If you’re in need of a plumber, do you call someone from the local phone book or hire the person your neighbor has used for years? If you need surgery, do you select someone from Surgeons.com or go with the top-of-his-field specialist your internist recommends?

One of the easiest and most effective ways to build your practice, in this or any economy, is through existing clients, former clients and others who already know you. There are two ways to do this: be referable and be on their minds.

“Being referable” means about developing relationships with your clients that go beyond the particular services you provide. Competence and great service are important, but what clients want is a sense that you really know them and care about them. So find out their birthdays and anniversaries. Make a note of their children’s favorite ice cream flavor.

My friend Stu is a master at this. In the first few months of our business relationship, he called me to ask for the important dates in my life. “I already know your birthday,” he said, “but when’s your anniversary? When is your wife’s birthday? What are your kids’ birthdays?”

Of course, I knew exactly what Stu was likely doing (putting these dates onto a database of some kind). But then he called me on my wife’s birthday and told me to wish her a happy one. He made a similar call for each of my children’s birthdays. He called to sing “Happy Birthday” to me on my own birthday. He called to wish us a happy anniversary—and he kept on calling, year after year.

It no longer matters to me that his call to ask for those dates was so transparent. I smile every time he “remembers” one of these occasions.

Stu also knows that “being on client’s minds” means having as much contact with them as possible. He has found five reasons to call each year that have nothing to do with work. And he has assured that when I run into someone who needs his services, he’s the one I recommend. He has turned me into a “referral partner.”

Reach out to the people you already know, especially current and former clients who were satisfied with your work.

    • Tell them you were thinking of them.
    • Ask them how they are doing in this economy.
    • Ask them if you provided lasting value to them and in what way.
    • Tell them your time with them was (or still is) meaningful to you.
    • Ask them not to keep you a secret if they run across someone who might need your help.
    • Ask them if you can help them in any way now—not for a fee—but because you care.

Then just sit back and watch what happens to the growth of your practice.

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