Being Purposeful in Your Independent Executive Career
Finding Clients & Creating Your Target Client List
If you’re an independent executive who’s interested in landing new roles, you must do two things: First, find potential opportunities and create your target client list. And next, sell yourself as the right candidate for the job. Our recent “Career Builder” blog series offered many suggestions for turning an incredible executive career into the independent career you want.
However, an equally important part of the process is finding opportunities, which often requires some work. Where should you start?
Creating a target client list: A step-by-step guide
Personal and professional referrals are great, but they only go so far. Instead of waiting around and wondering who might introduce you to your next client, you can take control. It starts by creating an ideal target client list, which will define who you should be contacting on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. It’s all about defining what you want to do, and which companies you would be a great fit for.
To create a target client list, think of it as a mini business plan.
Step 1: Know what you’re selling. To create a target client list, think of it as a mini business plan. You need to get very clear on what you’re “selling.” You aren’t selling you, you’re selling what you can do (your results) and how you do it (the unique way you provide your skills to get those results).
Step 2: Know what work you want to do. Be purposeful and definitive in identifying your ideal work role. Are you an expert in consulting and coaching? Do you want to serve in a specific role on a fractional or part-time basis? Do you prefer to serve as an independent executive? Or are you seeking advisory work? All of this matters when you create your target list and reach out to referral partners. For example, if you’re focused on consulting and coaching, you’re likely searching for companies with $200 million to $1 billion in annual revenue. Or if you want independent executive roles, you want companies that are between $5 million to $100 million in annual revenue (with about $50 million annually as the sweet spot). Or if you’re interested in advisory or board work, it’s an entirely different list (likely privately held, single owner, non-family businesses). Knowing the type of work you want will help you narrow down your target client list.
Step 3: Know your niche. It’s hard to resist the temptation to say, “I’m a fractional CFO who is industry agnostic – I can handle just about anything.” While this may be true, it also puts you in competition with 10,000 others who say the same thing. And your target list would be massive, covering hundreds of thousands of companies in the U.S. To be more purposeful, narrow your work down by:
Industry: Choose one or two industries that you particularly love (or have broad experience in).
Type of ownership: Do you prefer to work with publicly or privately held companies? Or do you love to work with family-owned businesses?
Business challenge: You can also narrow your niche by the type of business challenges you’re best at solving. This could be anything from “helping companies scale” to “assisting businesses struggling with lack of sales or lead generation” or “helping businesses prepare for merger or acquisition.” Let your career experience be your guide here (you’ll have lots of results to share).
Example: I’m a fractional COO and I focus on companies entering the “danger zone” – either growing so fast that the wheels are falling off the bus, or they have stalled out in their growth mode. Either one can lead to the death of the company. I help these companies achieve scalable growth by bringing in operational foundations, which are usually lacking.
Step 4: Create your target client list. Once you determine what work you want to do and in which niche, you’re ready to start building your target client list, also called your “keep in touch” list. Use lists and other resources to find companies that fit your criteria. In the example above, you’d be looking for high-performing companies that are growing fast. A few sources that could help build this list:
LinkedIn – This resource has 55 million member companies with online profiles. Use it as the powerhouse database that it is.
Book of Lists – These lists are put out by journals in the major metro markets across the nation (e.g., Orange County Business Journal). While these lists are pricey as a subscription, there are many aggregators that can pull only the “fastest-growing” category for cheap ($5 to $10).
Referral partners – If attorneys tend to be your best referral partners, buy a list of attorneys and target them.
Past clients, colleagues, and past employers – These contacts know and trust you. Ask them if they know companies that fit your target profile.
Associations – If your niche is manufacturing, find the local manufacturing association in your metro area. Or consider the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) or alumni associates.
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