From the February 1998 issue of Entrepreneur

Q: What part does luck play in business?

Steven M. Krauser
Network Associates Inc.
Hicksville, New York

A: I refer to luck as "fortunate timing." When an entrepreneur does his or her homework, good things happen. For example, recently I had my eye on a certain company I wanted to do business with. Our family uses its product religiously. We came up with a plan in which each of my eight children would write a letter to the head of the company's marketing department describing how I introduced that son or daughter to the product and how much they are benefiting from it. In the letter, each of them recommended me as a spokesperson or as an excellent choice for an outside speaker.

Before long, I received a phone invitation to tour the company's plant. During that call, I mentioned I would be speaking in the city where the plant was located. Quite coincidentally, the head of their marketing department was flying to the plant the same day my speaking engagement was scheduled. So the plant manager and the head of marketing attended my speech.

At the end of the program, the head of marketing hired me on the spot to speak at their national sales meeting. It was being held, coincidentally, in a city I was already scheduled to be in on that same day.

Pure luck? Call it what you want, but when you focus on something you want, I believe certain forces come together and help make your dream a reality.

What can you do to give luck a little help?

1. Create a vision of a specific future in your mind. What do you want to go after, and when do you want to get there? When I decided I wanted to train the sales force of a company whose products I believe in and use regularly, I identified the company and gave myself a year to land the job. You must be very specific about your vision.

2. Develop a strategy. The head of marketing received a letter once a week from one of my family members. It piqued his interest. Who is this woman who not only loves our product but sells her entire family on it, too? Our strategy involved focusing on one area--marketing--and personalizing the benefits of its products.

Your strategy is key. For example, I could have made the contact by strictly promoting myself as an expert the company needed to train its sales force. This is a generic approach, and I believe it would have been far less effective.

3. Over-prepare. Luck is basically an opportunity you take advantage of when you are prepared. The morning the marketing director sat in my audience, I used several examples in my speech that highlighted the benefits of using his product. I was not paid to do that, but I spoke from the heart. And I had done my homework. A recent tour of the plant and several hours spent researching the company's history paid off for me when I was given the opportunity to speak in front of the decision maker.

Some people I talked to about my plan thought I was wasting my time. Why tour the company's plant unless I knew for sure I was going to get hired? Why sit reading the company history for no apparent reason? Because I believe that we help luck along when we not only know what we want but when we are ready before the opportunity hits. So many times people miss out when the timing is right and opportunity hits because they weren't quite ready for the luck they were about to receive.

4. Stay awake, aware and grateful. Luck is passed on to those who are most receptive. Stay in the present--paying attention to the set of circumstances right in front of you. Listen to your prospect. He or she may be doing business with a competitor right now, but that prospect may be telling you in so many words that things are about to change.

Perhaps he or she is dissatisfied with the slow service rendered from your competitor. Maybe your competitor has become complacent and no longer appreciates the account and it's embarrassingly apparent in your competitor's lack of follow-up. Someone else is inevitably going to get the business. Why shouldn't it be you? Just be alert, prepared and cross your fingers for good luck.

Q: I just opened my own homebased CPA practice. I recently left a large regional accounting firm and have more than 10 years of public accounting experience. My "angle" is that I can provide the full gamut of accounting services at rates lower than big firms but with big-firm expertise. The source of new clients at the firm I worked for was 80 percent referrals from existing clients. With a new practice, I do not have this client-generating referral source in place yet. What are the most productive methods of obtaining clients?

Mona L. Hill
Mona L. Hill, CPA, Accounting, Tax and Business Service
Springfield, Missouri

A: I wish there was a magic pill that would generate referrals, but it's the same old story: You build your business from the ground up, one brick at a time. So every time you create a new customer and they become loyal to you, you must train them to help you spread good news about you and your company. (For more on word-of-mouth marketing, see "Spread The Word")

You mentioned that 80 percent of the business you received at the big company came from referrals. Certainly a few of those referrals were due to your good work, not just the big company's reputation. Can you determine who really did business because of you and not the company? If so, some of that business should have come with you. It's tricky, and I am not suggesting you do anything unethical. But what if that client left the big firm after they found out you were no longer there?

That's what happened to a certain travel agent I interviewed for one of my books. She started her own business but never solicited any of her previous company's customers. However, some of the big accounts she handled were very upset when she was no longer there to handle their accounts. They did a bit of investigating to find out where she went, and they ultimately switched to her new company. Don't assume you do not have any past satisfied customers. They may be searching for you as you read this.

As far as other productive methods of obtaining clients go, here are some suggestions: Join your local chamber of commerce and attend some of its meetings. Pass out cards or offer some type of introductory service at a reduced rate.

Why not send out an "Everybody I Know" letter to people from your various spheres of influence and tell them about your new company, attractive prices and quality service?

Be sure to attend your own associations' meetings and network with other accountants who own their own businesses and swap ideas--especially if such people are from another state. They won't mind sharing their tips with you because you pose no threat to their business.

If you live in a small town, pass out fliers about your services. Hit college campuses and offer walk-in income tax services at reasonable prices. Advertise the same in your local newspaper. There is a big market for fast and inexpensive tax return preparation for students and young people embarking on new careers.

Your local real estate agents are also a great source of new business. They always deal with newcomers to town. Go visit their offices. Ask the sales manager if you can do a free presentation at one of their sales meetings. Most offices are always looking for new and interesting local speakers.

If you want to get smarter about marketing in general, ask your industry association about the types of seminars they offer. Sign up for an introductory marketing course at your local junior college. Ask lots of questions and be alert for opportunities. Never forget that everyone in your town is a prospect. You just have to ask for the business and not keep anyone in the dark about what you do and how well you can do it.

Having great references from past clients helps when you're recruiting customers. This means you must regularly call them to thank them for doing business with you. Then don't forget to remind them that you're always on the lookout for new prospects and would appreciate help spreading the word.


Danielle Kennedy presents sales and marketing seminars and keynote addresses worldwide and is the author of seven sales books as well as audio and video sales training programs. Check local bookstores for her book, Seven Figure Selling (Berkley Press). Write to her in care of Entrepreneur, 2445 McCabe Way, Irvine, CA 92614.