Independent Consulting: How To
You may think you have the necessary basic skills to operate as a independant consultant, but can you really make a go of it as a business?
Virtually everyone who enters the consulting business faces the same two basic challenges: how to generate leads and then how to turn leads into clients. Advertising is the primary focus of the business building efforts; developing a logo and brochure, and preparing a special consulting marketing mix. The elements comprise planning, price, place, packaging, positioning, people, product, promotion (advertising, public relations, sales) and professionalism.
Planning consists of setting the direction for your business. Conduct some research to establish a description of the people who are most likely to employ your services, their needs and wants, and the most effective ways to deliver a convincing message to your target customers. Determine the financial elements of the business such as revenue and expense forecasts, cash flow estimates, source of business analyses, and so on. Consider the number of people in the practice and their functions.
Price relates to the fee structure that you adopt for your practice. For example, will you base your fees on time incurred at a predetermined rate, on an assessment of the value of the service, or on the competitive environment in which you are operating?
Place refers to the location of your business; where it is geographically and how you will deliver your services to your clientele.
Packaging refers to the look of the consulting practice: the graphics of the stationery, business cards, brochures, décor of the offices, and your web site.
Positioning refers to how you want your business to be viewed by clients. In essence, the positioning is the personality and character of the business.
People refer to the types of clientele that the practice is seeking and the quality of personnel it employs.
Product consists of the services that your organization will offer clients and benefits they will receive.
Promotion incorporates four key traditional marketing functions: advertising (printed media, corporate gifts and the Internet), promotion (e.g. direct mail programs), public relations (utilizing unpaid media to do stories on the practice), sales (presentations, proposals).
Professionalism refers to such things as how the people in the practice relate to clients and suppliers, the activities in which your organization might wish to become involved within both the professional and local community in which you operate, and the ethical standards by which your organization operates on a day-to-day basis.
There are basically two broad approaches to generate awareness of your practice: direct methods and indirect methods. Direct methods represent efforts by your company to reach out to the target audience and deliver a specific message to them. Examples include cold-call letters and brochures to prospective clients, media advertising, and articles in trade magazines, direct-mail packages (newsletters, samples, and promotional items). Indirect methods of awareness building may have a longer payback period, but they are often the most effective. However, one very effective way to build awareness of your practice involves participating in local community activities, such as the local PTA, your church or synagogue, or the Little League; get articles published under your own byline for a newspaper or magazine; write a book; get on television or radio; teach your subject at a college; participate in trade meetings and shows; take an active role in key industry trade association; give seminars on topics that relate directly to your consulting practice; maintain an active network.
The company identity is how others see your organization: what the business is called; the communications message the company uses to say what it is and what the organization stands for in its area of practice; the graphic look that you choose for all external communications; the office environment, both the décor of the offices and the tone in which the business is conducted. One of the most obvious ways that an organization communicates a company identity is through a slogan or series of words that clearly exemplifies its positioning. For example, "The real thing" (Coke), "The Ultimate driving machine" (BMW). The graphic look articulates the feeling and the culture of your organization: the logo is the way the company name is communicated to the outside world.
The bottom line in the consulting business is knowing how to sell business. There are five key steps in the selling process: (1) Prospect contact, (2) Screening of prospect inquiries, (3) Initial Meeting, (4) Proposal Development, (5) Follow-up meeting. The concept of service varies with the type of consulting practice and even with the relationship with the client. Your main objective should be to maintain a commitment to superior customer service. Honesty and confidentiality is essential to the success of any consulting practice.