It's hard to grow a practice with low-grade clients. You end up doing commoditized work at low margins with high-maintenance people who refer more of the same. If this sounds familiar and you find yourself at a lower plateau aspiring to higher ground, consider that in order to upgrade the sophistication of your clientele (and the revenue they generate), you will first need to do some upgrading of your own.
Upgrade your thinking. The practice you want begins with your frame of mind. If you set aggressive goals and pursue them diligently—and if you refuse to settle for mediocrity—you will more likely generate the confidence, opportunities, and relationships necessary for your evolution.
Upgrade your branding. Turn a critical eye to your marketing materials. Do they represent the quality of client you want? If your website, pitch book, brochures, and business cards were designed with your current clients in mind, they are most likely not targeting the clients you are looking to attract.
Upgrade your network. The referrals you're collecting are a representation of the company you keep. Start infusing your database with business, community, and thought leaders. Attend the events where they speak, and make it a point to introduce yourself. Seek them out on LinkedIn and look for common points of contact. Remember, they're just people. The only reason they aren't part of your circle is that you haven't made a concerted effort to include them.
Upgrade your fees. This is a controversial notion, especially in a soft economy, but raising your fees can be a catalyst for attracting a higher grade of clientele because it forces you to prioritize an upmarket strategy. If you price yourself out of the "C"s, you'll have no choice but to find "B"s who can afford your new rates. Once you've stabilized a client base of "B"s, the same exercise will push you to the "A"s.
Don't expect this transition to happen overnight. It's a process born of clear intention and consistent action. But if you're tired of your treadmill, then it's time to take the steps to upgrade your clientele.