All service businesses have the same problem. How to get more customers / clients. I am not sure there is an instant answer and I am not sure there is a definitive answer. As I learned in college, every problem has multiple solutions.
To me, being successful in business means: 1) you make enough money to pay for all your business expenses and 2) you make enough money to pay yourself to live. Most things I read or listen to typically break it down in expenses and profit. Typically the breakdown of expenses includes salaries. Having no formal education in business and even being married to a CPA, I have learned about business using the trial by fire method. So the way I have come to think about my finances is I divide the money into business expenses and personal money. Business expenses is what it takes to keep my door open if I take home no money. Personal money is what I use to pay my personal expenses, so I guess profit is whatever is left over that I don't spend. I know this is not good business thinking, but it really doesn't make any difference which side I put my personal income on, because if I don't make enough money during the year to pay both business and personal expenses everything else is moot.
You should be able to figure out how much money you need to keep you business running. If you are just starting out, you probably don't have the knowledge to know all the expenses that you will incur. This is why some talk to CPAs or if you have a mentor in your profession you can talk to them. Once you have figured out what it takes to keep the doors open and you figure out how much you have to earn to keep your family running, you then know how much total income you need to generate to stay in business.
Now that you have figured out the total amount of dollars you need, the struggle is to figure out how to generate that much income. THAT my friends is what everyone is looking for, but can't seem to find a definitive answer.
If you break it down into dollars per hour, you also need to figure out how many hours during a week you will be able to invoice? If you are like me, the hours work out to be something around 300! :-) Let's say you determine it is 35 hours a week. How do you get 35 hours each and every week so you can stay on track. If I knew that I would be rich.
If you can't obtain the total number of hours per week you need then the next step might be to increase your fee. Fewer hours at a higher fee or more hours at a lower, it fee make no difference as long as you can make your goal. A question that arises is how many of your current clients will you alienate because they now think you charge to much by raising your fee? As I was taught, you keep your old clients at the rate you have been charging them and charge new clients the new higher rate.
There are niches for us all. I appreciate that Mark R LePage has shared with us what he charges for his custom homes, but I have never had a client that was willing to pay me a similar fee. I know of several other residential designer in the area who do get similar fees. I have not put myself in an environment to to meet clients that would give me the opportunity to design a custom home. One of our struggles is if you find an area you would like to work in how do you get yourself into a position where you become an option for those who need your service?
I think it all boils down to relationships. You associate with the crowds you want to provide with your services. You need to socialize with people who can help you meet others. So to find residential clients you may need to associate with residential realtors, contractors or maybe building suppliers. I do mostly commercial and at this point in my career I have become good friends with contractors, commercial realtors, building inspectors,engineers and developers. These are people I do work with and these are the people who recommend me.
I do think social media is extremely important. More important for residential architects than commercial architects. So how do we get more clients. Exposure, involvement and relationships. Doing things such as getting involved in the high school soccer team, helping in the BSA or maybe even going to local council meetings in your area. We have to place ourselves in situation that will generate opportunities. I don't know if my words here are any better than the "Big Picture" verbiage I have been hearing, but I hope it helps someone get a clearer understanding about how things operate in our service based business.