Consultants Helping Consultants

Friday, September 6th, 2013
Consultants meeting consultants

Getting to know other consultants

If You’re New to Consulting, You Don’t Have to Go it Alone.

The world of consulting to small and medium-size businesses can be a very lonely existence, especially if you’re working out of your home and have no full-time staff.

Your marketing activities no doubt include networking in the trade associations that serve your target market. But are you meeting and networking with other consultants, especially those whose fields complement yours?

Consultants helping consultants has multiple benefits.

Build Liaisons With Other Consultants and Refer Each Other.

To begin with, your credibility can be greatly enhanced when a client asks you about a consulting assignment that is out of your area of specialty and you can refer someone with that specific discipline.

In many cases where multiple disciplines are required, knowing other consultants allows you to put together a joint venture.  Of course, this presents a different opportunity as well as some challenges. You don’t want to expose your client to someone you barely know and whose work product you’ve never seen, so approach such a joint venture with caution.

Make Sure Your Marketing Plan Includes Building Relationships with Other Consultants.

Your marketing plan should contain strategies and tactics for including other consultants in the section on developing referral sources. Take the time to research non-competing but closely aligned fields, and build a plan to reach out to professionals in those fields.

Building credibility within the consulting community is not something that will take place overnight. It’s a long-term process, so give yourself the time! If you’ve exhausted the first round of possibilities, you may want to take a more in-depth look at where you might find referral sources, and how best to approach — and nurture — them. The Marketing Machine’s Dynamic Referral System — Building Solid Relationships covers the topic in significant detail.

Join or Form a Consulting Network Group.

By joining with other consultants in your area and offering a regular series of seminars, you all get a chance to display your case histories, your skills and accomplishments to each other as well as to businesses in the community. The Institute of Management Consultants (IMC) is a national organization composed of largely small business consulting firms. Members meet regularly and non-members are welcome. This group of consultants helping other consultants can be especially useful for people new to the consulting field.

Network on Purpose.

Getting back to solitude, what may well be your biggest obstacle to maintaining a consistent and positive attitude so necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur.

You need a network and regularly-scheduled ways to stay in contact. Not just in actual meetings, but on line and by phone. Consider joining appropriate LinkedIn groups and becoming an active contributor. In fact, you may wish to start your OWN LinkedIn group.

When it comes time to speak one-on-one with some of your new contacts, VoiP (voice over internet protocol) and services like Skype, FaceTime  and WhatsApp on the iPhone and IPad offer ways of getting to know one another that are much more powerful than mail or a simple phone call. And the costs are minimal. Get to know these technologies and use them.

The more you build and nurture your network, the more your phone will ring.

Joe Krueger
The Marketing Machine®

P.S. If you plan to use any of the excellent video conferencing tools, be sure that you are set up to present a professional background for the call! You may be centered on the screen, but bad lighting can make you look tired or even scary. If behind you, what your contact sees is a bookcase with half-fallen books, or an open door, or a pile of laundry — you are doing yourself a disservice. Set up your “stage” and use it! Otherwise, stick to the phone.

 

Marketing Pieces for Your New Consulting Business

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

The series:  Breaking Into Consulting

Picking the Look and Feel of your Logo and Marketing Collateral

Your website, business cards and stationary, proposals and reports are all key to maintaining your image. Even your invoices should reflect your brand image.

Graphic Design ImpactThe words and graphics that describe and depict your products and services have a style . . . a look and feel. And while they needn’t be identical, they do need to bear a family resemblance in order to strengthen your identity.

There are well-established rules for the use of type styles, sizes, art and colors.

Unfortunately, most non-professionals who decide to do their own design work choose the wrong type styles and use too many different ones. They tend to use flashy color combinations laid out in ways that not only defeat the purpose of the communication, but actually detract from it.

If you plan to do it yourself, unless you have professional training or talent for graphic arts, you’re best off to stick to the basics for your new consulting business: subdued colors, text treatments in preference to images, and standard layouts.

Even if you do have some training and talent, we recommend that you engage professional services to be sure you get exactly what you need.

When to hire a graphic designer

We are well aware of the inexpensive design services available over the web. In many cases, you can get a logo or other design for as little as $5! However, you must be prepared to get what you pay for . . . and that often will include some challenges with communicating with the artist (who is likely to be in another country and speak a different language).

Even if you find an artist you work comfortably with, you are the client in this case, so you do need to drive the project. Here are some of the issues you need to be familiar with:

  • What works for the web vs. what works for print
  • Color choice (psychology, color palettes)
  • Typography (difference between a Font and a Typeface)
  • Formatting styles
  • What makes a successful logo

The best resource (for the artist within you!)

We recently found the best book on graphic design!  (That’s a picture of it above.) Use it to learn more about graphic arts concepts and for sure, have it handy as you work with a hired artist. Check it out in our Library.

And let me know what you find most valuable in this book.  I’ll pass it right along to the author, Roey Pimentel.

Virginia Nicols
The Marketing Machine®

P.S. While this short post deals mostly with what we might consider “marketing collateral” (printed material), the whole discussion of graphic design applies equally well to your website. In fact, because your website is likely to be the first marketing piece potential clients really spend time with, it MUST do its marketing job. Our ebook, Website – The Hub of Your Marketing Plan, addresses all those marketing requirements that the site must meet.

Is a Brochure Essential for Starting a New Consulting Business?

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

The Series — Breaking Into Consulting

As a new consultant, you certainly have to consider what marketing collateral you need. In fact, we spend a lot of time of the whys and hows of marketing pieces – your business card, letterhead, website, etc.

The Wrong Brochure May Work Against You At This Stage.

You’re new in business and new to consulting as a professional pursuit.  You’re in a hurry to get up and running.  In consultation with your website designer, husband or marketing advisor, you may be asking:

“If I only had a beautiful brochure to give to people, wouldn’t I appear more professional? More established?”

The answer is, emphatically, “No.”  Too often, a glossy brochure meets the needs of the owner — but plays no role in meeting the needs of potential clients!

When you’re just starting out, you don’t know what you need.

As a problem solver, you don’t know what problems potential clients will be facing.  Your job is to uncover them after an introductory meeting  — and maybe, only through a thorough needs analysis. If your brochure says you solve “this sort of problem,” it may prevent that first meeting from even happening.

Later, if you find yourself specializing in solving certain types of problems, you will know how best to describe your process and results.  You may, at that time, even have case histories (carefully sanitized) to share as part of your marketing.

Therefore, the most effective brochure for the new practice may be a simple FAQ page on the website, or a typewritten list of your services on a single sheet of letterhead.

Flexibility In the Beginning Can Be Beneficial.

As you gain clients and experience and become comfortable with your “style” of consulting you will develop a better understanding of your target market’s expectations. At that point you will have a better idea of whether or not you need a printed brochure and, if so, what form it should take.

If you’re still making decisions about collateral, take another look at the suggestions here:

Day One of Your Consulting Practice

And take a look at the other posts in this series, Breaking Into Consulting.  Each has some good reminders and links to materials created by professionals and aimed directly at new consulting business owners.

The Breaking Into Consulting Series:

WARNING: While all the information mentioned here has value, I caution you about spending too much time on your marketing materials before you complete that essential first step — developing your Marketing Plan. When you’ve completed all the analysis for that plan — analysis of your own strengths and weaknesses, analysis of the marketplace and your competition, development of your strategies and even tactics, etc. — then decisions about marketing collateral will be simple and sound.

Virginia
The Marketing Machine®

Take a look at our recommended guide to building a marketing plan for a professional practice. I think you’ll find it refreshingly straight-forward. And it will help you decide if and when to spend money on marketing collateral.

 

 

Consultant As Salesperson

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

How skilled are you, not just as a consultant but as a salesperson?

You’ve probably spent a considerable amount of time honing your skills and keeping current on information relative to your niche market. But have you fully analyzed how you’re going to attract and book clients? Do you think/assume they are going to sell themselves on engaging you? You do know better than that, don’t you?

The classic image of the pushy salesman is, of course, far from reality for most businesses and certainly in the world of consulting. You recognize how important it is to maintain your professional demeanor.

But, you also must realize that making sales is at the heart of building your consultancy. And, to be effective, you need to “Pull” rather than “Push” people into your proposition. How do you do that?

Reverse selling pulls prospects into your solutions to their problems.

Your prospective client has one or more challenges, problems that need solving, pain that needs attention. Most likely there is a monetary cost attached to each issue. Your task is to have your credentials available in the places the business owner will look for solutions: on line, in the news, at professional associations and available to other professionals who might refer you.

Maintaining visibility in the niche you serve is a primary goal.

In other words you want to be “findable” in ways that connect you to solving problems or providing needed services. In some cases you will be the only person a prospect contacts, particularly if it is a personal referral. In other situations, you may be one of two, three or more consultants that get interviewed.

In either case, how you come across is at least 50% of the sale. Are you pushing or pulling? Are you practiced at using consultative selling techniques?

Consultative selling = Question-based selling

How do you impress the prospect with your knowledge and problem-solving ability? If you’ve done your homework (which should include some advance research on the company), you will win his or her confidence by asking intelligent, relevant questions that penetrate the prospect’s business.

You will also be able to respond to questions by relating appropriate problem-solving stories drawn from your Accomplishments Library.

Having identified the problem, and confirmed in the prospect’s eyes that you have the wherewithal to solve it, what next? Since our focus is on sales and marketing, we will be addressing this frequently in the future. Stay tuned.

P.S.  The expressions “Consultative Selling” and “Question Based Selling” have become so well known as to become standards in the industry.  If you aren’t familiar with the origins of the terms, you might want to review them here.

 

Find Good Consulting Opportunities by Identifying the Real Decision Makers

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Who makes the decision to hire a consultant? 

Interview

Ultimate decision maker?

It varies, of course. The smaller the company, the more likely decisions to hire and work with consultants will be instituted by the company President or General Manager. Even in more general management consulting opportunities, the ultimate decisions about working with a consultant will generate from the top, even if some of the “exploratory” activities are delegated to someone else.

In a larger company, with more depth on the management team, the more likely you will be tapped by line managers for specific assignments. You may never even come in direct contact with the senior management.

The way all these people make decisions will vary considerably. And whether you really want to work with them will depend a great deal on your own background, specialty and temperament.

So the message here is:

Know who you’ll actually be working for.

If your target market is smaller companies, you are most likely to come in contact with the company Owners or Presidents through industry associations, local Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, etc. and this is where you will want to focus much of your networking activity. Getting out and about is the best way to be in contact with them.

If you publish a newsletter, sponsor seminars, etc., you can find these people on mailing lists that are probably available in your local library or on lists that you can rent. You may even find them as part of social groups you belong to on LinkedIn.

For larger companies, the challenge is greater.  Line managers or project managers are likely to be more “mobile” and more difficult to identify as prospects. While there are specialty lists available for many titles, these lists are both smaller by region and more expensive to rent. They are derived by industry publications, attendance at conventions and membership in local chapters of national organizations.  (Again, being able to travel will give you an advantage in meeting these people in these special venues.)

Over the past few years, these “title” lists have been supplemented or even replaced by searches available through social media such as LinkedIn and specific industry social sites.

Where we work with Consultants in providing data and related services for their Marketing Plans, we always review listings in the National and Regional editions of the Trade and Professional Associations Directories.

Naturally, we search for relevant connections via LinkedIn, too.

The more you can learn about who your contact person is, and who the real decision maker is likely to be, the better you’ll be able to decide if it’s an opportunity you want to pursue.

Joe Krueger

 

Consultant’s Website

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Business websiteOf course you realize that these days you cannot credibly do business without a website. As soon as someone meets you, or is referred to you indirectly, they will want to “check you out.” In the professional world, that means first looking up your profile on LinkedIn, and then taking a look at your website.

What is the visitor looking for?

The visitor to your website will be looking first for these five things:

  1. Do you have the skills that will help the visitor solve whatever problem he or she has?
  2. Does your website demonstrate credibility — i.e., the professional certifications and/or connections that give the visitor a sense of comfort – and will it justify to any superiors the visitor’s interest in working with you?
  3. Does it clearly define your area of expertise and give examples of problems you address/solve?
  4. Does the site explain the process you use?
  5. Does the site make it easy for the visitor to contact you?

In past years, the classic brochure served these purposes. There is still a purpose for a brochure, but the website has taken over these initial functions. The website also offers opportunities that the brochure never did.

  • Your website allows you to more fully “develop your brand,” including selection of graphic elements, colors, illustrations, your photo, etc. Over time, your site can easily evolve as the market does or as you do.
  • You can offer examples and in-depth information to your potential clients by way of articles, white papers and case histories published on your site – a breadth of resources impossible with a simple brochure.
  • Your website can be, and should be, updated regularly to show you are actively engaged in your work.
  • Your website can offer interactivity.

If you are starting your website from scratch, you have a number of decisions to make. The most important (in our opinion) is how to be sure your site serves as a lead generation source. If you’re not getting response to your site, it becomes an expensive window dressing. A good, easy-to-navigate, basic website that will generate inquiries or serve as a starting point for meaningful dialog is 90% of its value.

Here are questions we’ve faced in building new websites over the years – and still face!

Do you want to build the site yourself? Many professionals enjoy the creative process and have the ability to master new computer skills and programs. For them, building a website can be a satisfactory way to save precious dollars during the startup phase of their practice while creating a valuable asset. You can purchase a domain name, hosting service, an appropriate website theme, and some training for an initial outlay of as little as, say, $200 dollars.

What’s your time worth? Contrary to many advertisements that declare you can “Build your site in 30 minutes!” we believe you will find it takes many hours to get the site up and functioning as you planned. You may need to hire someone to help you along the way. Typical American tech support can cost from $50/hour up. (The trick with tech support is that you must be able to guide them. They are supporting your plan, not acting as advisor.)

Should you hire a web design firm? If you know that you want “something special” for your site, you should figure a minimum price of $5,000 to hire a firm to build the site. (Prices could easily be twice that much. On the other hand, if you can provide clear and competent direction, you may be able to get away with less.) If the designers are good, they will involve you intensely at the planning stage, asking you to complete some sort of questionnaire and discussing with you the “look and feel,” any particular components you want to include, etc.

If you feel you need just a simple site, you may be able to have a designer put one together for as little as $500 or $1,000. In this case, the designer is probably using a template to speed things along. You will still be offered choices of colors, fonts, etc. If you’ve already created a logo and professional business card, you will want all your marketing pieces to have a family look.

Are you ready to provide all the copy/text for the site? Generally, unless a designer specializes in a particular industry, he or she will look to you to provide all the content for the site. The designer may suggest categories – for example, “We need biographical information here.” Or “Describe your specialty here.” – but you will have to write everything. To the extent that you can do some of this even before you make a decision about what type of site to develop, you will be ahead of the game.

Where do you find a web designer or tech support? The best way, we’ve found, is via referral. You can start your search by looking at a number of sites of friends and professional colleagues. What do you like about the sites? What don’t you like? Start a list that you can use when you interview potential designers. Pick a few sites that you really like, and track down the owner. Ask who did the site and how well the process went. You’ll immediately learn whether or not that site owner wants to make a referral!

There’s plenty more to “the website decision,” but at this point simply acknowledge you must have one, start researching “what you like,” and realize that a simple  professional-looking one-page site is better than no website at all.

Virginia Nicols

P.S. If you already have a website, but want more confidence that it’s doing its job, check out our guide: Website — The Hub of Your Marketing Plan. It’s aimed specifically at professionals.