2019 is a year of opportunity for independent consultants. Are you prepared?
The consulting market is currently predicted to grow faster than the baseline economy for the fourth year in a row, and independent consulting is growing even quicker, so you need to take advantage of this now!
Whether you’re just getting started or growing an existing practice, 2019 is the year to grow your brand. To capitalise on these opportunities, independent consultants need to know how to reach clients.
The best way to get out there and advertise can be a little confusing for new and established consultants alike.You’re employing new and innovative strategies to deliver hands-on practical consulting, so why would you take a traditional approach to advertising?
To make it simple, independent consultants advertise by networking. Personal relationships, word of mouth and happy clients are your advertisements. As you deliver results to clients, they will refer you to people within their own network. That’s how you can gain recognition within the industry. This article will show you how to network effectively to make this happen.
Independent consultants see small opportunities in their day to day life
You, yourself, are the advertisement as an independent consultant. This doesn’t mean you always have to be working, but you should keep an eye out for opportunities when they arise.
Always remember to carry business cards and just keep your ears open. You never know who you are going to meet and what they might do. There are only so many hours in the day you can spend meeting people for networking purposes. When an opportunity comes walking into your life unexpectedly, be ready to take advantage of it. However, avoid the hard sales pitch — you don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reasons!
Independent consultants advertise by remaining as active as possible in their network
To network effectively, you need to be consistent. People have short memories so you have to keep in touch. Set aside time every week to meet up with six to eight people for face-to-face chats, even if it’s just a quick coffee. Identify people that have helped your business from the beginning and don’t neglect those relationships either.
You should keep professional focus to your network relationships, but don’t leave out the personal touch. Send birthday and Christmas cards, donate to charity runs and remain active in the personal lives of people that have been central to your network and professional growth.
Nothing can beat the power of a face-to-face meeting in individual relationships. However, social media will allow you to keep in touch with a much larger network. LinkedIn, particularly, is a resource that you cannot afford to ignore. Get on there and get active — engage with posts, become an industry thought leader by writing relevant blogs, and add and message people who may be of value to you in the future.
Independent consultants grow their brand by demonstrating their skills
Staying active is crucial. But if you engage in the wrong way, you will just hurt your brand, not grow it. All publicity really isn’t good publicity — particularly when it comes to independent consulting.
As we previously mentioned, the big thing you need to understand is that everyone hates a sales pitch. If meeting with you means suffering an embarrassing speech about your ‘skills’ or a high-pressure conversation about the consulting engagement they need to offer you, people are going to stop returning your calls.
Rather than focusing on yourself, focus on the person you are meeting. This means doing research about their current business, even if you have known them for years. Identify pain points and prepare advice. Demonstrating your ability to understand a business and deliver insights that are worth buying will impress the prospect and they’ll be far more likely to hire you. It may also be worth offering tidbits of advice — however, don’t give away too much or they’ll have no need to hire you!
The same rules apply to activity on social media. To use social media correctly, you need to be ‘social’. That means posting. However, no one wants to read posts about how great you are. Everything you do has to be directed at delivering value to the target reader. You can write about your accomplishments, but that has to be in the context of ‘Lessons learned…’ or ‘How to...’. Being a ‘thought leader’ is about delivering tangible advice on topics that are important to a lot of people. To advertise yourself online, you need to deliver value.
Independent consultants always look at current clients as future opportunities
Nowhere do you have a better opportunity to ‘advertise’ what you can do as a consultant than with your existing clients. You need to look at every engagement as an opportunity to get your next one. This means delivering such transformative outcomes that your current clients go out and advertise for you.
You should also look for opportunities to cross-sell your advice to different departments within one company, and ask clients about their perspective on the industry. It is possible that they have friends in similar positions in different companies that could also use your help.
These opportunities don’t have to always work out immediately. You need to be aware of setting up client opportunities in the short and long run. Always, however, look to gain a few new contacts from every new engagement. Add those people on LinkedIn and remember to meet them in person for a catch up whenever possible. Follow up quickly but remember that you can’t meet everyone all of the time. Set aside time in your schedule for networking and try to stick to that. When you can, it’s important to establish these relationships outside of the context in which they were first formed.
Independent consultants advertise by being themselves; make sure you’re always on-point
No one would take a mass market advertisement for an independent consultant seriously. Even for the large firms, consulting is not a mass market job. It is about getting to know the specifics of a business and delivering tailored solutions that count. For that reason, people tend to hire consultants that they know and who have been recommended to them.
To build your brand as an independent consultant, you need to get out there and meet people. Forge relationships, develop trust and create a network of people who will vouch for you to people that they know. The key to getting referrals is delivering value to everyone you meet.
Under all circumstances, avoid flagrant self-promotion. You can promote yourself, but do so by demonstrating your skills and doing a good job. By focusing on adding value to interactions, you advertise yourself while improving your relationships with the people that will eventually become your clients.
Looking into associate programmes or consultancy partnerships can provide you access to even more detailed training on how to make this happen. But, as an independent consultant, it is your responsibility to create opportunities for yourself. Do you have what it takes to get out there and build your brand?