So, you decided to strike out as an independent consultant. Maybe you landed your first client, but are struggling to keep up the momentum. Maybe you are just naturally worried about the future.
Most people who start a business have a moment of truth when they exhaust their immediate network and are forced to start looking for clients further abroad. For consultants, making this transition is critical to your growth success. It requires changes to how you network and the structure you build around your business to accommodate expansion.
What we will explain here are strategies to help you build a consultancy business that is successful and can continue to grow. This article will help you establish your business or grow a business already underway -- offering insight into how consultants should network and the investments you can make now to increase your growth potential in the future. Let’s get started!
Networking needs to become a way of life
The most decisive step you can take towards building your consulting firm is growing your network. When starting out, you should cultivate your network by carefully choosing quality over quantity. You need to focus your efforts on contacts who know you well and are excited by the prospect of you becoming a consultant. This will help you to secure a firm foundation.
Networking effectively means playing the short game and the long game simultaneously. It means balancing your attention between real-world, face-to-face interactions and the time you spend cultivating your network on LinkedIn.
It means that you have to be an active participant in your network rather than a passive observer. And it means that you always need to be prepared for when a new opportunity presents itself.
Be prepared. Be proactive
Make sure that you always carry some business cards with you wherever you go. Always be ready to engage. Make sure that you’re always listening to people, whether they’re in your network or not. We as a nation and a species love to complain about our problems. But a stranger venting about their operational difficulties could become a regular client in six months time.
Make sure that you allot time in your schedule to meet 6-8 new people every single week. It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting or even require any level of commitment on the prospect’s part. A simple chat over a cup of coffee and a sandwich can be a great start to a mutually beneficial business relationship.
Whenever you meet someone in person, be sure to add them on LinkedIn. Make sure you stay in touch with people in your network. Don’t fall into the trap of only conversing with contacts who are on the verge of conversion. People in your network will lose interest in you very quickly if they feel that you’re neglecting them.
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A game of two halves
Throughout your network, you will have clients that represent both short term and long term goals. Both are equally deserving of your time, and if you lose sight of that, your network may suffer.
What’s more, you should use LinkedIn’s blogging platform to facilitate thought leadership via blog posts, tutorials and other useful resources. Do this at least once a month to build value in your brand and establish your knowledge, experience and credentials to those who are new to your network.
Remember that to be effective, the copy you write must be of practical use to the reader. It needs to help them solve a commonly encountered problem or overcome a hurdle that they keep tripping over. Avoid blatant self promotion and focus on adding value -- things that should dominate your face-to-face networking strategy as well.
Make sure you have a solid networking strategy
As important as networking is, be wary of falling into the trap of always being “on”. While networking opportunities can arise at any time, it’s important to read ‘the room’, otherwise you could find yourself incapable of attending a social event without treating somebody to your sales pitch.
And while that may be a spectacular way to alienate friends, it’s never the best way to make a first impression on prospective clients.
Many who are new to running a consulting firm (or working independently) can find themselves treating networking events as opportunities to pitch… which they almost never are. An effective networking strategy needs to be based on listening. Listening to the prospect, understanding their needs, goals and common frustrations and quietly formulating ideas for how you can help them.
This kind of “client-first” approach to networking is important if you’re to add value to your personal brand. In a reputation-based economy, those within your network will judge you by what others in your network are saying about you… not what you are saying about yourself.
Whether online or in person, think about how your actions can build value for the client or prospect. Always make sure you have done your homework before interacting. Make sure you can answer any questions they may ask you and give them enough to establish your credibility while holding back enough to incentivise them to pay for your expertise.
Invest in administrative support
It’s quite common for newly independent consultants to try and take on too much too quickly. They can often find themselves buried under an avalanche of administration and struggle to claw back the face time that they need with their clients, much less give networking the time and attention that it deserves.
Despite its importance, networking can often become a casualty of insufficient time management. And when this happens it can lead to the slow deterioration of your network, blank spaces in your calendar and an erratic workload, all of which aren’t ideal for the hungry consultant trying to make a name for themselves.
Investing in an Executive Assistant (EA) may seem like just another overhead which you could do without, but if you skimp on this vital investment, you may miss out on opportunities in the future.
If possible, bring someone on board who knows you and is familiar with your operation. Not only can they free up more of your time for networking, they can also help you to make the right decisions and stay on track.
Investigate consulting partnerships
Being independent doesn’t mean you have to work completely alone. Looking into consulting partnerships can help you build your consultancy business. A consulting partnership can help you to get your new firm off to the best possible start by giving you access to an invaluable resource… other consultants.
Consulting partnerships allow you access to mentoring opportunities and training in a wide range of areas to round out your skillset. They can provide you with information and support in line with your goals and operational priorities. What’s more, they can even provide you with an EA to help you to manage your time and meet your networking obligations.
Associate partnerships can help you by giving you direct access to consulting work, but at the cost of not owning those relationships yourself. In contrast to this, consulting partnerships will prove more helpful in the long run by furnishing you with the skills to build your own network and establish your own relationships.
Whenever a client has a problem or a question that you’re not sure you can address, someone within your partnership franchise will be able to assist you. You can draw on the knowledge and expertise of a seasoned veteran and increase the value that you represent to those within your network.
They can even allow you access to networking opportunities which you might not be able to access without them. All of this can help you to grow your business and improve your practice.
Growing your consulting business comes down to investing in yourself
When you are an independent consultant, you are your own most precious resource. In your never-ending quest to bring more value to your network and strengthen your reputation, you can never afford to rest on your laurels.
You should always be learning new skills while improving your existing ones. This can broaden your appeal and make for a more diverse network.
What’s more, by investing in yourself, you will become a one-stop-shop for all your clients' operational needs. By growing your skills, you will be able to deliver on more aspects of a project — turning what might have been a minor engagement into a more multifaceted (and lucrative) opportunity.
This is where consulting partnerships can be invaluable. They can help you to grow your skills while providing a huge pool of knowledge, talent, expertise and experience into which you can dip anytime you need to provide a more comprehensive solution to your clients.
When you invest your time, effort and capital in the right places, growth will become a natural consequence of your operational excellence. By focusing on networking, getting the support you need and constantly learning, you will create a groundwork for exponential growth in the future. Good luck!