It goes without saying that when you start out in business as a consultant, the crucial procedure that will make or break your business is how successfully you seek out and engage new clients. To do this, you need to know the best ways of promoting and expanding your business.
You may start your consultancy without expertise in marketing, but you will have to learn the optimal ways of marketing the skillset and services you are offering. You may have no sales experience, but you will have to become an expert at selling yourself. You need to show your (hopefully) future clients that you are credible, valuable, and worth your professional fees. Below we outline six steps to engaging your first clients.
1. Selling your services
Starting out in consultancy, you will undoubtedly discover that selling yourself is an extremely challenging process. Some individuals are natural born salespeople, but for many of us it’s difficult, maybe even embarrassing, to be trumpeting our skills to others, but that’s what you must do to succeed as a consultant. You might feel that you do you not have the qualifications to sell yourself, or simply be inexperienced in the entire process, but you need to learn to close those deals and bring in those clients. Once you learn how to sell yourself the whole process will become simpler and more natural, and you will know just how to approach each client to maximize your chances of being engaged.
2. Know your industry
When you start out as a consultant, you need to know your industry inside out; how else are you going to convince your clients that you have the necessary professionalism and expertise to do a good job for them? You may well be an expert in your field in terms of working for others, but how much do you know about the way that an independent consultant works in your sector? If you’re thinking about moving to independent consultancy, learn as much about your sector as possible. Look at LinkedIn, online discussion boards, and other sites for professionals and join in discussions there. Not only will you learn vital information about your sector and becoming an independent consultant within it, but you will also start to build a professional network that can help you bring in clients.
3. Create a network
Once you have this network, you’ll find it is one of the best ways of attracting new clients. Nearly all independent consultants gained their initial contracts through networking. Networking is letting others know that you are in business and seeking work. Blind pitches for work are very rarely effective for people starting out in consultancy; you need that personal touch to start registering on potential clients’ radar. When you meet people, take an interest in them, find out what sector they work in and what their needs might be. The more information you can discover, the greater the likelihood there is that you can find out where your services will dovetail with their needs.
4. Be prepared
When you’re meeting a potential client, don’t just rush straight into telling them what you can do for them. You need to create a belief in the client that you are experienced and qualified enough to do the best job possible. Let your clients know what you have done in the past, how high you have risen in your profession, and all the specialist skills you possess. Sometimes it may not be necessary for you personally to provide all this information, indeed it may be preferable if another of your contacts or former colleagues has done so already. Remember that if this is the case the potential client may well have checked you over on social media, LinkedIn, and other professional networks, so make sure your profile in these areas is effective and up to date.
5. Offer solutions
Once you have made initial contact with the client, you will need to show them that you are the person they need to meet their needs. You need to diagnose what the problem is and put forward a workable remedial plan. After your first meetings, carry out a thorough review of their requirements and provide them with your proposals in writing. Don’t promise anything that you can’t fulfil just to get a client, that can end up being expensive, especially if you don’t have professional liability insurance for consultants. If there’s something you can’t do, be honest about it and suggest people who could fill the gap; you will quite possibly be rewarded for your honesty by being awarded at least part of the available contract.
6. Know how to price
Once you have got a client interested in engaging your services, you need to offer them a price that they find attractive. When you’re starting out, you can’t expect to command the same fees as a consultant who has been in business for a decade. Instead of seeing this as a disadvantage, make it an advantage: explain to your client that although your skills and experience can match anyone in your field, because you’re starting out you are going to offer them a special rate. Don’t forget to use this opportunity to ask them to reciprocate with good reviews or references if they are happy with your work.
It’s easy to become fixated on getting your first client, but of course it’s no good getting just one client in and sitting back expecting the work to flood in. Always be looking ahead and thinking about how you can get your second, third, tenth, twentieth client. What are you doing for this client that you can add to your profile that will attract more clients? How will you get this client to provide you with good references and reviews? Always be thinking of how to expand; if you do it right then every client you get could be a springboard for two or three more and your business will expand exponentially.
Companies and individuals will often employ consultants when they have been trying to solve a problem for years, and yet they will expect a solution to be provided in weeks. This means that they will want to employ consultants who have a skillset that very closely matches their problem. If you try to be too broad in your publicity and marketing, you will end up appearing to be a jack of all trades and master of none. Let potential clients know exactly what your skillset is and what you are best at. That will give you a much better chance of hitting the “sweet spot” where your skills coincide with their needs.
Finally, never forget that marketing is a lifelong endeavor, whether you are looking for your first client or your 1000th. Anyone who sits back once they have started to enjoy success and thinks that they don’t need to market themselves anymore will swiftly find themselves back at square one.
Don’t forget that being an independent consultant carries certain risks with it that you won’t have faced when working for a company; all liabilities arising from your work will be down to you. If you don’t want to lose your business as a result of a single error or omission, you should consider taking out professional liability insurance to protect everything for which you have worked so hard.