How independent consultants can reliably get new clients
If you can’t turn networking relationships into paid ones, your consulting business won’t ever get off the ground. The art of the deal be damned — the art of closing the deal is the real deal!
Closing the gap between interest and a new client is exactly what we’re going to teach you here.
These tactics won’t work every time, nothing is perfect. But, you need to remember that not every connection within your network is actually a prospective client. Part of this process is determining who to focus on and the best ways to go about cultivating those relationships.
Learn How to Get Clients
Consulting is a lot about building relationships. You need potential clients' trust - in your expertise, your brand and your capability of solving their problems. Our guide to networking and acquiring clients can provide you with the right advice.
Closing a deal requires knowing who you are speaking with, their pain points, other stakeholders, when to follow-up, how to talk about money, and how to avoid sales pitches within a persistent and long-term, wall building strategy.
That last point, however, could be misleading. Walls don’t get you very far. Your goal shouldn’t be defined by hemming in your client. It is about elevating your own visibility.
Know Who You Are Talking To
It makes sense to categorise your contacts. This will allow you to understand what you expect to get out of them and how your conversations should go. There are 4 questions you should ask yourself when categorising:
- Do you actually want to make them a client?
- Are they a contact you’re using to help you meet more people?
- Do you see your relationship flourishing soon or are they a long-term goal?
- How established is your relationship already?
Growing a consulting business is about getting clients. But, sometimes you should engage closely with people who won’t hire you themselves if they can help you meet people who will. These differences will change your expectations.
Make sure you do your homework before meeting anyone. You must know who you’re talking to and understand each individual’s motivations, pain points, and who they work for. Never go into a meeting blind. As you get to know the contacts more and more, the scope of your knowledge must increase.
Network the Right Way
If there’s one golden rule you should learn about networking, then it’s this:
- Never jump into unsolicited sales pitches!
It doesn’t matter who you’re meeting or how well you know them, you need to avoid sales pitches. You start adding unwanted pressure to situations which can damage a relationship from the word go. Don’t spend the whole time talking about your skills, nobody wants to know all the things you can do. Instead, they’d rather see these skills in action.
Networking is all about adding value. To add value, you should demonstrate your skills by providing tidbits of advice during your conversations. Make sure the advice is relevant to each contact and addresses their key concerns or pain points. Impress them with your knowledge and understanding of their business, but don’t give it all away! Hold back enough that they’re keen to see more of what you can do.
When it comes to closing a deal and getting clients as a consultant, everything starts with your first impression. Give off an excellent first impression, and you establish a good relationship from day one. Make them feel comfortable — make them trust you. If you network the right way by making positive first impressions and delivering valuable advice, then there’s more chance of getting your first clients!
Remain in Contact, Continue to Deliver Value, Use Every Channel and Foreshadow
Of course, if you want to close the deal, then you have to remain in contact. A smart way to do this is by foreshadowing the retained contact in your first encounter. Think about the conversation you’re having, then suggest that you have extra resources or another way of helping them that you can send over later.
Foreshadowing allows you to further establish your knowledge and create a natural way to maintain the relationship. It keeps your contact engaged, avoids awkward post hoc justifications for a follow-up and giving you another chance to showcase your skills.
Remember, adding value is essential! Make sure every time you connect with someone you are delivering more value on top of the value you’ve already provided.
When it comes to remaining in contact and networking, always connect on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the king of social media for anyone interested in independent consulting. It gives you a way of directly, semi-directly, and indirectly interacting with your contacts after an initial meeting — whether this is by sending them messages, interacting with their posts, or creating posts of your own.
That last point is critical, although challenging; it’s smart to indirectly interact with your contacts by writing ‘thought leadership’ style posts on LinkedIn that are targeted at their interests. They’re more likely to see these posts if you have a history of interactions, so build up to this. But, this is a great, natural and pressure-free way to maintain your visibility.
A quick summary of what you should do after making initial contact would look like this:
- Foreshadow retained connection during the first meeting
- Connect with the contact afterwards on LinkedIn
- Interact directly either through more face-to-face meetings or via direct messages
- Interact semi-directly with their posts on LinkedIn
- Interact indirectly with your own value-added leadership posts
- Always, always, always deliver more value with each interaction
Remaining Front of Mind is Half the Battle
Growing a consulting business won’t work unless you start closing deals and securing clients. To do this, you have to focus on remaining front of mind.
What does that mean?
In essence, it’s all about being the person your contacts think of first when they consider consulting services. The easiest deals to close are ones initiated by the customer. If your contact knows you’re a consultant, have received helpful and ongoing consultation from you — either online or face-to-face — then they’re more likely to come to you if they ever have a problem that needs solving.
You need a multi-pronged approach to deliver this. Ensure you explore different channels for different contacts to stay at the front of their minds. Having a schedule really helps here as it forces you to get online and create more leadership posts on LinkedIn or be active on social channels. An EA can help you do this, so can a consulting partnership, although this latter point is more complex. But, make sure you understand the differences between associate programmes and consulting partnerships and how they can help if you are considering a career change into independent consulting.
How To Pitch: The Final Stage In Closing the Deal
Yes, we made a big deal earlier on about how you should avoid sales pitches. However, that references unwanted sales pitches while networking. Eventually, there’ll come a time to pitch. Most naturally, this happens when a contact asks you where this goes next. When this happens, you must be prepared and take the right approach to close the deal and get a new client!
If someone is genuinely interested in your services, they will want a detailed breakdown of what you can bring to the table. No matter what, always ensure that you’re honest about everything during your pitch!
Specifically, this means being very upfront about fees. One top tip is to frame your fees in the context of the results you deliver. For example, a £10k fee suddenly seems relatively insignificant in the context of £10 million in savings over a 5-year-period.
The day rates for independent consulting can vary depending on the client and your experience. The average rate in the UK is around £2,000 per day — aim for that. The more clients you get, and the more you prove yourself, the higher you can push those figures.
Pitching tends to happen in person, so be prepared to do this. However, always compose a project proposal and send this over. Even if they don’t explicitly ask for it, tell them it is something you intend to do, and then deliver. This is the real place to dive into numbers.
The art of pitching all boils down to being prepared and understanding what you would deliver to your clients. Be honest, be confident, and be as prepared as possible — not that dissimilar to the networking process on the whole.
Conclusion: The Art of Closing the Deal is The Art of Playing the Long Game
Getting clients as a consultant starts with the right networking approach. Don’t put undue pressure on contacts by beginning with a sales pitch.
- Focus on adding value to your interactions and being as visible as possible
- Take a multi-pronged approach to contact
- Remain in contact with your contacts
- Understand the right time to pitch, and how to do it
If you want to keep track of prospective clients, then you will benefit from hiring an Executive Assistant. They can curate your calendar and add more structure to your independent consulting business. There are franchise-based consulting partnerships that can give you access to EAs and other administrative support, allowing you to focus on independent consulting. These partnerships are designed to provide you with the tools needed to grow your consulting business while remaining in full control of everything.
Fundamentally, networking is about persistence and value. Look at it as an extension of your consulting practices. Now, get out there are start nailing those first impressions!