My firm is fourteen years old this month. This anniversary is an appropriate time to reflect on one of the people who helped me get it going. When I started, I had one client, a large technology consulting firm. To gather information needed for my work, I interviewed a number of their senior partners, and one of them was Charlie. At the end of the interview, he asked me what kind of work I did. I told him, and he asked if I could help with a problem which he described. I said I could, and he signed up for a project on the spot. My spirits soared, I so needed the work, only to crash two weeks later when I got a call to say that Charlie had quit, so the project was over. I had met the man once in my life for an hour, and he had never seen the results of my work and was in some kind of career turmoil. I wrote off the whole thing to bad luck and thought no more about it.
Three months later, I sat at my desk, sick with the realization that the two small projects I was working on were coming to an end, and, having no leads, I had little prospect of starting any new ones. Looking at my contact list, I knew that I had worked it too hard and couldn’t call these people again, because it might damage the relationship rather than generate leads. To not call anyone was to admit failure, so I asked myself who else was worth a try. Among the seven or eight names on this grasping-at-straws list was Charlie.
I tracked him down through his former secretary, called him and left him a message. I can still remember the message from him I found in my voice mail the next day. In it he said, “I’m so glad you called; I wanted to talk with you and didn’t know how to reach you.” That call resulted in the biggest client my little firm had for its first three years. That client was the difference between success and failure. And, I could so easily have never made that call!
I learned several important lessons from Charlie and this experience:
¨ It’s always better to be talking with someone out in the marketplace than with no one. If you are talking with someone, something good may happen, but if you talk to no one, you are almost assured of failure. It’s easy to come up with reasons why it isn’t worth calling someone—you can eliminate your entire contact list that way—but if you don’t call a person, you are unlikely to get his business. Call discipline is essential.
¨ Our categorization of people on your contact list into those worth calling and keeping in our network is based on judgments and those judgments are sometimes wrong. They warrant reevaluation from time to time.
¨ Some people have an opportunity mindset. Charlie did; he saw opportunity in working with me, when he had just met me. Such people are always worth having in your network.
¨ People move around, and if you keep in touch with them, you can sometimes follow then into new accounts. I met people at Charlie’s new firm and followed two of them when they moved into another company. Once there, I started the process again. Fourteen years later, I am still working this daisy chain, and there are six clients in the chain. Never loose track of a client!
Charlie, those are all great lessons, not even counting the revenue which all these clients have provided my firm. Thank you. And thank you for taking a chance on me.