Want more clients? Get out of your mental ghetto

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When I taught teenagers martial arts, I spent a lot of time in San Francisco’s Mission district.  A lively Latino neighborhood, it was filled with activity, twelve kinds of chili peppers in outdoor markets, loud music and killer restaurants.  It was also home to two gangs:  the norteños and sureños.  Each wore their designated color (norte=red, sur= blue) and stayed within rigid boundaries of their neighborhood.  If you were a young person with any remote affiliation to these groups (desired or not) and ventured past these lines, the consequences were very violent, and sometimes deadly.

This context is important to understand how I could meet a young man named Dennis who had never been outside of the four-square city block he grew up in.  He had never seen the Golden Gate Bridge, or Coit Tower, or the ocean.  And he was 14 years old.

Many people could look at his situation and think it was absurd.  Of course he could have found a way to get out of his neighborhood.  But logistics were not the real issue.  What had created an imaginary electronic fence around his four-square block was a combination of fear and a false sense of security.  He had seen many of his young peers fall to violence and was really terrified of the same thing happening to him.  And he believed that if he just followed the rules and stayed within the "safe" boundaries of his neighborhood, everything would be ok.  He had everything he needed to get by.

A lot of us get caught in the same mental ghettos with our professional affiliations.

  • We huddle in online forums with our peers and convince each other that with a little bit more subject matter expertise or certification that we will be ready to create a successful business
  • We attend conferences filled with people that all agree with us, and talk about practices, tools and technologies that excite only us (participating on Twitter for a couple of months has led me to believe that there are more "web 2.0/social media consultants" than there could possibly be businesses to support them.  I have been told they are very busy – amazing)
  • We spend thousands of dollars in classes and workshops learning the next big coaching technique/marketing trick/SEO optimization that will magically make us successful

What would happen if we just hung out with the people we want to serve?

By "hang out," I don’t mean read a study on their behavior or conduct a structured focus group, I mean  pull-up a chair, sit with them in their natural habitat, attend their conferences or pick up the phone and talk to them. Examples:

  • If you are an accountant who wants to work with slightly zany, creative people, shred your "Accounting Trends 2008" conference tickets and hop a Volkswagen bus to Burning Man.
  • If you are a software developer who wants to create time management software for busy moms,  get off the Joel on Software forum and get to the grocery store at 5:00pm and talk to 20 women with kids hanging off of their shopping carts
  • If you are a coach who wants to work with leading technology executives, save money you would have spent on your "master double platinum certification training certificate" and attend South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas.

It may feel as awkward and scary for you to do these things as it was for Dennis to cross the street at the edge of his "safe" zone.

But, unlike him, you don’t face a death threat.  You have just as much to learn and discover outside of your mental ghetto as he did for his.

Go on — get out!

17 Responses to “Want more clients? Get out of your mental ghetto”

  1. Fabulous, Pam. I really needed to read this today, especially!

  2. Karenei Cho says:

    For the past years, I’ve learned that to be a better person, one has to get out of his/her comfort zone and start reaching out. This article echoes that principle… 🙂

  3. Shannon says:

    Loving this title also! Ok, when I read the part, “What would happen…we want to serve?”….I thought “AHA”…..I have thought about doing this, but honestly, I have not made a point to actually go out and do it. I will set myself up a 4-day win goal to hang with those I could serve.

  4. Enterprise Collaboration and Virtual Teams Report (May 29, 2008)

    The People Part of Enterprise Collaboration and Virtual Teams If you are going to work from home or be part of a virtual team, have a strategy to deal with loneliness. Some ideas: get the in-person contact from others (eg,

  5. Jo says:

    Exactly the inspiration i was looking for at 1am after a frustrating day.

  6. Great thoughts, well written. Very thought provoking.

    Companies often get lost in the noise and forget what makes the whole thing work, customers. I know this personally as both a consumer and a entrepreneur.

  7. Jon Strocel says:

    Wow, that’s a great story and a great lesson. Your insight, as always, is bang on.

  8. Kate Brodock says:

    Pam, great advice. I’d like to add a little something to this, a little icing to the cake. There’s something very important in the way of experiencing things out of your comfort zone that opens up your mind to different ways of thinking in general. In a business setting, this is ALWAYS helpful… in fact, I would consider it essential to true success!


  9. Shama Hyder says:

    Hi Pam,

    LOVELY post. Wish I’d written it. Yes, we often hang out so much in our own groups, we forget that our “prospects” are out there-in their own groups!

    Where do you hang out to find clients?


    Hi Shama!

    At this phase of my blog’s life, I follow a lot of incoming links to see who is writing about me. Ironically, I am not really on a “client finding” mission right now since I have enough 1:1 clients and am focusing on writing my book. But to get the world out there when I am looking for clients, I try to do a good job commenting on other blogs I like (Guy Kawasaki’s, Garr Reynolds, Ramit Sethi’s, etc.) who have people that I know are connected to my message.

    I see you EVERYWHERE so I know you do the same thing!

    Hope it helps!


  10. Teri Robinson-AnyEvent says:

    AWESOME!!! So very true! I love this.. and I will make this my goal to touch those who I want to do business with.. Anyone out there know how I can reach Queen Latifah???

    Who knows Teri, maybe someone here does! Start with always including your URL when you comment on blogs so that someone can contact you if they want. I found yours via Google, http://anyevent.org/default.aspx

    As for The Queen, funny you should mention her, since I think she is the ultimate brand manager. Mentioned this in a guest post in the NYT:

    Good luck — the Six Degrees of Separation are powerful! And if you see that she is making a public appearance somewhere, go visit!

    All the best,


  11. Pam, I just wanted to share an experience I had as an AmeriCorps volunteer.

    I spent some time tutoring in Washington D.C. public schools and was *shocked* to learn that none of the students I worked with had ever been to the Smithsonians or seen the Lincoln Memorial.

    Those kids were literally a 10-minute, $1.25 Metro ride away. Witnessing that has really inspired me to push past my own comfort zones.

  12. Richard says:

    “We huddle in online forums with our peers and convince each other that with a little bit more subject matter expertise or certification that we will be ready to create a successful business”

    Wow, these are powerful words. If you sit in the cube constantly reading these forums are you seeking an escape from the grind or do you really want a change? Forms can be harmful if too much time is spent on them. You will never make progress without taking action. Action is when the real learning takes place

  13. apu says:

    Very useful reminder. Sometimes its so easy to get caught up within a comfort zone. Sometimes its not even a physical space, its just the comfort zone of planning, and planning…and then planning some more…!

  14. Koka Sexton says:

    Excellent post. Though I may not be going to burning man anytime soon, I think the concept is brilliant.

  15. Heather says:

    Wonderful! I like the thinking out side the box about finding the types you want to be working with! Thank you again for another inspiring post!

  16. Suzanne Babb says:

    =) Can I just say that I MISS YOU!? Besides the fact that this particular post helps me to rationalize my office supply habit!

    Miss you too Mama!

    Loved your Scotland report out. I am so glad you went!

    As for justifying your office supply habit, I am a full enabler. Aren’t you short some post-it-notes? Do you have enough pens? Go on, get to Staples!


  17. Brilliant, Pam! Great inspiration today. Love to push beyond self-imposed boundaries and just when I think I’ve gone far, your post has me thinking of ways I can even expand more. As I read, I found myself considering where else to hang out. Active-seniors’ living communities, real estate conventions, and dental associations all came to mind…they may never have been places I would have thought of for schmoozing as well as promoting nutrition and wellness. Who woulda thunk it? Thanks for the nudge. As always, you rock:)