When it comes to independent consulting, unfortunately, there’s no magic wand you can just wave to make clients appear. Getting more clients is all about building a strategy and playing the long game.
Think of landing clients like a game of chess. You need to make the right moves in the present while anticipating the next steps you’ll need to take. There are many proponents at play all at once: people within your network including prospects and existing clients, current long and short-term engagements, and the ability to build new relationships and establish your own brand.
It can seem like a lot to consider, but we’re here to break it down for you, so you can be assured that you’re doing the right things to get more clients for your independent consulting business. Let’s get started!
Expand your network
Independent consultants depend on their network: it’s the source of their prospects when starting out. Today’s contacts could be tomorrow’s paying clients. And even when they don’t become clients, they’re still a valuable resource. After all, they may introduce you to contacts of their own who may need your services. So, the more people you know, the better!
When you’re an independent consultant, every single person you meet is a prospective client. As such, making yourself known to more people and solidifying your brand as a trusted and reputable consultant will help position you in all the right minds. So when the time comes, they’ll turn to you and not one of your competitors.
Get the full networking guide
Gain a comprehensive list of networking tips specifically for aspiring independent consultants here in our networking guide for client acquisition.
Think about who’s in your network
While everyone you meet has the potential to become a paying customer, consulting is just like any other business — some leads are “hotter” than others. Success in consulting lies in making sure that you’re interacting with the right decision-makers and influencers who can help you have the inside track when a project or engagement comes along.
However, there are some contacts who may not be the key decision-makers, but will be able to introduce you to someone who could open up a project later on down the line. So, how do you keep yourself visible to all the right people?
Meet people in person
You can’t afford to neglect your network. Make sure that you’re meeting up with people in your existing contacts regularly. Schedule time in your diary to do this — ideally, you should aim to meet 6-8 people a week, even if it’s just for a quick catch up over coffee.
Remember that your existing contacts aren’t just a potential source of work, they’re a potential referrals goldmine. Angle, or even better ask for introductions from people you already know and with whom you already have a good relationship. You never know when someone might be able to help you find a viable prospect.
And remember the golden rule of networking! When it comes to meeting people, never start off with a hard sell. It’s awkward and embarrassing for them and smacks of desperation, which bodes ill for your brand. What’s more, you likely don’t know them well enough to be able to know if your services are aligned with their needs. So focus on demonstrating your value, offer them tidbits of advice and help them keep you at the forefront of their minds should they have need of you.
LinkedIn is a phenomenal resource for independent consultants, so if you’re not spending time on LinkedIn, it’s time to update and polish your presence. Every day you’re not on LinkedIn, you’re losing opportunities!
LinkedIn allows you to interact with and meet people you wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. Be sure to add a set number of people on the platform every week. Send them a message to wish them well, and set notifications to remind yourself to touch base with them. Properly utilising LinkedIn also means you show up in people’s feed, ensuring that prospects won’t forget you without the reminder being obtrusive.
If you meet someone at a networking event or elsewhere in the real world, add them on LinkedIn. This gives you an opportunity to follow up, drop them a message and, again, helps them remember you and your meeting. This is even more effective if you can deliver them value, such as the link to the helpful article you mentioned in your meeting.
Another way to demonstrate your knowledge to prospects is by using LinkedIn’s blogging feature. It allows you to engage with clients and prospects indirectly by publishing thought leadership posts. These will allow you to display your expertise on many of the pain points potential clients could be experiencing. This can increase your value in the eyes of prospects, and help to build and establish your firm’s brand (more on that later).
Think about the kind of engagements you want
When establishing your independent consulting business, especially in the early years, you need to think about how you can build a sustainable, long-term pipeline when it comes to engagements.
As tempting as it may be to take any and every engagement that comes your way, this will put you in danger of over stretching or burning out pretty quickly. And that’s not a state that’s conducive to doing your best work and building a positive reputation.
Instead, take a long-term approach to project acquisition and think about the kinds of projects upon which you want to grow your consulting firm and your reputation. There are no right or wrong answers here — it all depends on your professional priorities, your skills and experience.
For example, high-profile projects for big corporate clients may get you noticed eventually (and result in a great revenue) but they’ll also take more time. Smaller projects, on the other hand, may allow you more free time to meet people, expand your network, and grow your skills so you can deliver greater value… but you can expect to get paid less.
Every project is a dot on the learning curve
Every engagement you have, no matter how short, is ripe with potential for learning and increasing your expertise. Each provides an opportunity to utilise and hone your skills, standing you in good stead for future engagements. In meetings with prospects, you’ll be able to demonstrate your skills in action by referring to previous projects. This will demonstrate your value proposition and make them more likely to want to hire you.
Know your goals
Formulating a strategy is easier when you have clear goals in mind. You can think clearly about the pros and cons of the kinds of projects that come your way and view them through the prism of how well they align with you meeting your goals.
For example, projects at big companies offer tremendous scope for achieving your goals. They allow you to work in one department for a while and get to know the people and operations that make it run. Then, after a while, you can crossover and work with other departments, gaining new skills and making new contacts as you work on different aspects of the project.
Engagements like these are a gift because they enable you to make new contacts while both demonstrating your expertise and getting paid.
It’s also essential to have long-term client acquisition strategies in mind. Ideally, you want to have potential clients and engagements in the pipeline without limiting your future capacity with too many long-term projects. Instead, try and opt for projects that will offer you the flexibility to move onto new things, expand your network, grow your skills, and deliver value to a range of clients and prospects in order to…
Establish your brand
Your personal reputation and brand are what will get you noticed and help you to stand out as an independent consultant. If your track record proves that you’re reliable and capable of delivering excellent ROI, it’s more likely that top-tier clients will want to hire you.
By focusing on growing your individual brand, you can leverage it to get more (and better quality) clients in the long run. This means you can’t be too shy in promoting yourself… but prove that you can back up everything you say about yourself. Being all bark and no bite won’t land you lucrative engagements.
Offer a sample of your skills
In your personal interactions, don’t be afraid to offer advice to new prospects. This shows them why you’d be valuable to them and also demonstrates that you’re prepared to give them something for nothing.
Add a personal touch
A good personal relationship goes a long way. You’re one person and not a big company with hundreds of clients to your name, which gives you an advantage over big consulting firms. You can give clients the service they deserve and focus on their individual needs more closely. Demonstrate how you can add this personal touch to clients and prospects when preparing to meet them — do extra research on them, identify opportunities and show them you’re invested in their growth.
The more people you work with and the more happy clients you leave in your wake, the more you’ll be able to land new clients and maintain a busy working calendar.
Join a consulting partnership to help you grow
Remember that being independent doesn’t necessarily mean working alone. In fact, it can often improve your brand and your value proposition if you have support, guidance and assistance when you need them.
That’s why consulting partnerships are invaluable. There are different kinds of partnerships, so it’s important to do your research to find out which is best for you.
The right partnership, however, can help your consulting firm grow from strength to strength. They can provide the administrative help of an executive assistant, freeing up time to network more and focus on landing clients. They can provide networking tips and even give you access to a community of independent consultants all looking to gain new skills and grow their brands. This network of consultants could even lead to future engagements through working with them on a project or having them recommend you to particular clients they can’t help.
These partnerships can offer you training, support and guidance from established consultants to expand your skill set, fill in knowledge gaps and help you to start building extra value in your brand from day one. It’s worth researching these as an option if you’re committed to gaining more clients and helping your business grow.
Build your plan and get the clients that you need to expand
Consulting, like any other business, needs an effective strategy to help you expand. It’s essential to keep playing the long game, always planning your next move and setting up your next opportunity.
Utilise the tools and expertise at your disposal, whether they come from Linkedin, within your network or within a consulting partnership. Treat every engagement as an opportunity to learn, grow and improve — and keep adding value to the brand that makes you unique. Make this a constant part of your operations and you’ll create a pipeline of engagements that will help grow your business!
The Secret to Consulting Success
What makes some consultants more successful than others in going independent? Our guide here uncovers the secret to consulting success.