Every once in a while I interact with a contractor who is running low on both work and money. It is not a pleasant place to be for any business owner. Here is what I wrote to one such contractor recently:

Hard as it is, try to compartmentalize the apprehension you are feeling. There is no getting around the facts, but you can’t effectively sell, or nurture existing relationships, or create new relationships until you have set aside the feeling of being scared.

Think like a soldier going into battle: If you’re not scared, then you’re crazy, and the fear will help you make smarter decisions.

As for how to generate leads, I cannot stress enough that, just as in war, self-discipline and doing the same things over and over make a huge difference in the results generated. It can’t be “Today I don’t feel like doing it.” Do the following over and over to create leads.

Call—or better yet visit or have coffee or have lunch—with at least one past client every day. Too much? Then do it every other day. These existing relationships WILL bring work to the company, either because someone has work for you or he refers you to someone else.

Consider bringing one of your employees with you on these visits. They will likely make the visit easier for you and the client sees a couple of people giving him their attention, a powerful thing.

About a week after your visit or call, send a hand-written note to the client, thanking him for his time. And then, about every two months, make sure the company “touches” the client with some kind of communication. Vary the tactics. It could be an e-newsletter, a hand-written note, an email saying “Thinking of you,” an article you clipped because it was of interest to the client, an announcement that your company has won an award, or an invitation to attend a seminar you are giving. The idea is to make it hard for the client to forget you.

Call (and again, it’s better yet to meet in person) with every trade contractor and supplier you have steered work towards in the past couple of years. Tell them specifically what type of work you are looking for. Ask them what they suggest you do to get work. Ask who else you should get in contact with.

Keep up the conversation with those folks. They are busy and need to be reminded regularly, just like all of us.

I would not give up on architects. Continue to look for those who want to work with good contractors as partners, as early as possible in the process. Do the “touch” thing with those folks. Let the other architects go work with contractors who love to do free bids.

Networking groups can bring good leads. Rotary is one that a number of contractors attend. It is best to attend regularly and start making friends. Even better is to join a committee or the like. That way you get to really know some other folks who might need work done or who know others who do.

All the above will take some time to bear fruit. Done regularly, they will create work for your company.

In the meantime, I would talk with your banker. See what kind of flexibility he can provide.

Accounts payable mounting up? Talk with your trade contractors and vendors. As long as you do they will generally not expect 100% payment immediately. Some might be willing to wait, while others might want a small but steady payment made regularly.

Finally, talk with the other contractors in your area. Someone has got to have more leads than he can handle. See if what he can’t handle is a fit for your company.

Remember, it won’t always be like this. Things can change very quickly for a small business. Look forward to a better future while you deal with the current reality.