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This Entrepreneur Doubled Her Revenue in 2018. She Swears by This Strategy.

Do a deep dive to figure out where your business and new clients really come from.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If I asked you the origins of every client you currently have, would you be able to tell me?

I’m not talking about referral or online search or social media categorizations. Most businesses track that data. Rarely, though, will these responses tell you what you really need to know about where your business comes from.

I’m talking about what initial effort you did, or what connection you made, that, perhaps even years later, has paid off.

Knowing where your business comes from needs to go beyond a surface-level analysis.

Many businesses categorize their clients by a simple scheme. I’m not saying asking this is bad. But this single layer of data isn’t going to give you the full spectrum of what business efforts you’ve undertaken that have yielded success.

Most CRM (customer relationship management) systems have structures in place that help you trace this, but I find that an overwhelming amount of businesses and sales teams don’t use these functions and reports consistently.

Related: 3 Lessons From a Customer Service Failure

To know where a piece of business truly originates, you need to go deeper. You need to go beyond the surface. You need to conduct a seed analysis.

What is a seed analysis? It’s back to the initial seed that was planted that, please excuse the analogy, bloomed into whatever current client engagement you have — whether it’s product or service based.

It traces back to the things that you were doing at the very beginning — before you managed to accumulate a critical clientele mass. Understanding this has helped me grow my business, target my efforts, and gain predictability in ways I never anticipated.

Let me pull back the curtain.

Say for example, I’m currently in negotiations with a potential client, Devin. I asked Devin how he heard about me, and he says that I was recommended to him by a current client, Mark. Most “source of business” questions in organizations end there. We mark it as a referral or word-of-mouth and move on.

But if you dive even further back, you’ll uncover details that may surprise you.

If I asked Mark how he heard about my business, he would tell me he was referred by Julie, another referral. If I asked Julie the same question — how did you hear about us — she would’ve said through Peter. Another referral.

But Peter has never been a client. So perhaps my report trail would end there. But if you’ve tagged and labeled well in a good CRM, you would be able to find that Peter works for a business that I met when I did a pro bono workshop for a professional association back in 2015 and he was in the audience.

That single pro bono workshop is a seed that bloomed into a healthy six-figure revenue stream that continues to grow.

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I know many entrepreneurs who get to a certain stage in their business where they no longer do pro bono efforts, yet by doing a seed analysis I can definitively say which types of events and engagements lead to direct business.

In 2018 my business more-than-doubled its revenue. How? Was I getting smarter about my fees (yes, and…)? Was I meeting with better people (yes, and…)? Were seeds I planted in the past starting to bloom? If you would’ve asked me where this increase in business came from, my initial response would be more referrals. Which isn’t inaccurate. But it wasn’t good enough for me. I was truly curious to figure out why, how, and where this business was coming from.

That’s when I set up an in-depth reporting structure and dug into the exact seeds that bore fruit for each and every client I have. I can now trace the roots of every single client — like you’d do on a family tree — back to the original seed that was planted. I have a tagging system for every person I meet, and every event I engage with. And I can run reports truly telling me the genesis of any client.

By doing this I uncovered that 47 percent of my revenue could be traced to seeds of pro bono or “no fee” workshops, speeches, and consultations that I’d given from 2014-2016. And that of these workshops, those given for one professional association in particular accounted for 62 percent of this category. I got many of these opportunities by serving on nonprofit boards and being involved in fundraisers.

Related: Navigating Entrepreneurial Whiplash

Another 41 percent of my revenue could be traced back to online video content. While I love writing and will continue to do so, this tells me where I need to double-down my efforts because I can trace tangible and financial results to this strategy.

The rest came through organic search. This number may seem low, but it also doesn’t surprise me. What it does tell me is that I need to invest more time and resources into this area, as that’s something I can measure and predict. For most businesses, if you knew that you stood to gain +10 percent of your overall revenue by making some sort of search strategy investment, it would be easy to budget and justify the expenditure.

Whether it’s pro bono work, networking meetings, professional associations or chambers, or those super-connector humans who know how to bring people together, knowing what seeds are important to plant and nurture will give you a level of understanding your business that can give you more predictable actions and results.

What are the seeds you’ve planted that have bloomed the best? I’d love to know. Share them with me on social @dynamicjill and let’s learn together.

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