Many professionals have the technical skills to help solve various organizational problems. They have the communications skills, knowledge, experience and drive to work for themselves and sell their skillset to businesses in need of help. Having this ability is actually the easy part. Finding clients willing to employ you on an ongoing basis is far more challenging. Most consultants last about 3-5 years because they do not invest sufficient time to market themselves continually. Time for business development must be spent each and every week.
Selling services is different than selling products
When the product is an intangible or service, the challenges are different than B2B or B2C product marketing. Sure you have a solution to sell but that solution is dependent on your personal ability to deliver it. Clients will buy from trustworthy and competent people who they like, and who can demonstrate that they can produce the results they promise. Most often, a consultant will work for a previous employer who knows them and their ability to get a specific job done. That first client may be your last client unless you formalize a plan.
Hurdles to overcome:
- Understand your value proposition and how to differentiate your business from your competition. What makes you different from everyone else? How can you help your clients like no one else can? How are you unique?
- Build trust relationships, establish yourself as a subject matter expert and optimize your client communications. Your firm needs to be visible, likeable and credible. Consistently show that you have your client’s best interests at heart.
- Focus your efforts on a specific market niche, whether it is a geographical market, a functional area, a certain demographic, a vertical market segment or something else. It is impossible to be all things to all people. Define your ideal client and build from there.
- Develop a written plan with goals, action plans, timelines and metrics. Focus on one approach at a time to get it working, and then develop the second, and so on. This requires constant nurturing. If one method isn’t working, change it, or drop it. Dedicate 10% of your time every week to marketing activity.
Hard work required
Your approach should focus on generating leads and referrals. For many of the following actions, you can hire someone else to do the work for you.
- Website: Drive traffic to your website. Make it interactive to collect potential client contact information. Build content around client issues, not your qualifications. Prospective clients will head straight to your website before they call you. Create a positive first impression. Use content, testimonials, etc. to build and sustain client relationships. It’s not just a promotional tool. Offer free content as a white paper on relevant topics.
- Alliance partners: Develop relationships with other businesses that have the same client focus that you have and share leads. Use structured leads groups when appropriate.
- Networking: Meet other professionals or potential clients at the Chamber of Commerce, community events, civic groups, non-profits, charities, church activities, schools and universities. Maximize your LinkedIn connections.
- Referral marketing: Develop a cadre of trusted advisors/business confidants/former clients that can be a source for business referrals.
- Trade associations: Join, attend and make presentations at industry trade shows, conferences and seminars. Publish articles in trade magazines.
- Newsletter: Publish a monthly newsletter that’s full of helpful business tips and industry news.
- Directory listings: Make sure you are listed in both online and offline directories and appear in search engine results, so prospective clients can find your services.
- Press releases: Email client success stories regarding how your services solved their business problem and helped grow their business.
- Social media: Optimize your presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms appropriate to your business.
- Blogging: Create your own blog and post regularly, as well as tweet, on topics relevant to your market niche, to establish a community of followers that can be a source of referrals.
- Seminars/webinars: Host a mini-seminar or online webinar regularly where an outside marketing expert talks about how to grow your client’s business or similar relevant topics.
- Publish a book: Establish yourself as the subject matter expert in your area of expertise.
Instead of trying to “sell” your services, give prospects the confidence that you are the expert they can rely on and trust to get the job done. Stay in constant touch or maintain your visibility with clients so they can find you when they need you. Show them with relevant content and continuous communication that you are the “GO-TO” person in your market niche. If you learn to continually generate new clients, you can be a consultant for as long as you like.
Bob Harrington Associates has been in the executive search business for 20 years and can help you find the best people for your business.