04 Get Clients Quickly

4. Getting Consulting Clients Quickly

Most new consultants start with client referrals that keep them busy for a year or two, then the referrals dry up.

To stay out of the feast-or-famine cycle you must get clients early to fill your pipeline, then create a marketing system to keep it full.


New consultants usually start their first year with client referrals that carry them through the first year. Then referrals begin to disappear, and so does income. It is then that most consultants enter the feast-or-famine cycle, a cycle that too often plagues their careers.

Consultants who don't consistently use a proven system
to fill their prospect pipeline have massive revenue problems.

In a Feast-or-Famine cycle, consultants work long hours with clients and have no time for marketing. Then, when the client engagement ends, they face long stretches with no income as they work on stop-gap marketing. It’s a continuous cycle that drives consultants and their families crazy.

Getting out of this Feast-or-Famine cycle, and building steady growth is key to a successful consulting business.

In this stage, you learn about short term techniques to quickly fill your pipeline and convert prospects into clients.

These techniques fill the pipeline, but they take constant work, and you don’t want to be on this treadmill constantly. Once you have a couple of clients, start building the systems in Stage 5, Marketing Your Consulting Services.

The Feast-or-Famine Cycle

New consultants often start with referrals from friends, business acquaintances, and their previous employer. These referrals often fade after the first year, so new consultants find themselves facing months of no revenue.

Feast or Famine Cycle

Most consultants, even experienced consultants, face the Feast-or-Famine cycle. The Feast-or-Famine cycle swings you back and forth between high income and no income. The cycle alternates between all work and no marketing, and all marketing and no work. Of course, income follows the same cycle leaving most consultants yearning for stability and pushing them into accepting low paying work from low-quality clients.

The "Client Getting Techniques" can quickly
fill your pipeline, but using these alone will put you back In the Feast-or-Famine cycle.
To thrive, you must create a marketing machine like those in Stage 7.

You don’t have to go through this Feast-or-Famine cycle. By spending 10% to 30% of your time using these Stage 4 techniques, you can fill your prospect pipeline. Once you have two or three clients, begin building the marketing systems in Stage 7 that can constantly fill your pipeline.

Start Networking Now

Before you start your consulting business, you should build your LinkedIn network with quality contacts. Contacts you connect with should be people you would want to work with or who work in the organizations you want to consult to.

To build your LinkedIn network connect with,

  • Work colleagues
  • People at meetup groups in your field
  • People at industry association meetings in your niche
  • People in LinkedIn groups you join
  • Conference speakers and attendees

Matching Your Marketing to Your Experience

Before you run out into the street and start wildly marketing your consulting business, stop and think about how you like to work, how you like to connect with people, and how your prospects like their communication.

All those need to come together when you build your marketing plan. You want to,

  • Do the type of marketing work you like, for example, speaking vs. writing
  • Connect with people the way you prefer, for example, private meetings vs large networking events
  • Know how most of your prospects get information and connections they trust, for example, referrals vs. online articles

The Marketing Matrix can help you identify your best way of filling your pipeline and nurturing leads into prospects. If you are just starting your consulting business choose marketing methods in the first column. If you have a running consulting business or are looking to the long term choose from the second or third columns.

Check the marketing that works best for your stage of consulting business maturity.
Click the image to open it in a full window.

Maximum Marketing Impact for Your Stage of Consulting

Do Marketing You Love, So You Love to Do Marketing

If you read about the differences between high earning solo professionals and average earners you learned that high earners,

  • Market constantly. High earners are marketing every day. (That’s marketing, not selling.)
  • High earners don’t spread themselves thin. Pick three types of marketing you like and stick with them.
  • High earners keep marketing even when they have clients. If you stop marketing as soon as you get clients, you will fall into the dreaded Feast-or-Famine cycle. You must keep marketing.

If you are going to work consistently on marketing, you want to do marketing that works and that you enjoy. That’s why you need to pick just two or three types of marketing that use work styles you enjoy.
For example,

  • If you like writing, you will probably want to write blogs, LinkedIn posts and articles, white papers and case studies. Some of these give long term results, but white papers and case studies can be combined with networking to give immediate results.
  • If you like planning and creating systems, then make checklists, workflow diagrams, systems designs, or mind maps to connect with your prospects.
  • If you enjoy meeting new people, then go to Meetups and networking events. Follow up with coffees and high-value handouts.
  • If you get a kick out of speaking to groups, (I do even though I’m an introvert), then speak at local association monthly meetings or Meetups.
  • If you enjoy teaching, do small pre- or post-workshops before conferences. Always have a high-value follow-up that gives you a reason to reconnect with attendees.
  • If you work with leadership or skills-based consulting, then call local companies and talk to their HR or training and development department and setup free “lunch and learns” where they supply the lunch, people and a room and you do a small workshop.

Getting Clients Quickly

There are marketing and direct outreach techniques that quickly bring in clients. While you can get results quickly, it takes a lot of work and hustle. That can be hard to keep up.

The following section describes marketing methods that are known for quickly filling your prospect pipeline. What follows is an overview. For execution you need more detail which is in the course Starting and Building a Thriving Consulting Business and in the blogs.

While the following are some of the fastest methods for filling your prospect pipeline they require constant personal attention and hours of work. To build a marketing machine that works automatically make sure you read Stage 5, Marketing Your Consulting Services.

Startup Referrals

Most new consultants begin their practice with a few referrals. However, these usually dry up within the first year.

If you have been an employee you should try to make a mutually beneficial referral arrangement with your past employer. In some cases, you can continue to support your old employer’s customers and clients for everyone’s benefit.

Some of the referral building tasks you need to do when starting are,

  • Get recommendations on LinkedIn from past managers and acquaintances.
  • Build a working relationship with your past employer by supporting their business rather than competing with them.
  • Write email templates you can send to your professional acquaintances so they can easily refer you to their business acquaintances. (The course includes sample templates.)

Network and Meetup Events

You CANNOT sit back and rest even if you have the benefit of starting with a full pipeline. If you have startup momentum from referrals, then use that momentum and the time it gives you to network and to start building your automated marketing machine as described in Stage 7. 

Network at Association and Industry Meetings

Here are a few tips on networking,

  • Work on the “That’s what I do.” introduction from Stage 3. It works.
  • Build your network with high-quality connections in your niche as rapidly as possible. Use the energy that comes from being a new solopreneur to start your network.
  • Add old connections to your LinkedIn network and stay in touch.
  • Let people in your network know that you are starting a consulting business. Write them a short personal note and send an email explaining the types of problems you solve.
  • Join professional organizations and go to all the meetings to build your network. Join only the organizations that build skills you need and connect you to people with your ideal Client Profile.
  • Some associations won’t let you speak unless you are a member or a recognized expert with books and a national speaking background.

Direct Outreach with LinkedIn

Building your prospect list is significantly easier when you have a large number of quality LinkedIn 1st degree contacts. For example, at one point I had 1,000 1st degree connections. That created a network of over 3,000,000 (three million) 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree connections that I could search, connect with and engage.

LinkedIn and especially LinkedIn Navigator are like the Google of professional and business people. They are a goldmine of professional connections.

If you didn’t do the Client Profile exercise in Stage 2, go back and do it. You have to use a consistent system with LinkedIn to test which profiles are best. Searching with different client profiles and not testing which profile gives you the best prospects is a waste of time.

One new consultant in the Starting and Building a Thriving Consulting Business course increased their LinkedIn acceptance rate by 400% with a 
minor change in the Client Profile.

If you do not have a large personal LinkedIn network, practice using the free LinkedIn and then when you are ready, get a month-by-month subscription to LinkedIn Navigator. Use it long enough to build an initial prospect list.

Create the best LinkedIn connection requests by connecting with some form of personal relationship or an exchange of value. Connecting and building rapport by creating a high-value exchange on LinkedIn is critical. We do a lot of work on this in the Starting and Building a Thriving Consulting Business course.

Use LinkedIn to Connect and Nurture a Network

DO NOT SELL on LinkedIn! You hate spam emails and phone calls and so does everyone else. Spam LinkedIn messages are just as annoying.

LinkedIn activity can be slow. Many people only go on LinkedIn once or twice per month so you may not see responses for a week or more.

Don’t be discouraged by a 10% to 20% connection acceptance rate. Once you have a great LinkedIn profile, published LinkedIn content, and have built a brand from speaking or writing, your acceptance rate should be over 50%.

Find your ideal prospect profile.
Make a connection. Build rapport.

Here's a proven process for connecting on LinkedIn,

  • Prove Your Client Profile Against Your Real-World Network.
    Meet real people at association and networking events and connect with them on LinkedIn. Would you have found them using your Client Profile to search LinkedIn or Google?
  • Create a High-Value Offer You Can Send People.
    Build a high-value offer like a trouble-shooting guide, white paper, workflow diagram, etc. that you can forward to new connections. You won’t be forwarding it immediately.
  • Search with your Client Profile in LinkedIn and Google.
    Use the Advanced Search box in LinkedIn and LinkedIn Navigator. In Google use the Advanced Search Page, https://www.google.com/advanced_search. The Starting and Building a Thriving Consulting Business course teaches you how to use Boolean search strings to make very refined searches. (The Boolean Search String cheat sheets are part of the course as well.)

The Google Advanced Search box.

Google Advanced Search page

The LinkedIn Navigator Advanced Search box.

LinkedIn Advanced Search page
  • Send a Connection Request to Five to 20 People per Day.
    Be honest and tell them you are in the same business and want to build your network. As an expert, you would like to send them information that may help them in their business. If you have a real common connection, like the same college, hometown, sports interest, then bring it up.
  • Send Requests on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday between 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM at the Recipient’s Time. These are the most common times people check LinkedIn; however, some people only check LinkedIn weekly.

Never Use Connection Request Software on LinkedIn!

LinkedIn detects when you use software that “scrapes” prospect
names from LinkedIn and then sends a mass of connection requests.
LinkedIn Will Ban You.

  • When someone accepts your connection request, send them a thank you.
  • Wait a day or two, then send them your high-value piece. (You must know what the most common pains and problems your clients have.)
  • If you are a student of the Starting and Building a Thriving Consulting Business course, use the scripts and templates to accelerate your work. 
  • Wait another week and send them a link to a critical high-value article that might be of value to them.
  • It often takes multiple messages to engage with someone.
  • Once you begin a conversation, ask if you can exchange emails since emails are easier to use than LinkedIn messages. If you have started an email newsletter, ask if they would like to get your newsletter.
  • Send a message to your LinkedIn connections asking to meet with anyone going to the next local association meeting, dinner, or events.
  • Keep connecting on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Some people may take months to connect with you. Some will connect when they need your help.
  • DON’T TRY TO SELL. Just try to connect, engage, and build rapport.

Workshops, Lunch-and-Learns, and Webinars

Workshops and lunch-and-learn sessions are an excellent way to build your prospect list. They give you the chance to demonstrate your consulting ability, engage with attendees, and build rapport and build a mailing list by offering additional post-workshop material.

Again, this is where you must know the key pains and problems of your Client Profile. You want a workshop with a title and pin-point solution that your audience can’t ignore.

In all three of these, you must create offers so that prospects want to reengage with you one-on-one afterward. That will build your email list and personal connections. 

Consultant presenting workshop

Workshops
If you have an idea for a good one to three hour-long workshop, approach the organizers of an industry event and ask if you can do a pre- or post-event workshop. You will need to give the organizers a white paper, testimonials, sample worksheets and an outline. If you have a video of you speaking, put it on YouTube and send them the link. Always have an irresistible offer for attendees so they will connect with you afterward.

A good way to engage with a small group in a workshop or Lunch-and-Learn is to end the workshop or Lunch-and-Learn with a brainstorming session on how the learnings can be applied when they return to work. This is a great time for you to learn about client needs and pain.

Workshops and Lunch-and-Learns can be a great time for you to learn client needs
and for attendees to see you in action.

Webinars
Webinars can be almost as good as real-world workshops. But, they take more work to build rapport. The key here is to engage the audience in the chat and have workbook exercises. If you just talk you will lose your audience.

Webinars work well done in participation with companies or associations. 

I’ve used many different webinar platforms, but I prefer Zoom for its quality, low-cost, and ease-of-use.

Lunch-and-Learns
Lunch-and-Learns are a little different than workshops. Lunch-and-Learns were a staple in building my first computer training and consulting business.

Lunch-and-Learns work best for skills-based training where the sponsoring company brings in lunch and you bring in the workshop material. Besides computer skills, these also work well for management and leadership scenarios and training.

Speaking

Speaking, when done with the right structure and offers, is an excellent way to capture leads and prospects.

One significant advantage to selecting the right niche market and knowing their pains and gains is that most high-value niches have professional meetings or conferences. These meetings and conferences are a perfect place for you to present, build your brand, and gather leads.

Done Right Speaking Generates a Lot of Leads

When you present to a meeting or conference, you have two objectives.

 First, you want to be recognized as a captivating expert who helps your audience learn and advance. This will also get you rebooked for more speaking.

Second, you want to capture leads to build your consulting business. Capturing leads as a speaker takes a few extra tricks that are in the Starting and Building a Thriving Consulting Business course. 

Even a great speech can leave you with no leads.
Use a speech structure that generates desire and captures leads.

Even a speech that garners standing ovations can leave you with no leads. To get leads you must structure your speech with prompts that build desire, have a Call to Action, and drive attendees to contact you. We go through this speech protocol in the course. 

One consultant who took the Starting and Building a Thriving Consulting Business course is highly qualified, has a Ph.D. in her niche, and was a successful speaker. Although a good speaker, she rarely got leads. She turned that around when she started using the speaking protocol that drives an audience to become leads. In her next speech, she got seven leads. Three of those turned into clients.

Connecting with Leads, Engaging with Prospects

Connecting with leads and then not engaging with them is an effort in futility and waste. I get connection requests every week from people that look interesting. I respond to them and then the communication goes dead. There is no return response. There is no engagement.

Building a big LinkedIn or email list you don’t engage and build relationships with is nothing more than food for your ego. It is far better to have a small list of people you engage with and nurture.

Building a big LinkedIn or email list and
not engaging people in the list can build your ego, 
but  it won't build your wallet.

You need a clear roadmap on how you will engage prospects, nurture them, and convert them to clients. One proven way to do this is to move new contacts into an email sequence. If you are working with new LinkedIn contacts move them as quickly as possible out of LinkedIn and onto your email list.

Try to make all prospect and client engagements a two-way value exchange. Don’t think about how you can sell them. Instead, think about ways you can help them and give them value such as white papers, industry trend forecasts, high-value newsletters, short webinars, etc.

Turning Leads and Prospects into Clients

If you are going to help your prospect solve their pain they must become a client. That means you have to help them move down the Client Journey.

To do that you must know the prospect’s needs, pains, and psychological triggers. Knowing and using psychological triggers is not “sales trickery” if you are helping people solve their pain.

A great consultant is no different than a doctor or healer who understands their patient’s pain and wants to heal them.

You have a duty to help clients get better. It is no different than a doctor’s duty to heal a patient. To do that you need to turn them from lead to prospect to client.

You don't need magic or sparkling personality to 
turn leads into clients.
There is a proven system that consistently
converts  prospects into clients. 

Setting the Initial Client Meeting and Agenda

Cold, hard, sales techniques have never worked for me and don’t seem to work for most consultants. What does work very effectively is just talking with the prospect about the pain, the consequences, and what they have tried as solutions.

If you have built your authority and you have the prospect's trust, the conversation seems to naturally progress into “When can you get started working on this.”

Have you ever watched world-class athletes like Simon Biles do her astounding gymnastic routines or Rafael Nadal slide across a tennis court to return a winning tennis shot? They make it look so easy and natural. They look like they were born to it.

They weren’t.

They practiced and practiced and practiced. They knew exactly what their strategy and tactics would be. They developed mental and muscle memory of what they needed to do.

You need to do the same to be consistent about winning your consulting engagements. You want to walk into a meeting relaxed but know how you want it to go.

Before any client meeting where you might propose an engagement you must go through the same steps we guide our students through,

  • Know the pains and problems for the industry.
    Use Google, Quora, Redditt, and industry forums to research probable problems.
  • Research the prospect’s specific problems.
    Review local and online newspapers for information about the prospect and the people you might be meeting. Check their profiles on LinkedIn.
  • Map a Client Meeting Agenda
    Know which of the four types of meetings you expect and be prepared for it.
  • Create a PAES Map like the type we use in the course
    Know how to guide the discussion from pain to solutions. PAES combined with consultative selling does this perfectly. (PAES is described at the end of this stage.)
  • NEVER TALK ABOUT YOUR PROCESSES
    Talk about the prospect’s pain, the consequences, and visions of the future. Talk about what you have done for others in the same situation, but don’t talk about your “XYZ Handout” and your “Very Cool Sticky Note Brainstorming.”

Selling Consulting Services

This whole process during the meeting uses “consultative selling.” This is nothing more than understanding your client’s pain and asking a set of well-structured questions. The questions explore the client’s needs, show the potential for additional problems and pains, build rapport with empathy, and then build a vision of your solution.

It is up to you to help a prospect move through the Client Journey. Prospects can be held back at each stage by lack of trust, lack of clarity, and confusion over alternatives. Understanding their journey, their hesitations and the triggers that make them move will help you turn them into clients so you can heal their pain.

Marketers usually think of the Client Journey in four steps, Attract, Engage, Nurture, and Convert. A great metaphor for the marketer’s Client Journey is a bridge. The steps of Attract, Engage, and Nurture are a natural part of Stage 4 and Stage 5, but Conversion comes hard for most consultants.

You must help the prospect move through the Client Journey.

The problem with the marketer’s bridge is that prospects often balk at saying “Yes!” and consultants are hesitant about pushing for the sale.

One consultant who used PAES for the first time said, 
“I used to feel nervous in the first client meeting. Now I feel confident and I know how to move the conversation along
until the prospect asks to become my client.”

At the Convert stage you need to go through a final short closing. In the Starting and Building a Thriving Consulting Business course we practice this last step using a PAES table as a structure for the closing conversation.

Use PAES to Move to Client Conversion

The GREAT thing about using a PAES table to prepare for meeting with a prospect is that it makes it easy to talk with the prospect and lead them through the Convert stage of the Customer Journey. Numerous consultants, new and experienced, have told me how PAES helps them prepare for a client conversation.

In the Starting and Building a Thriving Consulting Business course we go through multiple examples of using the PAES table when closing a client.