How to Start a Consulting Business

If your consulting business has no clients, then you have no consulting business. But you must remember that selling your consulting services is not the same as selling a car or a house. In the case of the car or the house, the customer is probably already in the market for one or both of those products. Your job, then, becomes harder, because you are marketing your services to people who may not even be aware that they need those services.

There are a variety of methods you need to become both familiar and comfortable with in order to begin attracting and keeping clients. Let's look at some of the more conventional ones that are being used by many consultants today.

Brochure Basics

There are five issues your brochure should address. They are:

  1. It should clearly convey what your services are.
  2. It should tell customers why you are the best.
  3. It should give a few reasons why you should be hired.
  4. It should include some brief biographical information.
  5. It should include some information about who your other clients are.

That's it. Keep it simple, but do it right. Remember, your brochure represents you in the marketplace, so make sure you polish it before you send it into action. Your entire consulting career depends on it!

Cold Calling

You must do whatever it takes to make cold-calling work and make it easier for yourself. There are a few tricks you can use to make cold-calling a little easier for you:

  • Prepare a script ahead of time. Spell out word for word what you expect to say when you get someone on the telephone. Remember, though, that your goal is to get a face-to-face interview and, eventually, a new client. So before you end up stumbling over your sales presentation (either in person or over the telephone), write your script and practice it again and again.
  • Be creative in your efforts to reach the decision maker. Most times you will encounter a secretary or administrative assistant who has years of experience turning away cold callers like yourself. But don't give up! Don't let any obstacle stand in your way! To avoid being screened by the secretary, try calling before she is on the job. Yes, you may have to call before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m., but at these times, chances are the decision maker you are trying to reach will answer their own telephone.
  • Limit your cold calls to just several days each month. And look forward to those days, making sure you put your best effort into the process. That way, not only will it become easier to make those cold calls, but you will find yourself actually looking forward to making them!

Advertising

The limits you place on advertising your consulting services will be directly tied to your advertising budget. If you are lucky enough to have a very healthy advertising budget, remember that you don't have to spend the money on ads just because you have it to spend. Advertising can be very expensive. Jeffery B., a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, consultant, advertises in his association's publication. "They publish what is called the Green Book, which is a directory of research and marketing consulting businesses around the country. It has helped me generate new business," he says.

Other consultants, such as Merrily S. in Newark, Delaware, depend on word-of-mouth. "The best form of advertising [for my business] has been word-of-mouth and recommendations from other people," she says.

Depending upon the type of services you offer, it may be necessary to advertise in specialized trade journals or magazines. For example, as a fund-raising consultant, I have placed ads in such publications as The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Non-Profit Times and Fund Raising Weekly.

Before you spend any money, start looking through professional journals and newspapers relative to the fields you specialize in. Take some time and examine ads that have been placed by other consultants, and then carefully determine how effective you think their ads may be. Then design one that suits you best.

Newsletters

Whatever your consulting field is you should have more than enough information to produce a newsletter as a means of attracting potential clients. If you don't have the time, or don't feel comfortable self-publishing your own newsletter, hire a local freelance writer and graphic designer to do the job for you. Again, you don't have to make it an expensive, four-color, glossy publication. The simpler you keep it, the better. A good newsletter will sell itself based on the content rather than the splashy design.

Start collecting newsletters that are being published in your consulting field. If you think there are none being published, or if you think there are only a few in your field, guess again. A quick visit to the library will reveal several newsletter directories--Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters (Oxbridge Communications) and Hudson's Newsletter Directory (The Newsletter ClearingHouse)--which list, by subject, newsletters that are published not only in the United States, but in other countries. Take some time and write for sample copies before you design and write the first issue of your own newsletter. You'll be surprised at the quality of the newsletters that are being produced today.

Newsletters are an effective means of communication and, in my opinion, represent the best advertising media for a consultant to sell his or her services. Think about it the next time you receive a newsletter in the mail. Did you put it aside to read it later? And why did you do that? Probably because you wanted to make sure you weren't missing any important news or information.

But what about that brochure you received in the mail the same day? Did you put it aside to read later? Or did it go directly into the trashcan? Think about this before you spend big bucks on a glitzy brochure that may not even be read.

Public Speaking

Public speaking is another excellent way to recruit new clients and to earn a reputation for excellence in your community. Unless you live in a town so small it doesn't have a chamber of commerce or a Lion's Club, Rotary Club or other similar service organization, you can begin offering your services as a speaker for luncheons, dinners or any other special occasion.

In addition to using the telephone directory, see if anyone has published a directory of service organizations in your community. You can visit the library and ask at the reference desk. Go through and make a list of organizations that hold monthly meetings and therefore may use guest speakers. Contact each group and offer your public speaking services.

Ask for Referrals

This often-overlooked method of finding new clients is such an easy marketing tool (which is why it's usually not thought of), you'll kick yourself for not thinking of it yourself. When you have finished your consulting assignment and your client is in seventh heaven (and is no doubt singing your praises), that is an excellent time to ask for a referral! Simply send a note or a short letter asking for the names of any colleagues, friends or business associates they feel might be good prospects for your consulting services. Ask their permission to mention their name when you write to the people whose names they pass on to you. Sometimes all it takes is having a mutual friend or respected business associate to get the potential client's attention.

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