Get consulting clients fast with these 7 steps
Here's a quick guide to help your consulting business find success in the industry by finding and quickly onboarding paying clients.
May 31 · 8 min read
Every year, U.S. businesses spend billions on payment for consulting services. Management consultants alone are raking in around $120 billion per year, while other categories of consultants and specialists earn about six times that amount annually too.
As a consultant, the next question is pretty obvious — how do you get in on that outrageously large pot of gold? Whether you’re a startup consultancy firm or a major player in the industry, the answer is basically the same — a steady flow of paying clients.
That’s the unique thing about a consulting business. Having access to potential clients and onboarding them is the lifeline of your firm. The truth, though, is that getting consulting clients is no easy feat. Competition is high and becoming more diverse across the industry, especially at such a time when the Covid-19 pandemic continues to expose businesses to different variations of uncharted waters.
Prospective clients don’t have to look far to find a consultant that can cater to their unique challenges. And each one not coming to you is going to your competitor. So it’s not just about finding potential clients but also onboarding these new clients fast.
To help your consulting business find success in the industry by finding and quickly onboarding paying clients, here’s a quick guide on how to go about it.
Why do consultants struggle to get clients?
Landing new clients and retaining old ones are the top challenges facing consultants today. This is hardly surprising in an age of free online courses, mastermind groups, and countless ebooks. Just about anyone can make it big on the internet and begin to market themselves as a consultant or guru. The competition has never been fiercer.
To compound the issue, there are a number of challenges unique to the consultancy marketplace. These include:
Changing client behavior
Today’s potential consulting clients are more demanding. They want more flexibility, more options available to them, more tailored solutions offered, faster delivery… the list goes on. Even industry policies like billable hours and fixed fees are being revamped to keep up with the demands of an increasingly agile environment fueled by digital innovations.
This shift in client behavior has been propelled by financial crises and global uncertainty. Most companies have had to drastically reduce how much they spend on consulting services, which in turn has brought about a more stringent level of scrutiny.
Increasing project complexity
Consultancy service providers are facing an increasingly complex environment in which they must be able to keep providing practical solutions as quickly as business problems are evolving. It’s hardly ever about staying ahead of the curve anymore, but rather positioning yourself to be able to respond to challenges as they crop up. And in a time of so many uncertainties, there’s no shortage of business problems to tackle.
Increasing project complexity isn’t an issue facing consulting firms alone. The businesses themselves often suffer in terms of delayed project management implementations because management has to wait on output from the consultants before allocating valuable resources towards solving specific problems.
Regardless of their area of expertise, consultants often handle large volumes of confidential client information. In the wrong hands, these pieces of information can effectively ruin the client’s business. That’s one of the reasons professional service firms are often targeted in cyber-attacks and data breaches.
Thankfully, several measures are being put in place to improve cybersecurity and safeguard confidential data. Still, the thought of having your business information stolen and used against your company interests is enough to be extra wary about who you turn to when solving business problems.
So amid all these challenges and a highly competitive marketplace, how is a consulting business expected to attract new clients and stay profitable?
7 proven ways to get it right and land those consulting clients fast
In his book “The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients,” author David A. Fields states that most consultants miss the mark right from the very start (baseline approach). There is a lot of credence to this statement because while the goal is to acquire consulting clients, most consultants hardly ever take the time to understand what kind of client they want to attract.
So first things first; define your ideal client
To reach potential clients and convince them to pay for your consulting services, you need to have some kind of criteria to prequalify them. You can’t just go around offering consultancy solutions to anyone just because they can afford it. Only when you understand your ideal client will you know how to reel them in.
Start by choosing the market that you want to focus on. The main considerations here are your area of expertise and level of passion. What unique solutions are you bringing to the table? Who are those most likely to benefit from them? How quickly do they need these solutions? What are the possible barriers that may prevent them from hiring your professional services?
The more you can drill down on your target market, the clearer the picture will be. However, keep in mind that each market segment has its own dictum, and you’ll need to learn how to navigate these nuances fast, especially if you’re a new consultant.
Once you have established your target market and identified your ideal clients, here are some proven ways to get them.
1. Have an established online presence
This is a big one. Service agreements and business deals today are borne from trust. If the people you’re targeting don’t trust you, they won’t do business with you. It’s that simple. A well-established online presence is how you build that trust.
There are many ways to create your consulting firm’s online presence, but the most prominent and most effective by far is having a business website. When people hear about you or your services, they immediately go online to check your website, as well as online publications and citations. Therefore, having a dedicated website is paramount because it’s where you can interact with your target audience and have them get to know your unique value propositions.
It’s a no-brainer. And yet, you’d be surprised at how many consultants out there today don’t have even a one-page website. Some prefer to utilize dedicated social media pages, but the truth is a website is what gives prestige to your consulting business. It’s basically the bare minimum requirement in the industry.
The good news is building a business website is nowhere near as complicated as it was in the past. You don’t even have to build it yourself. There are specialized web design agencies that can put together a stunning, fully functional business website in a matter of days. At the very least, you could hire a web design freelancer to set it up for you.
2. Position yourself as an authority in your niche
The main idea here is to know your unique value proposition and use it to differentiate yourself from the other consultants in your niche. It’s not enough to just have a defined area of expertise. You need to be able to identify areas in which you naturally excel and then use them to position your consulting business for success. For example, if you excel at communications and organization, your unique value proposition could be that you help client businesses work more cohesively as a team and implement scalable systems.
Focus on distinctive challenges that you alone can solve, or at least only a few people can solve. Generic issues won’t garner much attention since people can likely find the answers for free on the internet. But when you tackle unique issues and provide tangible results, people start to respect your name and what you do.
When you know what makes you stand out in the marketplace, establishing yourself as an authority in your niche is just a matter of publishing the right content. Make your unique value proposition the main selling point in every piece of content published. Be crystal-clear on what you have to offer and then convey that to your target audience. This allows you to filter out and sign prospective clients who need your consulting services most.
Regardless of the kind of content you’re publishing (blogs, articles, social media posts, video explainers, industry whitepapers, etc.), make sure it answers these three questions:
- Why you?
- Why now?
- Why this way?
The more clearly you can answer these questions, the more likely people will see you as an authority in your field. This leads to trust and ultimately, a jam-packed client base.
3. Be strategic with your digital marketing
Digital marketing is super broad, and it makes no sense to try and do it all, especially if you’re setting up a new business. That’s why it’s important to have a focused marketing strategy. This means prioritizing digital marketing practices that are most relevant to your consulting business.
At the top of the list is search engine optimization (SEO). It won’t matter what kind of consulting services you offer if people can’t find you on the web. That’s the primary purpose of SEO — making sure that your website, published content, and other relevant information about your consulting firm are searchable and visible on the internet.
There are two main categories under SEO: onsite and offsite. Onsite SEO refers to the optimization techniques that you would do on your website. These include keyword research, internal linking, meta titles and descriptions, website speed, mobile-friendliness, and so on. Offsite SEO is when you employ optimization techniques outside of your website. These include guest posts, backlinking, influencer outreach, forums, and more.
Another aspect of digital marketing worth focusing on as a consultant is email marketing. What better way to communicate with your target market than through their inbox. However, you should know that curating an email list of genuinely interested subscribers is not always easy to accomplish. It takes patience to continue pumping out relevant content to the point where people willingly give up their email addresses in exchange for useful content and marketing material.
Some business owners make the mistake of buying email lists, particularly for cold pitching. However, this strategy is based on sheer luck. More often than not, the people on the list end up unsubscribing because the content is not relevant to them. It can take a while to grow your subscriber list organically, but it’s worth it because everyone on that list is a prospect waiting to be converted into a paying client.
Lastly, if you have the budget for it, invest in paid advertisements. They’re the quickest way to raise awareness about your consulting business and possibly even land your first client. Keep in mind that because of the high level of competition in the consultancy industry, you’ll need a sizable ad budget if you’re going to compete favorably.
4. Double down on your social media efforts
Social media has been a gamechanger for service providers in the digital age. You want to take advantage of all it has to offer. The best place to start is Linkedin. The networking platform for professionals is a great place to find new clients or even have them reach out to you.
Selling consulting services through LinkedIn makes sense because you can connect directly with prospective clients. In most cases, Linkedin profiles are run by the actual owners. This is not usually the case with other social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
When doing outreach on Linkedin, make sure to only contact people that you can help. For example, let’s say you’re a marketing consultant who excels at running high-yield Facebook ads for tech startups. It’s not likely that this service can help a local laundry service. You’ll also want to reach out to business owners and high-level managers that can afford your services. No sense spending time talking to someone who can’t pay your fees.
Pay attention to your Linkedin profile too. Make sure it reflects current information about you and your consulting business. Stay active — share relevant content, comment on other people’s posts, etc. You could also include testimonials and successful case studies to boost your credibility. Twitter is another great social media platform for getting consulting clients. Many small business owners are on Twitter. Once you’re able to grow a large following, they start to notice you and become curious about what you offer.
5. Never shy away from asking for referrals
Up until this point, every process discussed has involved online outreach and digital tools. But we cannot overemphasize the importance of a good old-fashioned word of mouth referral. It’s basically free marketing, and you get to dictate terms such as project scope and pricing. After all, it was the prospect that came to you.
If you already have a lineup of former clients who had a positive experience working with you, reach out to them and ask for referrals. Most of the time, they’re willing to refer your services to people within their network but might not always think to do it voluntarily—no harm in asking. Worst case, they’ll say they can’t, and you leave it at that.
Not sure how to ask? Here are some prompts you could try:
- Do you have any contacts that could benefit from my consulting services?
- It fills me with great joy to see that you’re happy with the solutions we worked on for your project. I would genuinely appreciate it if you would refer me to anyone in your network who might be interested.
- It has been a pleasure working with you on this project. I’m always on the lookout for new business. Do you know anyone who might be a good fit for my professional services?
If they don’t give you an immediate response, be sure to follow up with them. Don’t assume that just because they haven’t responded means they’re not going to help. Business owners are busy, and it’s likely that they’re dealing with equally important stuff at the time. Send a follow-up after a few days and wait for their response.
6. Forge close connections
AKA, don’t neglect networking. When you create, nurture, and leverage relationships, you’re opening the door to countless opportunities in the near future for acquiring new clients.
That being said, it’s essential to be smart with your approach to networking. People don’t want to feel like you’re only connecting with them solely because you’re trying to get clients for your consulting business. For example, instead of asking someone in your network if they know anyone in need of your services, you could instead ask if they’ve met any interesting people lately. Then proceed to find out about them and see if they’re a good fit for your services. This removes the awkwardness that’s often associated with asking for contacts from people you barely know.
Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to networking is that quality trumps quantity. Focus on making meaningful relationships with a select few rather than trying to exchange business cards with everyone.
Your network is the best place to ask for referrals. Imagine if just 10 people in your network gave you a referral, you already have a sizable client base. And you didn’t pay a single cent to acquire them.
7. Get yourself out there
In networking, you’re meeting people within your industry — fellow consultants, small business coaches, stakeholders, etc. But why stop there? You could also give facetime to prospective clients and just convert them from there.
Local events in your community are a great place to start. The goal here is to become the go-to resource for anything that concerns your area of expertise. Meetups with potential clients have the highest conversion rate. Nothing beats the power of face-to-face interaction when closing a deal.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that one should attend these events or programs primarily for the sake of promoting your consultancy practice. You want to focus more on building quality relationships — taking a genuine interest in what they do and being honest with them. When you show authentic interest, they’re obligated to want to be interested in who you are and what you have to offer.
You can also host your own meetup events. Unfortunately, many areas around the world are still practicing social distancing and no-touch communications. In this instance, you could take advantage of digital tools to keep the communication as personal as possible through webinars, workshops, and podcasts. All of these can boost your image and establish your credibility as a bona fide consultant.
Bonus Tip — Use online job listings
If you’re just starting and need to get in touch with clients who are ready to get to work, online job listings can be a great option. The trade-off is that you won’t have as much flexibility as you would if you were signing your own client. For most solopreneurs and freelancing professionals, online job listings offer a quick way to hit the ground running and begin making money.
The bottom line
Getting consulting clients in 2021 is all about positioning your practice as the obvious choice. Today’s marketing and promotion strategies are all about having potential clients find you, not the other way round. When people see you as the obvious choice, they naturally come to you. They see the value of what you do and are genuinely interested in your services. To get to this stage, you need the right tools and professional partners. That’s what we offer here at B12.
Take your consulting business farther with B12’s suite of tools and services. Start off with a powerful, AI-built website and enjoy in-built features like client management and engagement tools and online payments and invoicing systems.
We also offer a number of creative services designed to improve your consulting brand’s search engine discoverability and relevance in the marketplace. These include SEO, copywriting, blogging, HTML and CSS coding, and more.
Sign up on B12 today and get access to everything you need to run your consulting business and attract new clients, all in one place.