Trace your path to replace business success

Janet Arrowood

Can you identify the connections that led to your biggest sales, clients or referral sources? If so, great. If not, consider tracing your path.

How does this tracing process work? If you recall a column I wrote in July, I discussed the 80/20 approach and applying that to your business model. Tracing your path takes this approach to the next level by focusing on specific activities that resulted in your greatest and most enduring successes.

How does tracing work? Start by listing your top three or four clients or revenue or referral sources. Now go back to the point at which you first started down the path to attaining that client or resource — in other words, your successes. Then list each step along the way, including dead ends, that got you where you are with that success.

Here’s an example of one of my most enduring and financially notable successes to get you thinking:

Beginning in the summer of 2004, I decided to take advantage of my membership in a major metro area chamber of commerce. I upped my membership level to gain better access to the types of clients and businesses with which I wanted to interact and then joined in almost every event and committee that level entitled me to participate. Two of the committees offered additional members-only events I assiduously attended.

A human resources group brought together specialists from dozens of companies of all sizes representing many industries. One of the specialists was from what’s now the Employers Council. I mentioned the need I saw for effective technical and proposal writing training for employees. The person with which I talked thought that was an excellent idea. He arranged with the Employers Council to set up a trial session and do an email blast to members. I conducted my initial training session in 2004. My programs with the Employers Council since have expanded to include several types of writing several times a year in Colorado and Arizona.

More importantly, when a member asks for specialized training, the Employers Council provides an introduction and gives the member my contact information. This two-pronged approach — training and referrals — has been financially and professionally rewarding over the past 16 years. One referral led to two others, and those referrals in turn led to more referrals.

The second chamber committee was a transportation group that brought together specialists in highway and light rail construction and their use, marketing and management for a metro area with a population of more than 3 million.
I attended regular meetings and monthly luncheons.

At one of these luncheons in December 2006, I heard a transit agency project manager complain about writing a lessons learned report for the Federal Transit Administration. He said he didn’t know how his agency was going to do that. I told him I’d done something similar for a freight rail relocation project.

The next thing I knew, he referred me to the project management oversight contractor for the metro highway and rail projects. I worked as a technical editor for the contractor for nearly four years. A few months, later the project manager had me come in to meet with the transit agency’s project team to begin writing the lessons learned report he mentioned at the luncheon. That project expanded over the next four years to include three more lessons learned reports.

The FTA director said great things about my writing at a major transit conference, leading to even more opportunities and successes.

Looking back at these paths enables me to constantly reassess my business, reconnect with people who were instrumental in my success and apply my own lessons learned. Knowing my path enables me to quickly focus on what I seek when speaking with business owners and potential referral sources. Being able to offer concrete examples of what I need and how I employ the referrals and subsequent path has been invaluable.

If you can’t trace your path, it’s difficult to articulate to potential clients and referral sources what you seek. By knowing how you got to your greatest successes, you’ll become far better at replicating that success, improving and focusing your marketing and helping your sources give you better referrals and contacts.