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Being a business consultant is one of the most challenging but rewarding things you can do. In part one of this series, I talked about the challenges and advantages of the career path, and how finding your unique value is the key to being successful as a consultant. In this second part of the series, I’ll be sharing about the most important part of consulting: the clients.
As a business consultant, you’ll be working with all types of clients, most likely in many different geographic areas and possibly in different industries. Understanding their needs, communication styles and expectations is key to a fulfilling client/consultant relationship. But before you even get to this point, you’ve got to establish relationships with potential clients.
Business Referrals Are Your Friend
Because the consulting industry is transient in nature, referrals are important. Those of us who have worked for any period of time in the industry know that word of mouth can be your best friend or your worst enemy depending on whether or not you do what you say you can do and bring value. The good news is that good work speaks for itself and is hard to find. If you can improve an organization through your services, people will hear about it. However, while referrals are the best way to land business, relationships take time to build, grow and evolve. There’s really no way around this, but nurture those relationships and don’t give up. You never know when those people will be ready to bring you on.
Be Ready When the Time Comes
As your own one-man/woman business development army, you have to be ready to act and react quickly to new project opportunities. And unlike my suggestion to throw away your business plan, you should in fact have a plan when it comes to business development and referrals. Some you may see coming down the pipeline, and some you may not know about until the client has made the buying decision to hire you. But no matter how expected or unexpected it may be, it’s imperative to seize the moment when the time comes. As a consultant myself, I know that preparation is key. I may not know when an opportunity will present itself, but I know what my plan of action will be when it does. Each time this happens, I keep three things in mind:
- Communicate your worth – Don’t ever belittle or downplay how your consulting impacts the organization. For some of us, it’s a natural tendency to not want to talk about ourselves or point out our accomplishments. Now is not the time for that. Be clear about the value you can add to their company. This one is extremely hard for me, and I consultant have to remind myself to quit cutting myself down. My expertise is extremely important to a company.
- Get straight to the point – The term “business consultant” can mean a lot of things, so don’t confuse your prospect. Get down to business and tell them what it is you do, how you do it and why you’re great at it. Practice a pitch that highlights the type of work you do or intent to do.
- Follow up – The secret to business development in the consulting world is making connections and following up on those leads. A simple email or phone call, along with a clear strategy, can make the difference in landing business for yourself and your company. Don’t be afraid to follow up multiple times. I like to be super casual about it and just check in. This is especially key if your sales cycle like mine is extremely long. It just takes time to build that trust and get a contract signed.