How to Build a Client List

As a small business owner, you should always be thinking about how to build your client base. This is essentially your client list. Building out this list is critical not just at the start of your practice but throughout your career. Here’s why.

  • It takes time. Building a client list doesn’t happen overnight. It can take some practitioners months or even years to build a list that supports a full caseload.
  • Client volume ebbs and flows. Multiple clients could terminate at the same time or you could have seasonal fluctuations—both of which could leave you with gaps in your schedule. A waiting list of clients can help fill these gaps and ensure consistent cash flow.
  • You may eventually want to expand your practice. Even if hiring another practitioner or expanding into a group practice isn’t on your radar right now, that could change in the future. Growing your client list can help you achieve these as well as other financial goals.

Who’s Your Ideal Client?

Before you can build your client list, you need to identify your ideal client—that is, the type of individual who will benefit the most from your services. Clarify what you’d like to specialize in or focus on in your practice. You can always change your mind, but this will at least give you a starting point.

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Over time, most practitioners can—and should—specialize. Do you want to specialize in treating children as opposed to adults? Couples versus individuals? It’s normal to not want to turn anyone down because they don’t want to lose a prospective client. But if you can specify what you do and who you serve, people—including other practitioners—are going to remember you. This’ll make it easier to portray yourself as a specialist or expert over time.

How to Build a Your Ideal Client Base

Once you identify your ideal client, follow these five steps to building your client list.

  1. Build relationships with other practitioners. Send a personal letter to other local practitioners letting them know that you’re accepting new clients and that you’re actively accepting referrals.
  2. Register your practice on Google My Business. This literally only takes a few minutes to do, and it can significantly improve your business’ ranking in search results.
  3. Claim your Yelp profile. Potential clients often use this online platform to find providers in their local area.
  4. Make sure you’re included in directory listings. When potential clients perform a Google search for service providers in their area, what directories appear? Make sure your name is included in these listings.
  5. Share your knowledge. For example, if you’re a therapist, provide a free mindfulness class to the public or a free talk about living with chronic pain. If you’re a dietitian, provide a free class on living with a gluten allergy. Use these opportunities to subtly advertise your own services. Provide value to prospective clients and fellow colleagues. That way, when they need your services, they’ll remember you and reach out.

Avoid These Common Mistakes

When building your client list, it’s easy to fall into traps that can stall or even prevent success. These are some of the most common pitfalls practitioners make.

Trying to take shortcuts. There’s no easy way to grow your client list. For example, many people look at paid ads as a way to overcome their discomfort with networking. Although paid ads can be helpful, they don’t replace the need to network and send referral letters. Take the time to build those relationships that you can rely on and will stand the test of time.

Trying to do too much all at once. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with reading books and attending seminars. All of this can lead to information overload, which can ultimately make it difficult to carve out a path of action. Instead of trying to do everything you possibly can, focus on high-value, low-effort tasks first—like filling out your Google My Business account. 

Being unprepared to convey your value. Once potential clients start contacting you, you need to be able to answer this question: Why should someone pay for your services? If you can’t convey this, you run the risk of losing a potential customer. To convey value, focus on your passion for the job and the benefits clients have experienced and can expect with you.

Building your list—then doing nothing with it. Focus on active clients who become inactive as well as clients who contact you but never follow through with an appointment. It may be appropriate to email or call these individuals to remind them of your services. The goal is to identify a singular task that you can follow through on.

Not responding quickly to potential new clients. The faster you respond to an initial client inquiry, the more likely you are to land that client as a paying customer. When it takes 24 hours or more for you to respond, you run the risk of losing that client to another clinician or the client may no longer be interested in your services. Strike while the iron is still hot. Because prospective clients often look for practitioners after normal business hours, consider a system with online appointment requests that they can access any time of day. The less steps they have to take to contact you, the better.

Setting over-ambitious goals. Instead, take small, calculated steps to build your client list one day at a time. It will pay off, and your business will continue to thrive, allowing you to do what you do best—provide exceptional care to your clients.

Why You Should Build Your Client List Now

Being an entrepreneur comes with a level of uncertainty that can make it difficult to feel in control at times. A client list is a smart way to gain a little bit more control over your practice because it offers clarity, insight, and direction when you need it most—whether you’re just starting out or reimagining your private practice.

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