The Four Bucket Approach to Finding New Clients

When clients of mine want to ramp up their businesses, whether starting from scratch or reviving a business that has run slack, I like to talk about this idea of the Four Buckets.

Understanding the Four Buckets can help tame the overwhelm of reaching out, and help you decide where you can focus your efforts for the greatest payoff.

The Four Buckets are:

  • Bucket One: Folks you already know who you would love to work with, but you haven’t expressed that to them or made an invitation
  • Bucket Two: Folks who know you and believe in you who might know people who would be appropriate for you to work with
  • Bucket Three: Folks who know you exist but for whatever reason have not chosen to work with you yet
  • Bucket Four: Folks who don’t yet know you exist or anything about what you do

A common challenge I see is that business owners often jump to Bucket Four without realizing the extra work involved and without first exploring what growth would be possible by focusing on Buckets One, Two, or Three.

Buckets One and Two are the best sources for rapid leads for new clients. Clients sometimes resist that, because reaching into these two buckets feels personal, and scary.

Reaching into Bucket One requires the courage to speak up and raise your hand. It means scanning through your mind, and through your contact list for people who represent the ideal client you’d love to work with, what I call your Thrilled Beyond Belief clients.

Once you name them, you need to contact them. This can be through personal email, by phone, or in conversation, whichever feels most appropriate based on how you know them.

And when you contact them, you want to speak from the heart. You want to step into the scary space where you say “I’d love to work with you. Would you be open to having a conversation about that?”

You can also do the same thing as you move through your life and talk to a person, no matter the circumstances, and hear enough to get a feeling you can help them.

We don’t want to do this because it feels vulnerable. Because the risk of being rejected is high. And because the rejection, if we get one, will be direct and personal.

And yet, if you have people in Bucket One and you take the risk of reaching out, it can be the fastest and simplest way to bring on new clients.

I first grew my full practice for my coaching business, back in 1995, primarily by reaching out to contacts I’d made over the previous year and inviting them to a conversation about working together.

If you’ve been in business for a while, a variation on this would be to identify past clients you’d love to work with again, or current clients that you see you could do additional work for. And then ask them if they are interested.

As an example, I once sent a letter to 11 past clients telling them about how my work was evolving and inviting them to do more work with me. One person replied and we subsequently did $6,000 of work together in the coming months.

Reaching into Bucket Two – people who know you and believe in you — also takes courage. It requires asking for help by asking for referrals. Reaching out and saying “hey, I need help. I do great work with these kinds of clients. Can you help me connect to people who fit this description?”

I usually recommend writing a letter – a real, old-fashioned letter — to friends and family that says:

“a) here’s the focus of my work and

  1. b) here’s the specific situation or circumstance where I do my best work and
  2. c) here’s the kind of outcomes I help them experience and
  3. d) here’s my request of what you can do to help me.”

You could use email, but I like the tangibility and formality of an actual letter on actual paper. This is an action you could take once a year, or twice a year, for the life of your business.

The reason that focusing on Buckets One and Two makes sense is because of the strength of the connection. If you already have a relationship with someone, a small effort on your part has the potential for a large impact. These are what I call high-impact actions, actions that don’t take a lot of time but have the potential to produce a significant impact.

Online connections are looser ties, so it takes more work and more Potent Expression to form a strong enough connection to lead to working together.

Finally, I want to address a concern that often comes up, when clients say to me “I don’t know anyone who could be a potential client or a source of referrals.”

I obviously don’t know if they do or don’t. But I do know that it can be a bit of a gray area, the line between not knowing anyone who could be a client (or referral source) and feeling like we don’t know anyone who could be a client (or a source of referrals).

It’s a bit like a woman who is single and doesn’t want to be who says “there are no good men in my area” or “all the good men are taken” or “There’s nowhere around here to meet available men.” Those things may or may not be true, but it you fervently believe they are through, they effectively stop your search in its tracks.

That is, sometimes our old, sad stories, and our emotional vulnerability, our fears of not being able to grow our businesses, and our discomfort around putting ourselves out there can conspire to make it feel absolutely true that we don’t know anyone. We can sometimes fail to see people who are there, are in our orbit, because if we see them, well then we have to talk to them, and then we’ll feel vulnerable, and we might be rejected. So instead, we keep hitting a wall where it feels absolutely real that we don’t know anyone we could talk to about working with us.

And, it’s equally possible that we have lived lives that do not put us in contact with the kind of people we want to work with. When we are older, when we’ve focused on family, if we are introverted by nature, those can make it harder to feel connected.

If you take a good inventory, and you truly cannot identify anyone it makes sense to reach out to, then the work becomes building those connections, which is what we do when we reach into Buckets Three and Four.

Which I’ll talk about more in my next post.

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