As I sat across the City Club table from Mike (whose name was changed to protect his identity), I realized the economic recovery was not yet in full swing. And the stress and strain of just making a living is affecting experts at all levels.
Mike, a 20-year veteran of organizational development and nationally-known executive coach, shared the current state of his business. I set the meeting because a mutual friend suggested we connect. As a perennial connector, I wanted to know how I could support his company's growth. I asked him what kind of ideal client he was seeking. Mike's response surprised me.
"Any company who will hire me."
Mike was more stressed about his future prospects than I expected. Here's a top notch business advisor with a established D.C. following who is lamenting the challenges of marketing in this economy. How is he coping? He is taking on government contracts at a low hourly fee. He regularly donates his keynote speeches and seminars to trade associations in hopes they will someday compensate him for his time. He's still waiting. Sadly, he has reverted to the "hours for dollars" model that I vehemently oppose.
The pressures of coping with today's mercurial economy has not averted professional services firms and B2B companies (except for the remoras  who have attached themselves to speedboats such as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter).
Riding out the recession will take more than a good product or service and a relentless commitment to marketing. It's going to take intestinal fortitude. Here are some approaches that my best clients have taken to achieve all three:
1. Develop a written bridge plan to eliminate less than ideal clients.
Mike would serve himself well by developing a small network of less seasoned, high potential coaches and referring his clients to them while seeking out projects that bring out his gifts and talents. A conceptual bridge plan doesn't count and seldom gets implemented. Activate your brain by documenting your plan and share it with trusted colleagues.
2. Find your center. Meditate.
My friend Steve, a brilliant 35 year business veteran and two-time CEO, meditates daily with a long hike in nature. I joined a year long mindfulness meditation group with Jonathan Faust in Washington, D.C., a city I affectionately call "the capital of human suffering." Practice yoga. Even ten minutes a day will make a difference in how you cope with the global gravitas that surrounds us.In challenging times, over-achievers tend to over-invest in over-doing. Balance out those tendencies with some over-being time.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Administration  has invested in a number of mindfulness programs to help thousands of veterans suffering from PTSD. If Western bureaucracies the size of the DVA are willing to try new modalities, why can't you?
3. Get serious about referrals.
I am amazed by the number of seasoned executives who are afraid or ashamed to ask for them. Your clients WANT you to succeed. My recent survey of 100 business owners revealed that one of their top three challenges is generating more referral business. Nearly one-third indicated this was a serious concern. Don't let this issue persist. Develop an outreach program to thank your past clients for their support and faith in your company's abilities. Contact at least three clients a week. Prior to speaking with them, research their LinkedIn connections and volunteer affiliations. Then ask them for very specific introductions. Set a specific time to follow up within two weeks. This will ensure they make the promised introductions. Rinse and repeat.
Breakfast with Mike gave me a wake-up call. Let's hope these business recovery accelerators shield you from self-proclaimed sugary social media panaceas and empty marketing calories.
Lisa Nirell helps companies grow customer mind share and market share. Since 1983, Lisa has worked with Zappos, BMC Software, Adobe, Microsoft, and hundreds of entrepreneurs in nine countries. Lisa is also an award-winning expert speaker, FastCompany expert blogger, and author of the acclaimed "EnergizeGrowth® NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company." Download your sample chapter and business energy booster survey at www.energizegrowth.com .
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Copyright 2011, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.