The Consultant’s Ghostwriter

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

Help For the Writing-Challenged Consultant

Consultant ghostwriter

Expert at written communications?

As I read about the statistics on the lack of “functional literacy” in the City of Detroit – approaching 50%! – I got to thinking about the world of consulting and the varying degrees of coherency of proposals and reports that I’ve labored through over the years.

During this time my views have also been formed by a Rotary Literacy Conference that I ran in 1991 on the East coast of the United States, and subsequently and very recently by our dealings with college interns coming out of the University of California.

Our educational system seems to be woefully lacking in the quality of language instruction. Of course, reading and writing skills vary widely and, while I’m not really qualified to comment on the skill levels of our teachers and professors, I do wonder how professionals in our society can function without at least a better-than-average command of the language and its proper usage.

How Well Do Your Written Documents Represent You?

Proposals, white papers and reports are at the heart of professional consulting. And, while the “language of business” is distinctly more formal when dealing in the corporate world than with small businesses, communicating clearly and appropriately with the target audience is always important – and a challenge for many. This is one challenge that is not easily overcome without a formal educational foundation.

Professional Business Writers Are worth the Money You Pay Them.

A solution for the independent consultant – at least those dealing with small business owners – might be to utilize freelance writers or proofreaders, or both. Websites like Upwork and Fiverr are a good place to start. It may take a number of trial runs to come up with the right resource, but the added cost for professional writing services doesn’t need to be exorbitant.

Since English is becoming the standard language of business, you will of course want to make sure your writing resource/s are fully versed in English. I would probably require that that person’s first language be the language of your audience.  (English in one part of the world may be quite different from English in another part.)

When you consider that a typical consulting assignment will bill several thousand dollars, the value of good communication far exceeds the two hundred or so dollars you might pay a ghost writer.

How Do You Keep Costs Down?

That depends on your communications style and proficiency with the language. Obviously, it you expect someone to draft a document from scratch it will take hours and cost more.

Some ways to be more efficient:

  • Clearly identify for the writer the PURPOSE of the document you want written and what you WANT THE READER TO DO.  (For example, a web page Article will have a different purpose and call to action than the Welcome Letter to a new client.)
  • Then, create a list of sentences (that include the appropriate professional jargon) and put them in the order to be presented.
  • Now, using these notes, take a stab at writing the document the way that makes sense for you.

A professional writer will easily be able to take the list and your first draft and create a good working draft.

The bottom line is that your documents are going to be read or even studied by other people in your target market. Regardless of how good an impression you make in person, you will ultimately be judged on the quality of your writing — by others who may never even meet you.

Joe Krueger
The Marketing Machine®

Have you used freelance writers in your consulting business?  How did it work out?  We will all be interested to hear your story.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

New to consulting? Three marketing mistakes to avoid

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

How Did You Get Into Consulting?

With the exception of people coming out of the big business schools, not many people set out to become consultants. Instead, they begin to consider it as an alternative to full-time employment when their circumstances change. For example, consultants I have known started building their successful businesses when . . .

  • They were laid off.
  • They wanted to work from home.
  • They needed supplemental income.

Doing business with people you likeBut far from being just a “fall back” or second-choice, consulting for many of these people has turned into the very business they wanted! But note I said “business” and not “job.” If you are considering consulting, you will be responsible for all facets of your business, and that includes marketing. Here are three marketing mistakes that I have seen new consultants make, and that are so easy to avoid!

Mistake #1 – Counting on current contacts to give you consulting business

When you undergo a job change, realize that your professional contacts are making changes, too. Your contact list is probably only good for nine months, more likely for six. And for it to remain good, you’ll have to commit to regularly being in touch – via personal letters, phone calls or emails. These messages needn’t be long or involved – sometimes a friendly hello is all that’s required. But, just as you are going to all the effort to set up your new consulting business, you’ll have to be staying in touch . . . or the value of your contacts will dwindle and fade to nothing!

Mistake #2 – Neglecting your online presence

If you’ve been en employee, your employer has carried the responsibility of the company’s brand. Your former company surely has a website. It may have a Facebook fan page. It may have a blog. The marketing team may publish online newsletters, and sales personnel may have participated in teleseminars or webinars.

As a consultant, you get to wear ALL those hats! Actually, as a consultant you probably need only two comprehensive online marketing pieces to start – your website and your LinkedIn profile. Anyone who is considering hiring you for your expertise will look at both places to establish your credentials and get a feel for your company – even if that company is just you. Make sure that what they find reflects the strongest you possible.

Mistake #3 – Spending too much time at your computer

The corollary of Mistake #2 is that you may find yourself devoting entire days to learning how to set up and tweak your website, along with writing for, enhancing and updating your LinkedIn profile. Yes, these are essential to your marketing, but they are only one facet of it. Getting out of your home office will be necessary if you are to find new business! Face-to-face networking is essential for referrals.

In our work with executives “in transition,” we developed an entire course on how to get started — and get successful — at networking. For many new consultants, it’s a skill that needs to be refreshed. And for some, its a skill that needs to be built from scratch.

The good news? Great networkers are made, not born!

So if you’re in start-up mode, and feel you’re losing touch with valued industry contacts and/or potential referral sources, find out more about our networking course. Its goal is to help you avoid the painful learning process, and get right to professional results.

In any case, plan NOW to get out of your home office!

Virginia
The Marketing Machine®

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.

 

Decisions Are Made Emotionally

Monday, May 27th, 2013

WIFM

If you have any real sales experience you know that buying decisions (like most decisions in life) are really made at the emotional level and then “rationalized” with logic to support their decision. If you doubt this, try and come up with some logical reasons for buying or driving a Maserati or even a Porsche that won’t bring forth a few chuckles — albeit subdued.

The point here is that people are going to be motivated to contract for your services for one or more of the following reasons:

They . . .

  • like you and respect you professionally.
  • enjoy playing golf with you.
  • wake up at 3:00 in the morning worried about what they don’t know.
  • are making a presentation at a seminar or convention and want to be sure they have all the latest information and facts.
  • are looking at a potential expansion and need help incorporating it in their business plan.
  • etc.

You can no doubt come up with a number of additional (even humorous) reasons.

Here’s a real life example.

It happened many years ago, but is so classic that it still resonates!

We were approached by two Sales Representatives that had obtained exclusive rights to a revolutionary product in the food processing industry. They wanted to advertise the product – but had no money. All they really had to work with was an article about the machinery that appeared in a 1983 article of Food Processing Digest magazine.

We took the information from the article and re-formatted it into a “Case History No. 83” and wrote a letter to all Plant Managers in their franchise area offering the case history.

(If we had sent the actual Case History, we would never have known who to follow up with. By making them respond to get it, we had a ready-made list of prospects to work with.)

The letter to Plant Managers described most of the benefits of the system, the automatic jump in profits, etc., and included a business reply card.

A fairly normal business lead-generating mailing . . . but it included a kicker.

In the P.S. it stated that, because of the benefits the company enjoyed as a result of installing the system, the Plant Manager had been promoted to General Manager.

The result of the mailing was over 8% response and every one of the responding Plant Managers was eager to talk to our clients about the possibilities for installing the system at their place of business. The subsequent sales (approximately $600,000 per installation) were so good that the momentum precluded our clients from having to do any additional advertising. They went on to build two full-size manufacturing plants in California alone!

What role did the lure of a promotion play in the Plant Managers’ decisions to respond to the mailing?

This is a classic example of “WIFM” (what’s in it for me) and the role of emotion in a business decision.

Joe Krueger

 

 

 

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

 

Professional Sales Process

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

A Step-By-Step Series of Communications.

Timing is everything. If you attempt to close a sale before the prospect is ready, you blow it . . . and you may not get a second chance.

Most professional sales are made after the 7th, even the 12th contact. That doesn’t mean that you have to have seven or more face-to-face meetings. Far from it. The series of communications can take various forms and proceed quickly.

The objective of each contact is to secure the next step.

First we need to be clear that the real objective in each contact is to secure another, follow-on communication . . . the next step in the Sales Process.

These contacts can be:

  • A prospect reads a news report or talks to an associate who makes a recommendation
  • Prospective client responds to an ad or a published interview
  • Consultant makes, or takes, a telephone call resulting from a referral
  • Prospect receives Letter of inquiry
  •  eMail confirms a meeting, follows-up to a meeting or asks for more information
  • Face-to-face meeting to explore issues
  • In-person meeting to present proposed solution

Are there things you can do to move the sale along? Yes, and certainly “giving away” time makes your time appear less valuable.

But keep in mind that the decision to hire you rests 100% with the Prospect. Again, “jumping the gun” or “asking for the order” too soon can kill the deal. No matter how much you want the assignment and how convinced you are that you can solve the problem and satisfy the prospect, you will increase your chances of getting the assignment by not appearing hungry for work or too anxious to get the job.

Follow the step-by-step process, making sure you’re asking relevant questions along the way.

How Much is The Assignment Likely to Be Worth?

You will do well to institutionalize your Sales Process. Document it and practice it. Any stumbling or fumbling on your process will be interpreted as weakness. And, this is worth repeating: whenever you have a genuine prospect you need to as quickly as possible quantify the problem . . . determine how much the solution is likely to be worth to the client. If you set your prices based on value, and not on an hourly rate, this solution will determine in large part how much you should charge.

You may wish to revisit our article about how the charge: The Consultant’s Fee Schedule.

 

Marketing Is A Full Time Activity

Sunday, May 12th, 2013
Sad businesswoman

Marketing not working?

Three deceptive marketing strategies

In looking back over several decades of consulting to businesses of all sizes we have identified some key patterns in their marketing strategies. Frequently, we have seen an absence of marketing strategies! But that’s a post for another time.

Among the many patterns, three strategies stand out as being most frequent and most lethal to the health of the smaller firms.

  • First is the mousetrap idea type, perhaps the most widespread marketing malady with a total lack of understanding of – sometimes even a prejudicial attitude of the management against — marketing in general. We put these strategies into a category loosely described as “We have a great service so obviously business will be drawn to us automatically.” (Perhaps we should call this “Build it and they will come?.”) In any case, this passive strategy isn’t likely to work very well, if at all.
  • Second is the problem-solving masters approach, where a preoccupied, task-oriented organization takes on ever-more-daunting challenges and watches new business come in exclusively from referrals. The shock comes when the business discovers that profits have steadily declined because over a period of months the referrals – to ever tougher projects — have become less and less profitable. Word-of-mouth marketing isn’t free if the referrals aren’t profitable!
  • Third we dub “the occasional marketers,” where management acknowledges the need for marketing but procrastinates until there is a critical need . . . like a drop-off in business. Often, management has tried various advertising tactics or “schemes” that they read about or bought from a traveling salesperson and they wake up one morning to realize they don’t have a systematic Marketing Plan in place and they’ve squandered most of their budget.

A Real Marketing Plan For Your Business

The reality is that marketing is a full-time activity and works best when systematically pursued according to a carefully worked-out plan. And too, it’s well to remember that virtually everything about your business has a marketing component, from the colors on your logo to the way your phone is answered, even when you are out of the office!

Let’s go back here for another shot at that mousetrap B.S. Building a better anything is only a good strategy if you have an existing, quantified market for what it is you have improved on.

Two decades ago market research was a lot more challenging than it is today . . . and a lot more expensive. Today, with the appearance of search engines like Google and Bing, you can actually pre-test an idea before investing any real money. Find out how many people are searching for that type of product, what they’re saying about things they’ve bought, etc.

We have dug into this aspect of the marketing process in much greater depth in our ebook, Strategic Marketing Plan for Professionals. You may want to learn more about it, and its companion volume, Winning Clients — 21 Tactics.  Both are available at The Marketing Machine Group.com — just click the links to get more details.

Before you do, though, review those three deceptive strategies described above. Have you been tempted by or even fallen afoul of any of them?

Joe Krueger
The Marketing Machine®

Consultant’s Fee Schedule

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Setting your fees is one of the single most important business decisions you will make.

Hourly rates are misleading and easily disputed.

CalclulatorIf you are new to consulting you may be tempted to peg your fees on an hourly basis to the equivalent hourly rate of your previous salary. But is that all you are worth? Remember, business must turn a profit to be viable and whatever your previous employer was paying you was at best a third of what “they” thought you were worth to them!

In addition, in our experience, most middle level managers who have taken early retirement or who were “downsized” very likely were underutilized and underpaid to start with.

Just as you may be worried about a potential client expressing dismay at paying, say $250/hr., in our experience they are just as likely to question the value of retaining you if your fees are too low.

So, the reality is that hourly rates are an arbitrary number that is impacted by your overhead and other business expenses. Particularly if you’re dealing with small business owners, they are going to be suspicious of hours, no matter how low or high the rate.

Is there an alternative? Yes . . . several.

First is hourly.  Then there are retainers. Next is payment by project. Then there’s a combination of hourly and retainer or hourly and project. It can be confusing. Rather than make any recommendation at this point, let us tell you how we charge.

We like a flat fee with per diem expenses for travel & meals and reimbursement for any out-of-pocket expenses.

What’s the size of the problem?

Before establishing a flat fee, it’s important to know the value of the project and the scope of the solution that is expected, including all deliverables. If the problem is costing the company, say, $1.6 million per month, you should be able to charge $100,000 or more, assuming you can solve the problem.

If, however, the problem is only costing $20,000, you may want to walk away from it, telling the client that you don’t feel it would be cost effective for you to spend the amount of time and resources required. Offer to help them find a less expensive solution. (Don’t be surprised if they come back and insist you take it on . . . but, that gets us into another subject, sales and posturing for another day.)

Where the problem and/or scope of work are not clear, we offer to approach the challenge in three phases.

  1. The first phase, developing the Program Plan, might cost $5,000. This results in a report with a complete analysis of the problem and specific recommendations for the solution including budget projections. That might total something like $78,400. Also included in the Program Plan is a projection for the Third Phase, the Follow-up Report.
  2. The second phase is Execution, following the Program Plan as developed.
  3. The third phase is a Summary Report and Recommended Follow-Up Action Plan.

The client signs on to the program in phases, one phase at a time. If, for example, the result of Phase One is a report that outlines the execution phase, with a budget attached, the client is able to take the outline and decline any further involvement . . . or, if they so choose, take the outline of the report’s recommendations and execute themselves or contract with someone else to execute.

As for payment, it is important to get some money up front before beginning on Phase One. We typically get 50% of the agreed-upon fee at that time, and collect the rest when the Program Plan is delivered. If the client agrees to proceed with Phases Two and Three, which are likely to be a much larger sum, you may want to schedule payment based on certain milestones in the process.

I might point out that in over three decades using this approach, we have only had two occasions where the client failed to proceed after having received the Program Plan. Obviously, the way it is presented to clients is a key factor in the “Sales Process.”

I welcome your comments on fee setting.  It’s a big subject! In fact, if you have a burning question, let’s talk on the phone.  You can reach me via the Contact Us page.

Joseph Krueger