Starting a consulting business is perhaps the best way to boost your career. Wondering how?
Consulting is lending your professional expertise to someone (an individual or a business). In return, you are paid a stipulated amount of money. The payment is not in the form of a fixed salary. It could even be a percentage of the profits, a share of the revenue, or even assets with definite value.
It is no wonder that consulting has become a global phenomenon. Statista estimated it to be a $132 Billion market in 2020. With a pandemic raging globally and businesses trying all means to corporate resilience, consultants are in more demand than ever before.
However, every aspiring consultant must know how to find clients. They must know how to have a cohesive marketing strategy for themselves that would help win more clients. Even with opportunities abound, finding the right client who suits your bill may not be easier.
These 6 steps can help you win more clients
Step 1 — Prep your portfolio
There is a popular saying in the consulting circles — a consultant is only as good as his/her last project. Any prospect would think of taking your consultant advice only if you can showcase proof.
In today’s digital world, the best way to do that is with a website. A personal website has become the visiting card of the virtual world. It is the easiest way anyone can find you, read about you, and also decide to contact you if they wish so. On top of that, if you want to improve your website’s position in Google, you should run a blog where you publish articles answering questions your customers might grapple with. Depending on the type of your business, these might answer questions such as “how to reduce costs of running a business”, “how to renovate your house without spending a fortune” or “what is a probate sale“.
Having a website to showcase your portfolio has several benefits. First, it helps establish a strong personal brand. Second, it can help you create profile listings across multiple websites where professional consultants are listed. This can help prospects find and contact you easier. In a way, it is like making it easier for prospective clients to find you than the other way around.
A consultant’s portfolio must have essential elements like the name, a short bio highlighting expertise and strengths, experience, and preferably a link to the latest resume. Here is an example:
Step 2 — Scout your network for opportunities
Porter Gale, the former Vice President of Marketing at Virgin America once opined that “Your network is your net worth.” Despite the steady march of time, this quote still stands true to the last word.
As a consultant, you can have all the skills and expertise. However, you would be able to access the best clients only if you have a strong network that can vouch for you and refer you to prospects.
Building a network takes time, effort, and patience. It is not easy to meet and connect with individuals who would be interested in helping you. Perhaps, following Gary Vaynerchuk’s 21st-century advice in running a business could help here — “Give, give, give, give… Ask.” You can build a network only by helping others in their endeavors. In return, they would be willing to help you find clients for your consulting business.
Step 3 — Have a pipeline of recommendations
Do you know why online stores like Amazon are so eager to showcase their customer reviews? Customer reviews or recommendations as they are referred to in the consulting space are worth their weight in gold.
They give assurance to your prospects that you are an expert who can be counted on to deliver high-quality work. Recommendations can shed light on your positives in a subtle way that no marketing campaign can achieve. Moreover, they are genuine and hence hold more credibility too.
Here is an example:
As a consultant, you can collect recommendations from your customers through email, LinkedIn, or even through other professional review and listing websites. Having a pipeline of recommendations will help you showcase how well your past clients feel about you and why your prospects must choose to work with you.
Step 4 — Scour career pages of your target group
Do you know which is the most common mistake that most professionals stepping into consulting make? They ignore job classifieds and career pages of companies altogether.
Consulting is not employment. It is a different way of offering professional services. However, to find consulting opportunities you must scour through career pages. They can point a finger at companies that are currently facing a deficit of talent. Or, still better, it can highlight the challenges that the prospect is facing. Using that as a base you can connect with the recruiters or leaders in the company and try to explain how your role as a consultant can benefit them.
This is perhaps a straightforward way to find consulting opportunities when there seems to be none at all. Even firms like Bain & Co. hire consultants to amplify their workforce.
Step 5 — Ask for referrals
If you are planning to run your consulting business as a lone business owner, be informed that you cannot build it on your own. You need referrals from your existing clients and from your near and dear ones to build a strong client base. Ask your existing clients if they’ll participate in a video testimonial that you can use across your marketing channels. In consulting, clients are hard to come by. But, once you win them, it is possible to retain them for the long term.
Consulting giants like PwC, McKinsey, E&Y, etc. can sustain global growth because their existing clients do not churn easily. Also, they get a good volume of referrals which enables them to grow their consulting business. The same applies to individual consulting businesses as well.
There are several referral letter templates available on the internet. The ones from HubSpot tops the list. Here is one:
Step 6 — Have templates in place
Running any business — be it consulting or anything else requires you to put some documentation in place. These are SOP documents that you will need from time to time while maintaining written correspondence with your consulting clients. Hire a professional designer or use free graphic design software to create your templates.
As your consulting business grows, it would become difficult to create these documents from scratch each time. It is recommended to have templates in place that you can quickly replicate to create new documents.
Here are some templates that you must have in your digital stationery set.
- Cover letter — A written document that can act as a pitch to your prospects. It should highlight your expertise, why you wish to work with them, and how you may be contacted. There are many cover letter samples available online to help you craft a simple and professional cover letter.
- Consulting proposal — A detailed document that elaborates your consulting proposal into definite deliverables, a timeline template, and engagement model.
- Engagement model — The various options you give your clients to work with you for the short-term or long-term.
- Pricing model — The various pricing packages or slabs you offer based on the scope of work.
- Delivery mechanisms — A document that explains how you will deliver work as agreed with the client and the mechanisms through which it will be delivered to customers.
In a nutshell
Consulting is a lucrative business — there is no denying this fact. However, there is no instruction manual that consultants can follow to achieve success in their endeavors. But, there are steps to follow and best practices to adhere to that can help achieve success certainly.
As a consultant, your portfolio is your biggest asset. An impressive portfolio can go a long way in persuading your prospects to become your clients. Remember that not every consultant begins business with a good customer base. It is built from scratch through referrals and by hard work like scouring career pages of companies.
Also, as a consultant, you could be making life easier for your clients. But, managing your business is going to be difficult if it is not automated with the help of templates. Use automation templates wherever possible to replicate documentation quickly without loss of time. As a consultant, you should be spending time fixing strategies, not doing clerical jobs like documentation.
These steps should help you get more consulting clients and set up a practice that will grow in revenue with time.