“I don’t want to cold call,” said Robert, a financial advisor in Michigan who I’ve been working with. “But I don’t know how else to fill my time.” We were discussing Robert’s second career, which he loves but for which he just hasn’t been finding enough clients.

“Let’s start with the people you already know,” I advised.

“Well, I know a lot of people who could use my help, but I haven’t spoken to some of them in years,” Robert explained. “And a lot of the ones I’m closer to are avoiding me now because I think I came across as too high pressure when I started, and it really turned them off.”

“That’s two different groups,” I told him. “The second one is going to take some time to rework, so let’s look first at the ones you haven’t yet spoken with.”

“Well, they taught us to just call them up and offer to sit down with them,” Robert said. “But I’m not comfortable with that. How would I be able to convince them that I care about them if I called them up out of the blue after five years to ask for an appointment?” he asked.

An easy way to approach someone you haven’t had contact with in a long time is to just tell her that you wanted to reach out to everyone you know and that includes her. For example:

“Rather than making a dozen calls to total strangers like a lot of advisors do, I decided I’d prefer to call people I actually have some connection with who might be ready—or are already working on—investing for their futures and who might want some professional help. You were one of the people I thought of. Would you be open to discussing your situation with me for a couple of minutes?”

But this approach was way too “sales-y” for Robert, so we discussed the approach I actually prefer. It’s much slower, but I feel that it’s also much more effective: connect, build rapport, offer your help.

  • Connect. Think about where your relationship is with someone. Could you call him? Could you email her? Could you friend him on Facebook or add her on LinkedIn? Then, start to move the relationship forward to the point where you can meet—for coffee or to tour his businesses or whatever.
  • Build rapport. Once you’ve reconnected and have started to engage, you will come to know your old contact better and he or she will come to know you again. Inevitably, the discussion will turn to what you do for a living.
  • Offer your help. Once what you do is out in the open, there are many simple ways to suggest that you’d like to offer your professional help. Here’s one of the simplest: “…So that’s the work I’m doing, and I really enjoy it. Have you ever worked with anyone who does what I do?”

Offer your help in a relaxed, off-hand way and see where you can go from there. You just might be able to rekindle an old friendship and make a sale.

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Sandy Schussel is a speaker, business trainer and coach who helps sales teams develop systems to win clients. He is the author of The High Diving Board and Become a Client Magnet. For more information, go to www.sandyschussel.com.