In our global survey of consulting business owners, 47% stated their number one challenge as getting clients.
The second and third biggest problems were effective marketing and closing the deal.
Clearly, consulting business owners are heavily focused on, and troubled by, winning more work!
The difficulty is, there’s no silver bullet, and there’s no quick fix.
That’s because getting clients for a consulting business requires you to first put in a lot of groundwork.
You need to become known, liked, and trusted. And that takes time.
What compounds the issue is that most people go into consulting to deliver their subject matter expertise. They don’t start a consulting business to become a marketer or a salesperson. Even though we all know that they’re essential things we need to do in our businesses, seldom does the solopreneur or micro-business owner realise that they’ll be spending 20%-40% of their time on their sales and marketing.
And the reality is, sales and marketing can often be the polar opposite to consulting.
When consulting, you’re delivering projects for your clients, and providing tangible assets, such as reports, that they expect; that they want; and that they’ll give you instant feedback on. As consultants we often thrive on that positive feedback as we’re proud of the work that we do.
But when it comes to marketing – whether you’re cold calling, writing blog articles, public speaking, whatever – you’re often doing things people don’t expect, didn’t ask for, and don’t give you feedback on.
The consequences of not focusing sufficiently and appropriately on your marketing and sales is, however, significant!
Without the right focus on marketing and sales you guarantee yourself a free ride on the revenue roller coaster!Without the right focus on marketing and sales in your consulting business you guarantee yourself a free ride on the revenue roller coaster! Click To Tweet
That’s where one month your revenue is up, all is rosy, and you feel like you’ve built a winning business. You feel like you’re really onto something.
Then the next month it’s a different story. Your business is on the precipice of failure.
I can tell you from experience, this is a very stressful place to be. And it certainly doesn’t align with the vision you had when you started your consulting business for freedom and significant financial rewards!
Try telling your significant other that you firmly believe you’re doing the right thing when there’s no money in the bank!
So what to do when you need clients fast?
Quite simply, you need to ASK!
Just make sure it’s the right people. Below is a list of 5 people to go and speak to today in order that you might win more work.
There’s a specific order to this list, based upon the highest likelihood of positive results.
1. Your existing clients with active projects
Look at the projects that you’re currently running. Is there an opportunity to extend the scope? Or is there another project that you could be delivering for this client simultaneously?
One caveat here – it must be real! Don’t go making stuff up, or choosing stuff with an incredibly weak business case as you’ll just end up making a fool of yourself, and you’ll damage some of that trust that you so carefully built up in the first place.
2. Your past clients
Get in touch with the clients that you’ve worked for previously. It’s up to you how you approach this, but I’d recommend simply reaching out by phone or email and suggesting a catch-up over a coffee. During the conversation you can identify if there’s any problems that they’re dealing with where you might be able to help them.
You could also be up-front and ask. Say that you’ve got some capacity, which is great if there’s anything that you can help them with.
Don’t come across like you’re desperate for work though! The fact you have capacity is a benefit to your client, rather than a problem for you. That’s how it needs to come across.
3. Referrals: In both of the above conversations, ask for referrals
This can have varying results. Just like we can often be introverted, we must recognise that asking fo a referral is a big ask of our clients and contacts.
The way I recommend you do it is to provide your contact with something of value that they can pass on to the person that they’re referring you to. That way your contact is actually adding value to the person they’re introducing you to, rather than simply doing you a favour.
What could you give?
What about a simple infographic? You can create one in half a day, they take very little commitment to be read, and they can have terrific results.
Or maybe you have a free guide that could pass on. A PDF document.
Another thing you can do to make it even easier for them is to write the introduction email for them. Here’s three suggestions as to how you might do this:
- The forwarder: Write an email to your client/contact that they can just forward on, and that says something along the lines of:
“Following on from the conversation we had earlier today, here’s the Guide I mentioned that you thought would be useful to your contact. Feel free to pass it on, and by all means copy me in and I’ll follow up with them.”
- Thinking of you: Sometimes clients don’t know what to say. They’re busy enough as it is without us giving them more work to do. So write the email for them. Try the following and then ask your contact to just copy and paste it into a new email.
Long time no speak. How are you?
I thought of you earlier today when I talking with a consultant that we use. He mentioned to me about this guide/infographic that they’ve recently produced.
I think it could be very relevant to you (see attached).
I hope you don’t mind, but for expedience I’ve copied him in so that you or he can follow up if its of relevance.”
- Straight to the point: Alternatively, you could write the following email on behalf of your contact that just gets to the point:
“John, meet Steve,
Steve is a consultant that we use from time to time. He’s asked me if I can refer him to senior business leaders that might benefit from his services. He’s an expert in X/Y/Z, so I thought of you.
Steve, meet John,
John is CEO of company 123. He’s always tackling tough challenges and I think your expertise might align well with his needs.
I’ll leave it to the two of you to take the conversation forward.”
Some etiquette to consider:
- Always respect your contact. When you speak to the person he’s referred you to, you are representing him too! Keep that in mind. Say something positive about him.
- Always say thanks in an email, then take your original contact off of the email chain after the first ‘thank you’ email. You don’t want to be bombarding them with irrelevant emails.
- A referral is not a promise of work! Don’t go in too strong and scare the prospect off!
4. Prospects you’ve previously proposed to, but not yet won work
Even if you lost out to a competitor, it’s always important to keep in touch with prospects. There’s no guarantee that the firm you lost out to previously did a good job, or that the prospect still uses them! Perhaps they were a preferred firm of someone who’s now left the organisation.
Go through your proposals and remind yourself who you know. Reach out, much like above, and seek a catch up meeting.
5. Warm outreach
Have you got an email list? If not, you should have. If you haven’t it means your entire marketing approach is based upon people with an immediate need. Something like 80% of the people we meet, or who view our website or online profiles, don’t have an immediate need.
For these people we need to nurture the relationship.
Through the use of software, such as email marketing software, you can see who is most engaged in your audience.
Identify these people and simply reach out. Send them an email and make an offer, such as a free strategy call, or a free training webinar. Do whatever you have to do to get in front of your prospects and to make them aware of you.
Speeding things up
Ultimately, all of the steps above are about shortcutting the process of becoming known, liked and trusted. Here’s some tactical things that you can do help in this process;
Create a give-away
You have to give before you can receive, especially as a consulting busines owner. Take your subject matter expertise and write a short guide or two.
All of the above steps can be enhanced through a useful give-away. Note – a valuable give-away, not a bribe!
Focus on demonstrating your expertise and showcasing your point of view.
Update your social media profile – especially LinkedIn
The first thing people that don’t know you are going to do is to look you up on LinkedIn. Is your profile optimised?
Here’s some suggestions:
- Make sure your description, job title, and career history positions you as an expert in your chosen niche, and that it is client focused. As a consulting business owner your profile is not an online CV! It’s a free marketing tool where your ideal client should be front and centre
- Ensure you have LinkedIn Recommendations. This will be even more valuable if there’s a recommendation from the contact who’s referring you! Don’t have enough LinkedIn recommendations right now? Then go ask your current and past clients and colleagues to give you a recommendation
- Post some content on your profile – such as a guide or infographic – that people searching your profile can download. That way you’re giving value from the off
Still no silver bullet?
I’m afraid I wasn’t lying when I said there’s no quick fix to the conundrum of getting more clients.
Some people will promise you that there is. They’ll say to you to get cold calling, or networking, or public speaking, or any number of other potential marketing approaches.
Look, I’m not saying cold calling, or in fact any marketing approach, won’t work. The truth is they can all work. But when you’re looking for fast results, your best bet is to talk with actual human beings that you already know you to some degree, and therefore have some trust in you.
With marketing, it’s simply a matter of deciding:
- Which marketing channels you want to utilise and that you can be consistent, persistent and patient with
- Which approaches will get you results in the shortest time