If you have decided to start an independent consulting business, the most important first step is finding and getting clients. That starts with knowing how to promote and grow your business. You may not be a marketing expert, but you will have to market your skills and services. You may not be a salesperson but you will have to sell yourself and your expertise. You may know your value but you will have to learn how to articulate that value to your potential clients, prove yourself credible and justify the rate you are charging.
In order to land your first consulting client, follow these 6 steps:
1. Know how to sell your services
When you start a small business, selling is certainly one of the most difficult tasks at hand. For some, selling wisely comes naturally, but for others it can be the most frustrating part of working as an independent consultant. Whether it’s because we feel underqualified for the position or because we have simply never done it before, we still need to seal those deals—and to do that we must sell. Qualifying is a critical step in the sales process, and it will save you a lot of hassle and headache as you deal with new clients, helping you reach independent success quicker and easier.
2. Learn the fundamentals
While you’re considering consulting, gain as much knowledge about your industry as you can so you portray yourself as a professional and an expert. You may be good at what you do, but are you “plugged in” to how independent consultants operate in your industry space? While you’re considering the transition, gain as much knowledge about your industry as you can. Check, and contribute to, online forums and professional sites like LinkedIn. These sites are excellent places to share your expertise and network.
3. Network instead of pitching
Networking is the most effective way to get your first client. Ninety percent of all independent consultants find their first contract through their personal and extended network. This means making announcements that you are looking to work with those who know you, or in other words, networking—not pitching. When you meet someone for the first time, shake their hand, look them in the eye and introduce yourself and have them introduce themselves. After that, ask what they do. At this point, you can separate yourself from everyone else in the room by asking them more specifically what they do. Use the information they provide to talk about what you do in context of their role.
4. Be prepared
Before you can open the door to a deeper discussion, the client must first believe that you have the credentials and experience to meet their needs. To sell your first client, be prepared to speak to your experience, level of seniority, and specialized skill. It is important to realize that this phase may take place with or without you. For example, a former colleague may refer a potential client to you, providing them with your contact information. That prospective client might check out your LinkedIn profile before they ever call you.
5. Sell your approach
After you have opened the door you will want the client to see that you are the problem-solver or expert specific to their gap or pain point. This requires putting your expertise to work by diagnosing and providing a framework for solutions. This phase of landing your first client can take place in several stages. You may have an initial meeting or two that allows you to conduct a needs assessment followed by a written proposal. How you diagnose the problem and approach providing a solution are integral to winning the business.
6. Sell your rate
In this phase you will want to remove obstacles that may be preventing the client from taking that final step. As a new consultant this is where you may consider your pricing strategy. The client should feel that they are getting access to a valuable, specialized skill set and experience for an introductory rate. Be honest about being new to consulting and leverage that to secure your first deal. Let them know you want good references so are willing to do a special deal with them to get started.
To learn more about how to successfully land your first client and how to network your way to success, download our guide.
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