A big fear for new consultants is not getting enough consulting clients. What they need is a Client Getting System.
Consultants know their area of expertise, but they do not know how to consistently get clients and fill their pipeline. New consultants often depend upon referrals they have when starting out. But these referrals usually dry up within the first year.
This is not just a problem for new consultants. Many experienced consultants face the same problem. They have a few intermittent clients but not a continuous flow of clients. Their income constantly bounces between feast and famine.
This article will show you the stages in a proven system that keeps your client pipeline full.
Every consultant needs to create a Client Getting System like the ones used by highly successful consultants. Successful consultants build systems that consistently bring in leads, nurture prospects and qualify clients.
One consistent measure of success for consultants is the number of clients a consultant has engaged at one time. Successful consultants engage with three or more clients at a time. Unsuccessful consultants, often trapped in the feast or famine cycle, go from one client to the next with gaps of now work in between clients.
Use a Proven Client-Getting System
Creating a steady stream of high-paying clients takes a system.
Once you have the system’s foundation, which is needed for any successful consulting business, it takes just a few hours per week to generate a steady list of leads and prospects.
I know what it is like to start consulting without a mentor or guidance. My first few years in consulting were so slim I had to sell my house and tighten my belt to keep going. It took me about three years to make my consulting business work and another couple of years before the business took off and consistently earned six-figures. A few more years and I hit seven figures. All of that as an independent consultant.
Learning how to build a Client Getting System takes a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of mistakes.
The course Starting a Consulting Business has proven guides, scripts, and templates to help you build your Client Getting System. One new consultant who took the course told me ,
“You have saved me 5 to 10 years of learning the hard way.”
Download the free eBook for more information and to learn about the next course,
The Ultimate Guide to Starting and Building a Thriving Consulting Business.
Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, you can create a system to bring in leads, prospects, and prospective clients. Even though I enjoy speaking at conferences to audiences of 500 to a 1,000 attendees and have consulted for 30+ years, I am a dedicated, genetically-wired introvert. Even as an introvert I’ve seen the system described below work for me. If you are an extrovert, the system might work even better.
What Are the Parts in a Great Client Getting System?
The Client Getting System described below has multiple stages. Each stage builds on the previous, so building strong early stages creates a solid foundation for following stages.
Although it looks like there are a lot of stages, the first stages (niche, client, brand) are ones you need to start any successful business, consulting or not. After you have those first stages in place you can start your client-getting engine. Once your system is running it only takes a few hours per week to consistently fill your pipeline.
The stages for creating a pipeline full of high-quality, high-paying clients are,
Identify Your Perfect Niche
One of the most important business choices you can make is finding the perfect consulting niche. Do not even consider trying to be a generalist. Trying to be everything to everyone is a good way to starve.
Even if you have expertise in many areas it makes no business sense to being a generalist. As a generalist you must market and sell to try and solve everyone’s pains. That takes a huge effort, lots of money and lots of time. As an independent consultant you do not have the time or money to make that work.
Being an expert with a specialized type of consulting makes it easier for you to find the exact person who needs you. You can focus directly on connecting and nurturing ideal prospects.
Promoting and consulting to "everyone" as an expert in "everything"
is a waste of time, money, and energy
A niche expertise also makes it easier for you to prove and maintain your unique expertise and authority. You can publish blogs, post YouTube videos, publish LinkedIn posts, and focus these on your targeted niche audience.
I highly recommend you prove a niche’s validity before diving in and wasting time, money, and lost opportunity. Do not validate your ideas by talking to friends. Talk to people who can prove they like your niche idea by making a commitment of time or money. For example, reach out to contacts in the niche on LinkedIn and ask them if they are interested in a paper you wrote. Test speech topics in the niche by asking industry association directors for a speaking opportunity. Offer free webinars on niche topics and see if there are enough interested and committed people who will pay a small amount and give an hour of their time to watch.
Finally, if you discover you are the only one in this niche, be careful. It could mean the niche is too small or that prospects are not willing to pay for solutions.
The course, Starting and Building a Thriving Consulting Business, begins with a deep dive into finding and testing niches to make sure your consulting niche does well in the New Economy.
Identify Your Ideal Client
You want to do targeted B2B (business to business) marketing and that is different from B2C (business to consumer) marketing. B2C marketers talk about a buyer persona, customer profile or avatar. This is usually a one-page profile of their ideal customer. For example, a B2C avatar might include a picture and description of a CPA who is a soccer mom with two kids and a husband. She studies professional skills at night, but on the weekend hikes with her family. They drive a Toyota Highlander, and on and on. This type of avatar is little help in finding business or technical clients. (Unless you also drive a Highlander and happen to park at the same trailhead.)
To do that you need to create a search profile that precisely identifies your ideal prospects in LinkedIn (free), Google (free), or LinkedIn Sales Navigator (the best, but fee-based).
Using precision targeting gives you the power to test your search criteria, test your niche and test your consulting service offering.
For example, one of the consultants in the Starting and Building a Thriving Consulting Business course initially defined their potential client profile as an Operations Officer for light manufacturing companies with more than 1,000 employees on the West coast of the USA. He got mediocre responses with his first connection requests. By testing and refining his search criteria he got much higher connection rates with Operations Officers that had less than two years in the position and were in companies with 100 to 500 employees.
In my own consulting and training I learned that a slight change in LinkedIn search criteria and focusing my LinkedIn targets to people following unique hashtags doubled my connection rate.
Never use automated (spam) software to contact potential clients on LinkedIn. First it is spam, a repugnant sales method. Second, few people respond to a generic message. Third, LinkedIn can detect when you are messaging via automated software and they will ban you.
Know Your Ideal Client’s Inner and Outer Pain Points
One thing that many consultants forget to think about is the inner and outer pain their prospect is feeling. You cannot treat every potential client as though they had the same problem or felt the impact the same way. Knowing their inner and outer pains can help you communicate and quickly convert them into a client.
The outer pain is the pain that comes from business or organizational impact, like lost sales, decreased profit, turnover of key personnel, lost market share and so on.
There are ways to discover both the outer and inner pains. Outer pains are usually easy to identify through business research. In the Starting and Building a Thriving Consulting Business course consultants learn how to get free access to expensive investment and research databases. Combining that data with trade and local press can often reveal the changes impacting a business.
Inner pain is more difficult to discover, but it is incredibly valuable because it is the biggest motivator. The inner pain could be fear of lost prestige, demotion, loss of job, etc. Once you have qualified a potential client and before meeting with them there are special ways of identifying their inner pain.
When you know your prospect’s inner pain it is much, much easier to ask questions that help them move to a decision.
Promote Your Consulting Services
Promoting your consulting services takes far more than networking and business cards. In this New Economy every business prospect checks your LinkedIn profile, website homepage, and scans a few of your blog posts before connect and engage with you.
From the first day you start your consulting business you should have,
- A LinkedIn profile that is client-solution focused. Write about who your clients are, how you help them, the results you produce and why you are an authority with expertise.
- A professional consulting website could be one or a few pages. Use a cornerstone or silo structure so the reader immediately sees who you work with, solutions you provide and your expertise. Write with the keyword method we describe to get your best ranking in Google search. (Consultants in our course can follow the site templates, cornerstone structure, and keyword methods we teach.)
- Testimonials that build trust and prove your authority. Testimonials are the most powerful sales tool. If you are just starting you can get testimonials by partnering with another consultant or doing pro-bono work. You could even use testimonials from a previous employer. Here is an easy way to get testimonials.
Create a Lead Generation System
You can starve if you wait for just referrals or call backs from networking. If you want a steady stream of prospects you need to create a Lead Generation System. Build your lead generation engine using one or two of the following methods. Do not try to do all of them. Focus your time on what fits your style and results.
In the course Starting and Building a Thriving Consulting Business we go in-depth into building lead generation systems.
- Speaking and Webinars
Social distancing works to our advantage as we can now deliver remote webinars rather than driving or flying to deliver a speech. Make sure you give a speech that drives the audience to contact you for more.
- Blog Posts
Blogs ending with a Call to Action are great feeders into a Client Getting System. End each blog with an offer related to the blog topic. The reader must register to get the offer. Your offers might be a PDF focused on a problem-solution, a case study or registration for a free webinar.
- LinkedIn Posts
Posts with magnetic headlines and quick, useable tips and tricks can pull your target audience to your blog and website.
- Direct Outreach
Using precisely targeted criteria to connect with LinkedIn contacts and engage them with a value-laden nurturing email sequence. Give them stuff they value, and they will trust and respect you.
- DO NOT IMMEDIATELY ASK THEM TO BUY! First give them value and prove your expertise.
Engage and Nurture Prospects
When your Lead Generation System starts working you should be generating five to 20 or more interested leads per workday. This can be a problem – I have had this problem and it is frustrating. I love to connect with and help people, but with so many connection requests coming in I cannot personally connect with all of them. I run out of time.
The solution is to initially engage with new people to learn their situation and needs. However, most people will not immediately need your consulting services. For the majority of leads you want to start them on a simple nurturing sequence of emails and newsletters.
These emails and newsletters should connect you to them, build your trust and authority, and make you top-of-mind when it comes to your niche consulting.
Most email autoresponder systems are designed to send sequences of pre-written emails and newsletters or blog-links to prospects on your lead list. After four or five introductory nurture emails they can be transferred to the list you send your weekly or bi-monthly newsletter to.
Qualify High-Value Prospects
Once you have a pipeline of potential clients you need to contact and engage with them. Before you get too involved you should do preliminary qualifications. This can help you identify the pain they have. This research should also tell you whether they are “qualified” as potential clients.
Some of what you need to consider are,
- Accessibility so you can easily identify and reach them
- Awareness of their own problem
- Openness to engaging and building a relationship
- Decision-making ability to hire you
- Authority to hire you and implement your solution
- Ability to pay
- Time to work with you and implement
Plan Your Sales Strategy and Process
Good consultants have a well-planned sales strategy and process before going into the first meeting.
If you have been nurturing your prospects with blogs, newsletters and free webinars you have probably already built trust and proven your authority. Your first meeting should delve into the problems they have, problems you should have already researched.
Before your first meeting, write an overarching plan of what you want to learn. Remember the 6 W’s your schoolteacher taught you: Who, What, Why, Where, When and How. Using the research you’ve already done you should use an “Ask questions, then listen” consultative sales approach. Go wide to find areas of concern, then narrow in and deep dive into pain and consequences. When you get to the talking about impact and consequences your research into inner and outer pain becomes valuable and powerful.
Most importantly, you are there to listen and learn, not to prove how smart you are. They would not be talking to you if they did not think you had solutions. What you can add at this point is helping them identify consequences of not solving the problem and giving them hope by telling them about similar cases you helped solve.
Leverage Testimonials and Referrals
Once your consulting engagement is solid and the client is at an emotionally confident high point it is time to ask for a testimonial and referrals. A good way to get a testimonial is to use the method described in Easily Get Testimonials to Promote Your Consulting Service. With your client’s permission testimonials add a lot of power to your Client Getting Engine.
Make it easier to get referrals by sending a “sample” referral letter that your clients can use as a draft to forward to their acquaintances.
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