The First Client
The First Client
You’ve convinced yourself that you want to be an agent and are ready to enter the market. How do you go about getting your first client? Hold on; let me change that to, How do you go about selecting your first client? The key word: selecting.
No matter how big or small the agency, the process of signing a player first involves selecting the right client to represent. Listen, we’ve all made the mistake and signed the client that we should have never signed because we’ve been way to eager to add to our client rosters. But, I can tell you from experience that it isn’t the right way to build a business!
I have only one piece of advice to give about selecting your clients from your first to your last: Believe in your client.
You need to truly believe that your client has some special abilities and that he can play at the next level. If you don’t believe in him, you’ll never be able to sell him to any team. Being an agent is being a salesman, plain and simple. How can you sell a product that you don’t believe in? It’s impossible.
No matter the experience of the agent, he needs to get in the habit of selecting the right clients. There are ideal clients for particular agents. Take a look around the NFL (my apologies to those who don’t like the constant football analogies) and you’ll see that several agents focus in on a particular group. There are agents like Kevin Gold who focus on working with long snappers. Even a large agency like Athletes First (David Dunn) tend to represent mostly quarterbacks. Other agents focus on players who come out of a certain school/region, using Drew Rosenhaus as an example he’s owned the University of Miami campus for years.
There is nothing wrong with specializing in a particular segment of the representation market. A young agent typically wants to be everything to everybody. Especially the young hard working agent who is bound to take on more than he can chew at some point in his career. My advice to all agents, pick your niche and run with it.
Why pick a niche within this gigantic market? Simple. It helps control your business and also helps you negotiate. Obviously you don’t want to limit your market too much (left handed pitchers named Ramon) but you want to make sure that you can master your market. Take for example the agent that decides to represent only fullbacks in the NFL (not that I would suggest such a thing). By the time you get rolling, you’ll know everything there is to know about fullbacks, such as which fullbacks are currently on rosters and most importantly who is making what.
Developing an effective niche allows you to master a particular aspect of a much bigger market and when a player who fits into that niche is looking for an agent, guess who he is going to call!
Developing a proper niche brings me to me to my next point: growing your business. The best way to grow your business is going to be through client references. Days, Months, even years of recruiting a player can all be accelerated to a matter of minutes just by getting the proper player references. Believe it or not, talented established professional athletes will start calling you, the hard working rookie agent, based solely on the positive reference of one of your existing clients.
Now, this all goes back to selecting the right clients. By selecting the right client you are setting yourself up to start collecting on the kind of player references that you want. Select the wrong type of client and the reverse will happen.
How can an agent get his start and work towards selecting his first client? Do your research. Become an expert at the sport in which you want to work before you dare to enter it as an agent. If you don’t, players and key decision makers will sniff you out and throw you to the curb. There is no substitute for establishing credibility. When I went about selecting my first client I choose a talented football player from my alma mater and decided that he would be a great fit. This is typically the path that most agents take. It happened with Leigh Steinberg signed Steve Bartkowski at Cal and when Drew Rosenhaus signed Robert Bailey at Duke. There’s no doubt that Steinberg caught a pretty good break when he signed Bartkowski who became the 1st overall draft pick in the 1975 NFL draft. Michael Barnett also became pretty famous by landing a client named Wayne Gretzky back when hockey agents were uncommon.
I will add that in addition to my comments about hard work, another uncanny trait about most successful agents is a combination of luck and timing. On a personal note, I signed my 3rd client in a draft day chat room after joking (well, half joking) that I’d represent him if he needed an agent. The player had just been drafted 4th overall in the CFL draft. A few conversations later I had myself a client who went on to become the CFL Rookie of the Year and ended up winning the CFL’s Outstanding Canadian and Grey Cup’s Outstanding Canadian trophy in years to come.