SMEs make great clients for independent consultants — it’s as simple as that.
There is no ‘one’ kind of business or client that is best for an independent consultant. It really comes down to your personal preferences, the nature of your existing network and past work history. But, many independent consultants find themselves coming back to SMEs over and over again. Why?
Here, we’re going to talk about why SMEs make such great clients for independent consultants, how you should go about landing a job in an SME and what you need to know to network like a champion.
Let’s get started!
SMEs Have a Limited Number of Decision-Makers
When compared to big businesses, SMEs make decisions fast. There are fewer decision-makers involved, and it’s relatively easy to gain direct access to the top tier.
As a result, the process of making contact to securing a deal is much shorter and easier for you to manage. You can use your networking skills to forge relationships with people right at the very top — founders and executives. These people make the decisions, once you make it to the top, there isn’t anyone else you need to get onside.
On top of making decisions quick, SME founders are simply good people to know. The SME world is interconnected. Get to know one decision-maker in an industry and you can gain instant access to another.
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SMEs Have Fewer Moving Parts
If you want to know how to network with decision-makers, then you must understand things about the business in question. The smaller the business, generally speaking, the simpler this process. There are fewer moving parts, it is as simple as this. Your entire orientation process has fewer steps, allowing you to gain deep insights in less time.
Not only does this make networking easier, but it also means there will be plenty of quick projects for you to take on. This is very helpful when looking to grow your independent consulting business and increase your connections with a large body of contacts. You can find more jobs, which prevents you from being trapped in the orbit of a single client.
There Are a Lot of SMEs
SMEs are much easier to come by than big businesses. It’s not rocket science, it’s merely a case of everyone needing to start from somewhere. When an individual starts a business, you have to become an SME before growing into a massive enterprise.
The most recent business statistics show that there were 5.7 million SMEs in the UK in 2018. To give that stat even more context, that amounts to over 99% of all businesses.
Then, take into account the complete diversity of sectors and industries that SMEs operate in. They’re everywhere, meaning there are different companies with different problems that can be solved with independent consulting. You have so many options in who you approach for work based on your own consulting skills.
SMEs are such a diverse category as well — you could have one business with 20 employees and one with 200. This means some companies can pay different amounts of money, which provides you with more flexibility when charging clients and setting rates for specific projects.
The reality is that SMEs are a good fit for everyone because there are so many of them out there. No matter your past experience or consulting skills, there will be an option for you. People who are starting a new consulting business and looking for their first clients can target the smallest SMEs to get their foot on the ladder. More established independent consultants can aim for the bigger fish to get better payouts and continue growing their reputation.
How Should You Network?
As promised, we’ve got some networking tips for you to pour over if you’re looking to secure SMEs as your clients.
You’ll be pleased to know that the art of networking isn’t as difficult as some people lead you to believe. In reality, you just have to follow these ground rules:
- Do your research and understand who you’re talking to
- Network through added value
- Don’t apply pressure to your contacts with unsolicited sales pitches
- Maintain visibility at all times
- Build your brand
- Connect through multiple channels
- Retain contact
Networking through added value essentially means that you deliver valuable information and insights whenever you connect with someone. It directly links into the second point about applying pressure. If you start your conversations by explaining all your top skills and making a hard sales pitch, then you instantly put pressure on your contact. They feel like you’re forcing your service on them, which creates an awful first impression. It can also make you look desperate. Instead, show them what you can do by offering some advice that targets their primary pain points — that will create a far more relaxed environment while being far more convincing.
Making a good first impression counts for a lot, but you have to maintain visibility by retaining contact with your connections. Foreshadow future contact by telling them you have a great resource that will help with their issue, and you’ll send it over later on. It helps establish a relationship where you're giving them valuable information whenever you interact. Connect via LinkedIn as well — this is a great way to ensure you’re visible and they don’t forget about you.
Throughout your interactions, you should be thinking about building a specific brand image. You want your connections to see you in a certain way, which fills them with confidence in your consulting skills. The more you build your brand, the more visible you become, which puts you at the forefront of their minds when they eventually need help. So, who are they likely to call? You!
Make sure you’re always networking, but never be a salesman. If you want in-person advice, consulting partnerships can be a great resource. The only sales pitch you should ever make is the one you’re asked to make before closing a deal. Until then, focus on value-added networking, following up with your contacts and staying visible.