In our global survey of consulting business owners, 47% stated that their number one challenge was getting new 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 seldom is there a quick fix either.
That’s because getting clients for a consulting business requires you to first put in a lot of groundwork.
To successfully sell consulting services you need to become:
Known, liked, and trusted.
That is not something that you can fast track.
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.
Although we all know they’re critical activities to build a successful business, few consulting business owners accurately estimate the time required to be effective.
If you're a solopreneur, you'll need to be spending anywhere between 20%-40% of your time on sales and marketing.
Sales and marketing are the polar opposite to consulting
What I mean by that is that when you're consulting, you're doing something that someone asked for, that they want, and for which you'll be provided with feedback on.
As consultants we often thrive on that 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 that people didn’t ask for, may not want, and for which if you receive feedback it might be mostly negative!
Yet the consequences of not focusing sufficiently and appropriately on your marketing and sales is significant! Without the right focus you can guarantee yourself a seat on the revenue roller coaster - where one month your revenues are up, and you feel like you’ve built a winning business. The next month they're down and feelings of success are far from your mind!
I can tell you from experience, it's a very stressful place to be.
So what to do when you need clients fast?
Quite simply, you need to ASK!
To make sure you're asking the right people, here is my Top 5 list of people that you should go and speak to today:
- Your existing clients with active projects
- Your past clients
- Referrals: In both of the above conversations, ask for referrals
- Prospects you’ve previously proposed to, but not won work
- Warm outreach
The list is in order of the highest likelihood of positive results. Each one is explained in more detail below.
01 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 risk making a fool of yourself, and could damage the trust that you so carefully built up in the first place.
02 Your past clients
Get in touch with the clients that you’ve worked for previously. I recommend simply reaching out by phone (preferred) 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.
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.
03 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 for 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 XYZ, so I thought of you.
Steve, meet John,
John is CEO of company ABC. 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!
04 Prospects you’ve previously proposed to, but not 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.
05 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 do when meeting a stranger is to look them up on social media. In a business context, that means Linkedin.
Is your Linkedin profile optimised or is it still just an online CV?
Here are some suggestions of what to do:
- 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 single activity 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.
From there it is to use multiple marketing channels - to be omni-channel - and to ensure that you are consistent, persistent and patient.
But like I said, the fastest route to a sale is to have conversations with people that are already aware of you.
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