This excerpt is part of Entrepreneur.com's Second-Quarter Startup Kit which explores the fundamentals of starting up in a wide range of industries.
In Start Your Own Consulting Business, the staff at Entrepreneur Press and writer Eileen Figure Sandlin explain how you can start a profitable consulting business, no matter whether your consulting business will focus on HR placement, computer troubleshooting, or anything else you can dream up. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer tips on providing customer service that will help you land new business again and again.
To succeed as a consultant, you must do everything you can to set yourself apart from the competition. You want to give your clients a reason to say, "I'm really glad I chose this consultant." One way to ensure this is to provide the best customer service on the planet.
One great way to do this is by communicating with your client often about whether his or her expectations are being met and if the project is progressing as desired. "At the end of the first month of a project, I always ask my clients whether they think value is being achieved," says California trainer and coach Susan Bock, who is a past president of the Association of Professional Consultants. "I'll give them a full refund and won't proceed any further if I determine it's not possible to deal with their unrealized expectations."
Fred Elbel, a web design and computer consultant in Lakewood, Colorado, takes a different approach to customer service: He actually gives information away free as a way to make a favorable impression. "I give a lot of free advice to customers--in fact, sometimes too much," he admits. "It could be information like how to back up a computer system. But what happens is that clients remember how I helped them, and they'll call me when they don't have the time or skill to tackle other problems."
To succeed as a consultant, you need to develop a win-win style of customer service. This means that both you and your client must view everything you do as something positive, a means of moving forward and/or a way to solve a problem. Your ultimate success depends on your ability to use your inner resources and strengths, as well as your ability to do whatever it takes to solve your clients' problems and challenges and to be positive and energized while you do it. When you do these things, both you and your client will come out winners.
While solving problems and addressing challenges are certainly a consultant's main functions, there's another important task consultants must undertake, says Melinda Patrician, a Virginia public relations consultant. "One thing I highly recommend," she says, "is to get to know what the power structure is in that organization and get to know the support staff as well as your contact person." Understanding the organization will help you make better decisions and give better advice. It also helps you to know who the go-to person is when you need input or a decision made relating to the project you're handling.
Successful consultants live by these 10 customer service credos:
1. Accept full responsibility for your actions. Concentrate on giving your very best, no matter how good, bad or indifferent your client may be.
2. Develop an attitude of optimism and positive expectations. Begin to expect the very best from yourself, and soon others around you will see what a powerful force you present. Remember, optimists are simply people who've learned how to discipline their attitudes to their advantage.
3. Motivate yourself to have a "never give up" style. Make your clients feel you're there for them no matter what. In other words, go above and beyond the call of duty to fulfill your end of the agreement.
4. Keep improving your communications skills. When there's a breakdown in communication, chaos results. Practice your listening skills. Sometimes clients may not be clear about what they want, so ask questions so you're sure you understand what's expected of you.
5. Believe in yourself. When you have a high level of self-esteem, the sky's the limit.
6. Be flexible. Any consultant who can maintain a high degree of flexibility will gain a good reputation and have no trouble attracting new clients.
7. Set goals. When you have a plan of action with certain goals in mind, your goals will be easier to achieve. Remember, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
8. Organize yourself. This will impress your clients and help you become a more successful consultant.
9. Seek more than one solution to a problem. You also should always look for creative ways to solve those problems. Walt Disney, a true visionary if ever there was one, was a firm believer in the power of brainstorming; you should be, too!
10. Be happy! When you're happy, those around you will be happy, too.
Secrets of Consulting Success
Erin Blaskie, an author and internet marketing specialist, offers these suggestions for becoming a successful consultant:
Implement ideas fast. Don't hold back, and don't dilly-dally with details or try to be perfect. Get ideas out there, and tweak them as you go.
Use your strengths, and delegate the rest. Don't try to do everything yourself. Let's face it--to be successful, you need to learn that you aren't the best person to do everything in your business. Find the right people to help you out, and they'll pay for themselves.
Do only what you love. If you take on work you don't love, you run the risk of doing a poor job or taking light-years to complete a task. No one is meant or expected to do everything. Rather, we're meant to do the work we're passionate about because that makes us successful.
Work only with people who energize you. Find clients you're inspired by, who embrace your talents and who understand the way you work.
Limit your overhead. Stay in the green, and you'll become more successful. Think of how much less stress you'll have when money isn't an issue!
Be generous. Don't be afraid to give away information or help out your fellow businessperson for nothing in return. It feels great, and people will remember you.