Whether you've been in the consulting business for years or just starting up, carving out your niche in the market and developing a sustainable business pipeline is tough. Competition for work, no matter what your speciality, has always been hot, but with more and more discussion occurring about the emerging Gig Economy and the predicted growth in people moving into this space, it's likely to get hotter.
So, if you’re a specialist independent consultant out there, what’s your strategy to ensure organisations that need your expertise are aware of who you are and what you offer to ensure you have a pipeline of future work?
I’ve been speaking to many consultants, some who have been in their own business for many years, some who are attached to a boutique consulting practice and some who for a variety of reasons, are just stepping out of corporate roles into the world of consulting for the first time. When I ask the question of how they source their next engagement or create a pipeline of future work, those experienced consultants who have survived and been in business for a while tell me their reputation, through word of mouth, has generally served them well.
Interestingly, medium size boutique consulting groups suggest that their reputation guarantees them continuity of work, notwithstanding that each seems to be challenged in creating a presence in their target markets…let alone getting in front of key decision makers in organisations!
Overwhelmingly the experience of many of the consultants I speak to, whether in sole businesses or firms, is that it’s getting harder and harder to source new business and get their brands known and trusted in their target markets.
I’m hearing that:
Most consultants don’t like doing Business Development.
Generally, once an engagement finishes, many do not have a new gig to move straight into.
Word of mouth, by far, is relied upon to secure their next engagement.
A sharp website is the primary brand marketing tool to promote their business and capability.
Boutique Consulting firms, more so than individual consultants, engage in SEO and digital marketing strategies to promote their brand.
Overwhelmingly, all struggle to get in front of potential new clients, face to face, when they need to promote their services.
That last point is crucial. I’ve also spoken to many organisations and decision makers who source and engage consulting services and the majority tell me the same thing.
"The reality is that many of the people you want to talk to, to promote your business, services or capabilities, either don’t have the time to see you or... simply, just don’t want to!"
Now I’m not saying this is across the board. There are some people, and I’d count myself as one when I was in a corporate role, who enjoy engaging with specialist providers and found meeting as many consultants as I could valuable. But this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. I was always interested to hear what services consultants I met with brought to the table, or discuss the emerging trends we should be across or receive some insight into the state of the market. Problem for me was, as soon as the consultant walked out the door, I generally forgot about the meeting unless, right at that point in time, I needed the type of services they were offering.
Thought leaders in the whole Future of Work and Gig Economy discussion are telling us that over the next few years more and more people with specialist skills are going to leave the safety of their corporate roles and become contingent workers or independent consultants. It seems competition is just going to get much hotter.
So, now’s the time for independent consultants, and those thinking of starting up their own consulting business and working in this emerging gig economy, to start thinking about how you are going to get your brand and capabilities noticed in the market to ensure you create a sustainable business. And leverage the best of what todays digital and data technologies have to offer!
Having had the good fortune to establish close partnerships with some very successful consultants, it’s been interesting to hear their views on what it takes to not only survive in this competitive space, but build a successful pipeline of clients and work. Across the board, everyone I speak to says that it’s not just one strategy or approach that works…rather it’s a combination. So, I’ve taken the time to pull a few of their tips and suggestions together to share. Now this won’t be ground breaking news to those experienced and successful consultants out there and I'm sure there's some I've missed. But these tips just may be useful for those stepping out and into this competitive space for the first time.
Regularly engage and connect with your established business networks. Not just to ask or expect a gig or piece of work. But to stay connected, checking in on how your network contacts are doing, what’s on their agenda, their challenges and views. Provide them support, share pieces of information or tips that may help them and be interested in what they are doing. Staying connected with your established networks reminds people of what you are doing and may just result in a possible lead for new work at some time in the future.
Build on and extend your network circles. Leverage you existing networks to learn about new markets and sectors relevant to your business. Your connections probably have extended networks you just may be able to access.
Make sure your website is up to date and reflects the capabilities and services you offer and projects the brand you want it to. Think about also providing some details of the recent companies where you’ve delivered great services. While some consultants I have spoken to think this is risky, sharing this type of information resonates with organisations in need of your services. It helps them consider your potential fit and do some due diligence.
Publish relevant articles and white papers. Being a thought leader in your area of expertise and sharing perspectives and tips gives potential clients an insight into your value proposition and builds your profile.
Get active on social media. Often this is the most difficult for people. This is about promoting your brand through comments, shares and interesting information to targeted audiences. Social media platforms nowadays provide opportunities to target specialist groups, professions and sectors. There are costs involved but you can create enormous awareness of your brand with limited investment through the smart use of these platforms.
Attend relevant business and professional networking opportunities. Learn to work the room, make yourself known and make a contribution to the group that gets your expertise noticed and valued.
AND THERE’S NOW ONE MORE!
Join an On Line Business Services Digital Marketplaces? Now before you stop reading, consider this. Accessing the talent and specialist capabilities organisations need now and in the emerging gig economy is challenging for them… most find it really hard to find you! There are current and emerging online digital platforms available for contingent or gig economy workers that may just extend the reach of your brand and specialist services into your target markets. Some are free for you to access, create a profile and put yourself into the view of the members sites like this attract. Here’s the thing, these sites are NOT going to magically provide new prospects or guarantee you gigs. However, what if they result in just one extra lead or gig each year which opens up a whole new channel of business for you? At worst, these sites provide a free marketing opportunity for your business. Check how many are around for your type of business and join as many of them as you can.
There’s a great story I read and shared recently of a new digital business called Avaza. Their Founder talked about their beginning and that with limited money to spend on marketing, they registered on as many free marketplaces they could, to get their name out there and actually, generate some initial business. The rest is history and they now have a global business.
Here’s the thing. It’s not about choosing one or the other of the strategies discussed above that will drive awareness and a future pipeline of work to your business. It’s a combination of them all, when applied in a coordinated strategy, that can lead to opening new business channels and achieving successful outcomes for your business. Some of these things are simple, some have a cost, some require more management than others, some can be set and forget.
The business landscape is changing calling for new ways of thinking and working. The bottom line is open up to the possibilities of doing some things differently...you may just be surprised!