So, you’ve started a consulting business and maybe you’re struggling to land more clients on a regular basis? Or perhaps you just want to know exactly how you’re going to continue to grow once you have completed projects for all of your early network connections.
Anyone who starts a business hits a crunch point once they need to find clients outside of their immediate network. The trick is to maintain confidence and focus on leveraging the network that has allowed you to start a consulting business to expand that consulting business.
Rather than simply focusing on the people you know who can give you an engagement, you need to switch your priorities to look at who you know who can help you make new connections. Tunnel vision on short-term wins is your enemy — expand your horizons and start playing a longer game.
What we will explain here are the keys to networking and communication that will allow you to turn your fledgeling consulting business into a thriving and self-sustained operation. Let’s jump right into it.
Are you stuck in a networking rut?
Networking is essential when working as an independent consultant. Even if it feels like you’re not getting anything out of your existing network, you never know when someone could introduce you to your next client. That’s why it’s so important to keep in touch with as many people as possible.
However, this doesn’t mean you should just be sticking to who you already know. Your network needs to be constantly expanding to ensure your business continues to expand too.
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Assess what you’re doing now regarding your network. Are you messaging people on LinkedIn? Meeting up with old acquaintances for a quick catch up over coffee? Adding new people on LinkedIn every week? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you are stuck in a networking rut. A rut that you need to get out of.
So what’s the solution?
Change up your networking routine
The way you network not only needs to change, but it also needs to become a part of your daily routine. You need to ensure it’s scheduled into your calendar so it’s never neglected.
Remember though, whenever networking, you’re trying to demonstrate your value to the people you meet. However, this doesn’t mean obnoxiously listing all of your skills — it means being subtle and interweaving advice into conversation. You shouldn’t sell your services, you should show that you are capable and knowledgeable. That is what will make people remember you in the future.
Meet people face to face
Suggest a quick coffee to catch up with someone in your network and don’t make it business focused. Think of it as learning about people in your network and looking at what opportunities could present themselves in the future.
Ideally, you need to bake meeting people for networking purposes into your weekly schedule. Try and meet 3-6 people every week. This might seem like a lot at first, but holding onto old connections — and making new ones — will benefit you in the long term.
If you don’t already, always carry business cards with you and be ready to engage with people you meet. After all, you never know when an opportunity could arise, so it’s best to be prepared.
Take advantage of the internet
Meeting people in person is the best way to put a face to the name and help people remember you. However, we are in the depths of the digital era where meeting people online has never been easier. Log onto LinkedIn and ensure your profile is up to date!
There are many ways to make sure that your LinkedIn profile is updated and looks professional, so people can come to your profile and have a broad understanding of you. LinkedIn will not only allow you to network and find relevant prospects online, but it will also help when you meet people in real life as you can add them on LinkedIn later and keep in touch through that.
LinkedIn also allows you to establish yourself as a thought leader. This involves writing thought leadership posts. Try to post a thought leadership piece at least once a month. Remember, you want to show your connections that you are knowledgeable and can provide solutions to the problems they have!
On top of posting pieces yourself, you should also put aside time in your schedule to engage with and comment on other posts in a more social way. Again, this helps keep you at the forefront of people’s mind and not necessarily in a business sense — having people who trust and like you can go a long way in getting clients in the long run.
LinkedIn is also a great platform to help you research people before meeting up with them. This will help you ask the right questions and display certain skills to your connection, which could give you an edge down the line with a prospect. However, don’t just rely on LinkedIn — Google will help you do more in-depth research into certain industries and companies.
Focus on many parts of your network at once
You should have varying short term and long term goals with different connections and prospects. You don’t need to turn every connection into a client immediately. This is because many people in your network won’t become clients themselves, but instead will introduce you to many potential clients if they have their own large network. This can be much more beneficial and it’s why you should keep in touch with people like this.
Don’t launch into a sales pitch!
No matter where you meet new people, whether it’s through a mutual friend or at a networking event, you should not be selling yourself! People who introduce themselves with sales pitches are annoying, and that’s a universal fact. No one wants to hear about exactly how great you are and why they should hire you — it’s simply off-putting.
Instead, ask about the other person. People like to talk about themselves — not you. Make the person you’re talking to feel good about themselves — this is a trick to making a great first impression as a consultant.
When you meet new people, you can also demonstrate value in more subtle ways. Maybe drop in a bit of advice, if the topic allows it. (Don’t offer too much though — they need to hire you if they want in-depth advice and guidance). Give the person your business card and make it clear that you’re available for a coffee, a drink or if they ever need advice about topics you’re well-versed in. But remember, don’t be pushy!
When it comes down to it, don’t neglect any part of your networking routine. It needs to become a regular occurrence in your schedule and you should try to stick to it as much as you can. You never know when you’ll make a connection that proves invaluable down the road!
You don’t have to grow your consulting business without support
You may be an independent consultant, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it completely alone. Hiring an executive assistant (EA) can help you if you’re thinking about expanding.
In your own consulting business, you have to think about a lot: creating a schedule, meeting as many people as possible to help land new clients and providing value to existing clients. Doing all of this as well as dealing with the administrative side of running a business is difficult, which is where an EA comes in. With an EA, you can focus on delivering results and expanding, without worrying about the admin side.
Another upside to having an EA is that you have another person in your business who understands you and how you operate. This can provide insights that you may not have thought of before. This could help improve your business’ processes and contribute to your expansion.
An executive assistant can help you stay on track. The added support will assist in achieving your overall business goals. If you’re not sure whether you need an EA just yet or are hesitant to hire a full-time employee, there are online services that you can opt for as a trial run, such as Magic or SmartPA.
Look into consulting partnerships
If you want to create an even more robust support structure around your consulting business, there are two main types of organisations that you can turn to for help: consulting partnerships and associate programmes.
It’s important to note that there’s no set naming standard for these kinds of organisations and they all operate under various names. This means that before you sign up to the first consulting programme you see, it’s best to do your research to find out exactly what the programme is offering you.
Many associate programmes are focused more around providing you with consulting work, meaning they are essentially employing you. You don’t own any of the clients and the programme will take a significant portion of your paycheck — often in excess of 50%. This is a good option if you are just starting out and struggling to find work. However, if you opt for this kind of programme, you should aim to be networking and creating your own client relationships alongside this.
The other type of programme is a consulting partnership. These are more geared towards helping you to establish yourself as an independent consultant and grow your business. This is achieved through different types of support. Not only will you have access to training programmes, you’ll also be able to talk to and learn from established independent consultants who have already been through what you’re going through — and come out the other side! You’ll still own all of your client relationships and some partnerships will even provide you access to administrative support, like an executive assistant.
Whichever programme you decide to go with, ensure that you do the research before you join. Different types of consulting partnership have different advantages and disadvantages, so the one that suits you better will depend on your individual situation. However, remember that if you want to grow your consulting business, you need to ensure that you are continuously establishing your own client relationships.
Expand your skill set and expand your business
Building up your resume with as many skills as you can is one of the best ways you can stand out as a consultant. As you accumulate skills, you accumulate knowledge, and as a consultant, knowledge is one of the most effective ways to show prospects and clients that you are capable of delivering the results they want.
A smart consultant will get help when and where it’s needed in order to grow their business. You should be aiming to learn as much as possible, and that’s from anywhere you can — this could be from fellow independent consultants who offer advice during a consulting programme or learning on the engagement.
Broadening your skill set is always beneficial. There are many kinds of specialist consultants out there, but if you know a little bit about everything (often called ‘Third Category’ consulting), you’ll often be ahead of the curve and in a much better position to grow your consulting business. You will be able to serve a wider range of clients, and help any given client with more things.
For example, if you have a lot of experience in an advisory capacity (strategy development, HR development or corporate finance), but limited experience in strategy execution, you could expand the scope of your work by learning how to take your projects from the drawing board through to completion. Even if it’s learning about it in theory, the more knowledge you have, the more prepared you will be to carry out this new task confidently. You can also speak to other consultants who have overseen similar projects to help you even further.
Your extended CV also means that you can charge more for the engagements you do — after all, if you’ve proven you can deliver real results, you are more likely to be in demand. Charge clients for the effective work you’re doing. This will kickstart your business’ growth on a level that will only snowball!
Getting the support you need to help your business grow
To grow your consulting business, you need a long-term goal. By breaking that goal down into manageable steps, achieving that outcome is only a matter of staying on target and getting things done, day-by-day. To grow a consulting business, you need to set yourself targets, break down the journey, get the support you need and then get consulting.
Remember, you don’t have to do it completely independently. Joining a consulting programme is another great way to gain support and streamline your schedule so you can focus on what’s important: consulting. Your dream of a self-sustaining consulting business is not out of reach. Network, expand, learn new skills and deliver to clients. Keep down that path and success will be yours!