One of the most frequently asked consulting questions, especially among new consultants, is “What is the best way to market my business?”
The answers that usually surface include producing a terrific brochure (or updating the old one), buying ads in industry publications, getting booths at conferences, joining networking groups, and a whole host of other standard marketing tips one finds in off-the-shelf books that cater to small businesses.
There are two problems with these standard approaches. The first is that most of them cost money, and independent consultants don’t generally have big marketing budgets. The second problem overrides the first, however, and that is that most of these standard marketing tools don’t work very well for consultants.
But consultants are in luck. There are 3 marketing techniques that work GREAT for consultants, and they are virtually free!
What Marketing Needs to Do For You
Before we get into the tools themselves, it’s important to understand why these tools are the most effective. Marketing opportunities surface all the time, and without understanding what makes a particular tool effective, you won’t have the knowledge to decide whether or not these new opportunities are worth taking.
One of the most important things marketing needs to do for your business is to differentiate you from your competition. If you’ve never considered the question “Why should I hire you instead of Joe?” then you haven’t been thinking about differentiating yourself.
What makes you special? Unique? What have you got that the others don’t have? Until you can answer these questions, you won’t have much to communicate to your prospective clients.
Once you have figured out what makes you special, the next thing marketing needs to do for you is to show prospects how terrific you are.
Notice I didn’t say “tell” prospects how terrific you are, but “show” them. This is the same approach used by food purveyors in the supermarket on a Saturday afternoon. They don’t have someone at the end of the aisle to tell folks about the product; they have someone there with pizza or hot dog pieces or cheese on a stick. They want you to see for yourself how good their product is.
Well, as a consultant, the only product you have to sell is YOU. So the best marketing techniques will be the consulting equivalent of free pizza. You can’t just tell them you are the best; you have to provide a way for them to see for themselves.
Sometimes “show” vs. “tell” is as easy as the difference between “I’m the best consultant for the job,” and “In my last job, I increased funding to the organization by 25% every year for 3 consecutive years.” But regardless of the specific technique, the best marketing approaches will give your prospective clients the opportunity to see for themselves just how terrific you are. And in doing that, you will simultaneously be differentiating yourself from your competition.
Consultant Marketing Tool #1: Writing
One of the best ways to show the world how good you are is to write. This can mean writing articles for newsletters and local newspapers, or it can mean writing a book. In every industry, there are always publications looking for content. Find the publications that are most popular in your particular niche, and ask if they are looking for content.
You may need to use the marketing approaches noted above – differentiating yourself, and showing your stuff – just to get published. But once you have found someone who will publish your article, that piece will stand on its own. It will show how special you are, and that will immediately differentiate you from your competition. That’s why writing is a great marketing tool for consultants.
Quick tip: A great way to use your writing to get clients, without waiting to be published by someone else, is to write an article on a topic of interest to a wide range of potential clients, and then send it to your prospect list! Add a post-it note that says “Thought you would enjoy my latest article on _________,” and you have a direct mail piece that shows you have substance – AND differentiates you from others they may be considering!
Consultant Marketing Tool #2: Speaking
Another effective way to show how terrific you are is speaking. Just as it is with writing, there are always groups looking for effective speakers – speakers who know their subject and can capture an audience’s attention for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour.
Speaking allows you to really show your stuff. Speaking goes one step beyond writing, because when a prospect sees you speak, they are really seeing the product in action. They will immediately sense your approach, your integrity, your energy. They will know if they like you or not. Speaking is as close to snacking on pizza in the supermarket as you can get!
If you are not an experienced speaker, there are plenty of places to learn, the most common being Toastmasters. (Check your phone book. There is a Toastmasters chapter in just about every community.) Toastmasters will provide you with plenty of opportunity to practice and learn in a supportive environment.
Quick Tip: In addition to finding speaking venues from civic organizations to industry association conferences, an easy way to get in front of an audience of prospective clients is to put on a workshop. Invite all those prospects you wish would hire you, charge them a nominal fee (enough to cover your costs – it could be just $15 per person) so they feel there is some value in what you will be providing, and spend 2-3 hours teaching them what you know. What better way to show off how terrific you are?!
Consulting Marketing Tool #3: Word of Mouth
We all know that the word of a trusted friend or colleague can go miles to open doors to new prospects. But it is surprising how few people really take advantage of this marketing tool.
Contrary to what you may think, you don’t have to sit passively and wait for word of mouth to happen. You can create it!
How to Do It: Take one former client to breakfast each week, to just chat about what’s going on in their organization, and to bring them up to speed on what’s been happening in your world. During that breakfast, ask the client if he can suggest 3 other people who might benefit from your work. And then ask if he would call those 3 people to make an introduction for you, so that when you call it’s not a cold call.
Then call those people, and take them to breakfast. Don’t try to sell them anything – just start to build the relationship so that they know who you are when they need you. Find out what’s going on in their organization – the good things, the bad things. Follow up with that new friend – a thank you note for breakfast, an article you saw that you thought they might enjoy, or the new article you just wrote! Keep them in your monthly/bi-monthly contact loop (if you are looking for clients, you do keep in touch with prospects on a regular basis, don’t you?), and continue to follow up so they know you are there when they need you.
This is the type of sales work any of us can feel comfortable about. It’s not hard sell, and it’s generated from the word of mouth of a client who has already been happy with your work.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that when you market your business with these three tools, folks already have a strong sense of what they are buying. Not only is it easier to make the eventual sale when the prospect is pre-sold, but there is less room for a mismatch once you are actually doing the work. They will already know what they are buying, because, like the pizza, they tasted it right there in the store.
Fare well, and farewell for this week ….