics.
7. Never skip over the fees and expenses to get to the work. Execute a signed agreement before you start work.
8. Send out invoices with a part-personal and part-business note, and always thank clients for the opportunity to work with them. If you delegate this important task, then you miss a valuable opportunity to interact with your clients and let them know you value their relationship.
9. Be transparent. Be honest and forthcoming on fees, expenses and other aspects of your work. When you try to bury something and the client learns, or even suspects, that something is awry, they will never trust you again.
10. Do not hesitate to ask your current clients for help in expanding your business. If they really like you and consider your work meaningful, then they will want their friends to work with you and your agency.
There are many other finer points to selling, servicing and retaining clients, but these are the ones you need to build a solid foundation for achieving success, for both you and your clients.
Mike Fulton directs the Asher Agency’s Washington, D.C. office and teaches Public Affairs IMC 638 at the master’s level for West Virginia University’s IMC Program. Connect with Fulton at firstname.lastname@example.org or @hillrat1156, or on LinkedIn.