So you’ve decided to start consulting, perhaps based off of this post I wrote. That’s great! The only thing you need to do to start down the road of being a consultant is call yourself one. Startup can cost as little as business card printing and getting a business license. But becoming a working, professional consultant, that’s a different story altogether.
So how do you land that first client, and move into the professional sphere?
First, I want you to think about where you want your business to be in 1 to 5 years. The best way to achieve success in the highly competitive world of consulting is to focus on a specific aspect of consulting and become the go-to expert. So one of the things to keep in mind before getting your first client is how you want to attract the second, third, and future clients to you and your consulting.
What is your elevator pitch? In just the time it takes to get from the lobby to the office, can you explain concisely and passionately why you are the right choice for any business? Why are you the best consultant they could find? Refine this pitch before you start your search for the first client. Make sure it lines up with your future vision of your work. What makes you and your services different? What kinds of consultation do you provide? Financial management? Marketing development? Operations streamlining? Management assistance?
Develop a marketing plan. You’ll need to know which businesses can afford you. Which will benefit from your services. Which have pain points that need immediate addressing. Set out a marketing plan early.
When someone asks you what time it is, don’t take away his watch. By this I mean, it is easy for a new consultant to remove responsibility and place it on themselves. But doing a task yourself correctly doesn’t fix the business, it just shows you can do that task. It’s not sustainable for yourself or for your client to just do what needs doing. You need to communicate effectively, teach others without talking down, prepare effective data and proposals that can be referenced later. That’s the only way you will address the systemic issue that called you in in the first place. You need to teach your client how to read and use his watch efficiently. Don’t just give him the answer and walk away. Don’t just take his watch because he doesn’t know how to use it. You are there to teach him how to use his watch.
Don’t just focus on the subject matter. Yes, you have to be an expert to consult, and study in your field is tremendously important. But you also need to be able to explain concepts to the layperson. You need to understand the process of consulting, not just the area of business that you consult on.
Do your homework on fair market value for your work. Know what the competition is charging, know what organizations are paying, and understand that you are just starting out. Your value is what you say it is. You don’t want to overvalue yourself to start out, since you are new to consulting and just starting out you might dig your own grave with your contract price. Charging more than you can provide in service will be an early nail in your coffin. On the other hand, don’t undervalue yourself. You have to make a living, and set the pace for future jobs. You don’t want to be seen as hackneyed or cheap and unqualified.
Start organized to stay organized. There are few places in life where documentation of work accomplished and hours accounted for is as important as it is in consulting life. Most clients don’t look for a consultant until there is a need for one. That is, there is something already broken that they need fixed yesterday. There is an urgency to the client’s needs when you come on board, and you must stay organized and well-document while hitting the ground running. Focus on what is a priority, and what your workflow is on a day-to-day basis. Keep a running to-do list that changes every day based on necessity, but never loses projects or lets tasks slip through the cracks. Consulting is a results-based business, so make sure you understand that you are proving your worth every day, and what can you do, right now, to make the biggest impact?
Once you have all of this under your belt, it’s time to go get your first client.
Tap your network. In the days of Linkedin and marketing events, it’s extremely easy to get in touch with past employers, coworkers, and peers. The clearest path to a client is your network who can make introductions for you. Start the conversation with them. Use them for introductions. Remember faces, names, cocktail party stories.
Next, you’ve done all this research and narrowed down your skills and the market they apply to. Start knocking on doors. Start taking people out to lunch. Find them where they live (proverbially speaking, don’t literally go to their homes) and meet them there.
From Ramit at iwillteachyoutoberich.com: First step is to niche down your market. By age, location, interest, income level, and so many more options.
Then, find out where they go to find solutions. Get in their heads:
- -Want to pitch to moms that blog about children? Go to The Mom Blogs and start with the ones under “Popular Blogs.”
- -Looking for physical or massage therapists within 50 miles of your house? Yelp should get you started easily.
- -What about tech startups with over $1 million in funding, with more than 10 employees, but less than 50? Here’s 100 of them.
- -If you want to do… large dog grooming and sitting, well there’s probably a local pet store or dog park near you where owners are all congregating just waiting for you to offer them a solution.
Listen closely. Over the last few weeks, people have been coming to my weekly video office hours saying things like, “But Ramit! I have this idea and have NO IDEA where to find customers!” My response is always calm, yet you know that anger boils closely below. “What have you done to research your audience?” Have they emailed a few people? Taken them out to lunch? Asked complementary service providers if this is a good idea? The answer is almost always no.