We have all heard the rule of thumb that a consultant should spend thirty percent of their time on “marketing.” But what exactly is one supposed to do? Here are ten no-fail marketing activities that are guaranteed to grow or stabilize your practice, regardless of how new — or old — you are to the consulting field.
1. Start each day with two phone calls — they can be to a former client, a networking acquaintance, a colleague with whom you exchange referrals, the author of an interesting article or book. Use the call to share information, a compliment, a question, or offer a lead. The point is to start each day by engaging with people, not paper or a computer screen. This will give you something to do with all those cards in your rolodex, and bring you to “top of the mind awareness” when those folks do have a piece of business that would be right up your alley.
2. Call your local technical assistance provider(s) — today — and offer to teach a free workshop or seminar in your area of expertise. Include in your contact list the local support center, management assistance center, volunteer management center, United Way, community foundation, regional association of grantmakers, junior college, any college, Rotary or other service organization. Get yourself teaching at least twice per year in your home community.
3. E-mail a bi-weekly “tip” to your client pool — include past, prospective, and “hoped for” clients on your e-mailing list. Make the tip very short, very practical, and in some way related to the nature of the project that connected you to the client. E-mail the tip to the decision maker(s) in that agency.
4. Market your services at a specially reduced fee for projects booked during traditionally slow periods of the year (e.g. summer or holiday times). Make the offer in writing in a letter to the decision-maker (usually executive director or board chair) far in advance of the period of time you are targeting. Stipulate by when the project must be “booked” and during which period the work of the project must take place. Remember, you are offering a rare opportunity to access your professional expertise at a unique rate — not hawking a used car. Be sure your communication reflects the diplomacy of your offer.
5. Write a tips booklet that you can use as a give-away, mailing piece, conversation starter, “consolation prize” when you don’t get the contract (reminds them of the brilliance they could have had), and source for a year’s worth of e-mail tips. Writing a tips booklet is easy. Right after you make your two morning calls (see 1. above), jot down three little “common sense” ideas. Don’t edit or torture yourself over them — just write them down. Do this every day for a month (and a few days), and you have “100 (fill in the blank) Ideas/Tips/Etc.” Sort them by general category, give each category a name or title, print it our on your inkjet or laser (use colored paper for the cover) and voila! Ideally, your tip booklet is a vertical piece that can easily slide into a standard business envelope for mailing. And of course, your full contact info and logo is on the front and back cover. On the back, you might also print a short, powerful professional bio and a brief rundown of either past clients or services you offer.
6. Include a provision in every contract that, if the client is pleased with your services, they will personally refer you to a colleague at another organization whom they have reason to believe may be in need of your services.
7. If you are doing your banking with a “big bank”, either move your account to a community or independent bank, or open a secondary account with one. Then get to know your banker — that means, the president or the branch manager. Take time to make an appointment to discuss the nature of your practice and your overall business plan. You’re not asking for anything, you just want your banker to have a better idea of what you do, and what the future of your practice looks like. Be sure to stop and say “hi” or have a brief chat whenever you drop by the bank. Why is this a marketing tip? Community banks typically are major supporters of local nonprofit organizations, and their officers serve on many boards. When they know a nonprofit wants or needs professional assistance, they will refer them to their customer, whom they know as a consummate professional.
8. Stay in touch with former clients — this cannot be emphasized enough. A survey conducted by the Institute of Management Consultants several years ago found that repeat business constitutes almost 70% of all business, while referrals make up 15%.
9. Track job changes by executive directors and other key employees of organizations for which you have worked. No one stays in one place forever — and they virtually all land someplace else. When a key person leaves for another organization, send a short note congratulating them on the new position. A few months later, suggest breakfast or lunch so you can get caught up. They will be looking to work with vendors and consultants they know and trust, and you want to be at the top of the list when their new organization is looking for a consultant. Also, be sure to drop a congratulatory note to the new person at your former client’s organization. And a few months later, invite them to breakfast or lunch for a “getting to know you” exchange. Do not “sell” at this meeting — simply introduce yourself, the work you do, and what you have done for the organization in the past (by way of helping the new administrator have a better idea of the organization’s history).
10. Make yourself visible at chamber of commerce and other local mixers and events. Always look, act, and speak like the professional that you are. Think of these as group interview situations rather than as an opportunity to have a socially good time. Have plenty of business cards on hand, but treat and distribute them reverentially (if you wanted to just “get them out” you could put them on everyone’s windshield, but that’s not quite the image you wish to project, is it). Refer to a previous issue of Nonprofit Consulting Review that detailed the secrets of effective networking.
Sound easy? It’s not. The hardest part will be committing to take any action on a continuing basis. Like a diet or fitness program, just “checking in” once in a while when you’re desperate will not give you the results you desire. But like a change in eating or exercise patterns, committing to a marketing activity daily for thirty days can turn it into a habit … a habit that will pay big dividends.
Fare well, and farewell for this week …