If you’re new to consulting and you’re worried about winning business and generating cash flow, you’re not alone. When I talk to people who are either considering making the leap or are in their first few months as a consultant, they all want to know how to generate leads and turn them into projects.
What’s the magic bullet? Sorry, there isn’t one, but here are five strategies for winning business I suggest to people who ask me this question:
1. Define your service offering
A mistake I frequently see new consultants make is not defining their service offering. I understand – fear of missing out can lead you [unwisely] to market yourself as the ‘I can do everything’ consultant.
You figure that this is the strategy that will ensure you are in the running for as many projects as possible. But in fact, it has the opposite effect. It makes it very difficult for clients to distinguish what your area of expertise is; what it is that you excel at. It also makes it very difficult for you to stand out from the crowd. Instead, you need to define your consulting niche. Decide on a small suite of core services you will focus on and market yourself as an expert in these areas. And if you’re struggling to decide, here are three helpful questions to focus on:
What are you really good at? We’re all good at lots of things. But what are you really good at? In what areas do you excel? What are you known to be the go-to person for? Make sure your core business offering is something you know you are going to do an outstanding job on.
What do you love doing? As employees, there are always tasks we have to do that we don’t like. Now that you’re working for yourself you have an opportunity to shape the kind of work you do. So, think about what you love doing. What aspects of your previous roles made you feel fulfilled, valued, happy even?
What work is available in the marketplace? It may seem obvious, but I’ve seen people make the mistake of only considering the first two questions and forgetting about this one. You know your industry or sector the kind of projects consultants are commonly brought in to do. Make sure that the niche you decide on is in demand in your marketplace.
The key message is that there are many things you could offer – but don’t be tempted to offer everything you’re capable of – decide on a small suite of services instead and build your consulting reputation around those.
2. Prepare a professional capability statement
A capability statement is a simple marketing document that tells potential clients clearly and succinctly about your business and the consultancy services you provide. It assists them in deciding whether they should do business with you or not. So, it’s important.
But don’t be tempted just to update your CV and provide that– this isn’t what your potential clients want. Start from scratch and produce a tailored marketing document.
But when you are new to consulting, how do you ‘sell’ yourself when you don’t have any runs on the board?
Obviously you need to leverage your prior career, and here’s what to highlight:
- Variety. You need to show you have a broad variety of experiences in your sector to demonstrate you can turn your hand to multiple situations. So if you’ve moved around a lot in your career, this is great – highlight it.
- Project management. As a consultant, projects are your new normal, so you need to demonstrate that you have this covered. Pull out discrete projects from your career and find examples of where you were responsible for project management. You’re looking for beginnings and endings, key deliverables and deadlines that were met.
- Stakeholder management. Conducting stakeholder consultations is a core consulting skill and clients want to know that you have what it takes to work effectively with their stakeholders. Again, highlight examples from your previous roles.
- Other competencies that align with the consultant role. Additional competencies you could highlight are solid writing skills, analysis, critical thinking, and the provision of high-level advice.
- Senior/influential people who can vouch for you. While they don’t have experience of you as a consultant, they can vouch for your credentials and your experience. Of course, make sure you get their permission first.
Preparing a professional capability statement for your business can take some time, but it’s an essential tool in your efforts to win business. If you’ve never prepared one, download my cheat sheet.
3. Market yourself
There’s no getting away from it. Winning enough business is reliant on you marketing yourself. You always have to have one eye on winning the next project while you’re delivering your current one.
When we step from employment to the private sector, staying under the radar is just not an option. You’re now running a small business and you need to nurture business opportunities if you’re going to stay afloat.
A mistake I see people make when they first start out is focusing on what I call ‘down the track’ marketing strategies – like developing a website. I’m not saying this isn’t important, but just not right at the start of your consulting journey. Anyone who has developed a website will tell you that it is rarely straightforward [at least not to develop a really great website], it’s very time consuming and it can turn out to be very expensive. It can become all-consuming and can easily distract you from other more important tasks. So in the interim I suggest you just set up a one page website, and leave developing a full site till you’ve got some projects under your belt and a bit of cash flow in the bank. For now, focus on a few essential marketing strategies that won’t take you too far outside your comfort zone and won’t cost you the earth.
Talk to people. Obvious I know, but that old-fashioned way of connecting with people is still really important for getting yourself on the radar of potential clients. Pick up the phone, arrange to meet for coffee – however you do it, talk to people and let them know about your move to consulting [and of course, follow up by sending them your capability statement].
Make sure you have an excellent LinkedIn profile. You generally look for a new employment role quite infrequently, so it’s easy to forget about your LinkedIn profile. Now that you’re a consultant, your LinkedIn profile is the first place potential clients will head to when you make contact with them – make sure it’s an excellent profile. Do some homework – there is plenty of really good information available about what makes a great LinkedIn profile. So follow the advice of experts in the field. Here’s a few tips from me:
- Make sure your profile states what you actually do. Put yourself in the shoes of potential clients and make sure they can very quickly understand what services you provide by reading the first section of your profile. And if you’re thinking “this is surely what everyone does”, take a look at a few random profiles and I guarantee you’ll be surprised at how often you’re left wondering about what exactly some consultants do.
- Don’t just use your job title for your headline copy – use this space as a marketing tool too.
- In your profile summary, demonstrate that you understand your audience’s core challenges [and that you can solve them].
- Proactively seek out potential clients on LinkedIn and connect with them – but make sure it’s a personalised message.
Develop a business brand. I’m not talking about anything complicated, just deciding on a name, a simple logo and business colours. Once you have a simple design you can use this everywhere you’re trying to make your presence felt; business cards, capability statement, email signature, LinkedIn profile, and on all your business templates [e.g. consultancy proposal and report].
So steer clear from getting bogged down in ‘down the track’ marketing strategies and instead get some quick runs on the board.
4. Hone your consultancy proposal skills
The next major hurdle in winning business will be producing a winning proposal when opportunities start to come your way.
In a competitive marketplace your consultancy proposal must do all of the following:
Demonstrate you understand the brief. When the client reads your proposal, they need to be confident that you understand their problem, their environment and what they need from a consultant. The only way to really nail this is to make sure you talk to them before you prepare your proposal – don’t rely on the written brief as it rarely tells the full story. Oh, and you need to be able to do this very succinctly – the client doesn’t want a tome.
Outline a logical methodology/project plan. When you pitch for a project, the client needs to know what you plan to do for them. How do you plan to approach the project; what methods and tools will you use; how will your time be allocated?
Provide a realistic costing. Quoting for projects is a learning curve, and it’s easy to make mistakes when you first start out. The best way to avoid those mistakes is to make sure you prepare a detailed project plan that maps out your approach and identifies the essential tasks and likely timeframes. It’s tedious but necessary.
Your business success is entirely reliant on winning project bids, so make sure your proposal is top notch and will stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons.
5. Do a great job on your first few projects
When you first start out you can win business by leveraging your prior career. But this will only last for a short time; after that, it’s your reputation as a consultant that will count, so you need to make sure you do an excellent job on those first projects. Don’t underestimate the learning curve. Don’t be one of these people that presumes that because you’ve had a successful career, you already know how to consult. Consulting is a whole different [and exciting] ball game, so do it justice by being prepared to learn the ropes and develop your competency in the core consulting skills.
Every new consultant worries about winning enough business. And it’s definitely something you should worry about. But don’t let anxiety be the boss here; take charge, be proactive and follow my advice to give yourself the best chance of building a successful solo consulting business.
Do you have any other strategies for winning business for new consultants?