Are you constantly looking for new customers for your small business?
Do you need a steady stream of first-time clients just to survive? Are you a designer, lawyer, consultant, architect? A wedding planner?
If so, it's time to get excited about a seemingly boring subject: creating recurring revenue.
Unlike employees, who receive an annual salary or can count on fairly typical monthly wages, small-business owners never know what their annual income will be.
This is especially true for entrepreneurs who provide one-time services - a kitchen remodel, a business plan, a will. They do work for a client once, and then they're done.
If that describes you, now is the time to consider ways to create recurring revenue, to turn one-off clients into repeat customers.
Take my old friend, Jennifer, a talented graphic designer. I met Jennifer during the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley.
She had a thriving business creating logos for new companies. Yet once she designed a company's identity, she was done.
Of course, many of her clients asked her to help with their ongoing "boring" graphic design needs -- brochures, ads, Web graphics. That didn't interest Jennifer.
I urged her to hire a junior designer to do the ongoing work for these clients. She didn't want the bother.
Guess what happened? The dot-com bust. Suddenly, Jennifer had no new clients.
Some of her old customers, such as one top 50 worldwide Web company, still were thriving, but she wasn't getting any recurring revenue from them.
Many small-business owners, especially consultants, are in the same boat as Jennifer.
For the first decade of my business, I was. I developed business plans for new companies. But once I was finished, I let the companies go off on their own. Like many small-business owners, I always needed to find new clients merely to survive.
Selling every customer only one item - whether a business plan, a logo, a landscape design or a will - is a precarious way to earn a living. It costs a lot in time and money to find new clients continually.
And you're very vulnerable to downturns in the economy.
The goal instead is to build a stable of customers that bring you recurring revenue.
What if the very nature of your small business means customers need you only once?
Here are tactics to build recurring revenue from customers:
? Provide ongoing or support services. Most clients need maintenance.
For example, a website designer's clients also need site hosting and updates. Designers aren't attracted to this kind of work and often aren't technically capable.
But they could hire a lower-level staffer to do minor updates and subcontract the hosting. That way they maintain the customer.
? Build in annual tune-ups and follow-up services. Your doctor, dentist, and auto mechanic have you come in regularly. Why not provide tune-ups for your customers?
A landscape designer can provide semi-annual garden updates. A wedding planner could offer complimentary planning of a small first-anniversary dinner and discounts on other parties -- children's birthdays, parents' anniversaries, other special events.
? Target different customers. Look for customers who need continual services. In addition to targeting individual homeowners for landscape services, a landscape designer can target architects, property management companies and large real-estate firms.
? Add products. Finally, can you sell or create a product that customers need to replace regularly?
Rhonda Abrams is president of The Planning Shop and publisher of books for entrepreneurs. Her most recent book is "Entrepreneurship: A Real-World Approach."