The client cascade

In January of 2020, nearly two years ago, I got an email from an executive at a large streaming entertainment company. Would I consider conducting a business writing workshop for the company? Sure, I said. He asked for details and references.

I sent the prospect — let’s call him Oliver — my one-page writeup for the workshop and negotiated the terms. We did the preparation, including his collecting writing samples from his team and sending them out to me. And in late February of 2020, I flew out to his location, stayed in an Airbnb, and spent the whole morning presenting to about 35 people in his organization.

It was an engaged group and a successful workshop. Lots of people asked lots of questions — and many of them challenged my ideas. I love that kind of intellectual interaction, because it allows us to get into the why of what I teach, and to address how it applies to a particular company or individual

But I had no idea what it was about to turn into.

Good work bears fruit

You may have heard that any individual you interact with may be the one who is the key to your future. We’ve all had meetings that turned out to be fruitful like that. But this one interaction had a profound effect on me and the work I do.

As it turned out, that workshop in February of 2020 turned out to be the last time I traveled for business, right up to this moment. I’d been publicizing my work at conferences and conducting in-person workshop events. That came to an abrupt halt due to COVID-19.

But, surprisingly for me, that was not nearly the end of my workshops.

Soon after my session for Oliver, I heard from another executive at the company, let’s call him Clive. Clive ran a group of over 50 people spread all across Asia. He’d heard good things about my session with Oliver’s team, and he was looking for a form of training that would show his far-flung, locked down team that the company was still eager to invest in them.

So I conducted a series of three virtual workshops, using videoconferencing, for members of his team from Australia to Taiwan to Japan and India. Because of their remote locations, such an event would have been impossible to do in person. But by focusing closely on their facial expressions, creating opportunities for them to interact, and leveraging the screen-sharing and chat features, I found that the workshop worked even better virtually than in person. To maintain people’s attention, I had to split the three and half hours of content that I used to do in a single morning into two 90-minute sessions separated by a day or two. As it turned out, splitting things up actually improved people’s ability to concentrate.

Eventually, I head from other teams at the same company. Some had been in my original session. Others had just heard about it. But they all wanted the same virtual workshop.

I ended up doing seven workshops for the same company in 2020, and four more in 2021, along with some high-level editing work and newsletters. The total revenue exceeded $60,000.

In 2021, I also got a call from a large grocery retailer. The executive there had previously worked at Oliver’s company and had heard good things, so I gave a workshop for product managers at the grocery retailer.

Then, a few days ago, I heard from Oliver again. He’d moved from the streaming company to a large, well-known media company — and he wanted me to do a workshop for them. And he’d also recommended me to a large audio streaming company, where another executive was interested in working with me.

Was this predictable?

After doing only two workshops in 2019, I’d pretty much assumed that offering had run its course. So this surge of interest surprised me. As it turned out, it wasn’t just the one company that was interested — a did about a dozen other workshops for other companies over the same time period. I certainly did not have “pandemic stimulates interest in writing workshops” on my list of likely scenarios for my business over the last two years.

And when Oliver contacted me, I had no idea how that single contact would blossom into interest in my work across his company and others.

But in some sense, that is the lesson here.

Every contact you make could potentially be the one that pays off in a big way. And every person you speak with could be the one that kicks off that cascade of business.

Thinking back, the product manager at my first job ended up making the contacts I needed for my next three jobs.

The marketing person at the publisher for my first book (2008) ended up making introductions that led to a slew of editing and ghostwriting clients in 2020 and 2021, accounting for a big chunk of my revenue.

I did not set out intending on making these people happy with me. There was no way to know at the time which of my hundreds and hundreds of contacts would end up being valuable.

If I had known Oliver would lead to all this work for me, would I have done things differently in my original workshop for his team? Maybe. But I don’t think it would have been better. Just doing my regular work to the best of my ability — and not behaving like an ass — is what paid off.

One other thing.

In your career, you will meet horrible and disrespectful people as well — people who are focused on asking a lot and giving back a little. I worked with people like that, but I never liked them, and they probably knew it.

They’re not sending business or contacts my way. And that’s fine with me.

There’s plenty of work from the people who like me. And all I had to do was be nice and generous and competent with them.

That’s not that hard to do. And it’s worth it.

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  1. Definitely a nice post. I like that you not only spoke of the good clients with successful workshop, but also of the bad clients (with whom you really do not want to work) :-): it is a good reminder for freelancers to choose our clients carefully.
    Thank you again for your posts.