Many professionals are attracted to the business consulting arena because of the promise of high profit margins, stimulating work, professional respect and greater personal freedom. While it’s true that the most successful business and management consulting professionals do attain all these objectives, the journey to the top is not always easy, desirable or pleasant.
For many new business consultants, mastering the delicate dance of approaching, negotiating with, and landing new clients can be a nerve-wracking experience. They would rather have someone else do the business development, marketing and negotiations, so they can do what they do best.
If you fall into that category, my advice would be to dispossess yourself of that mindset. What you may currently lack in those areas can always be learned and will ultimately be the difference between outright business failure, doing just okay, or becoming phenomenally successful.
The sequence I share below is significantly influenced by the thinking of Alan Weiss, one of the most successful individual independent consultants.
1. Attract incoming calls through marketing
No matter what you think your business is, your primary job is marketing. Without a steady and dependable flow of business, your venture will fail. One of the ways to make sure you leverage every marketing dollar (and get the best results) is through what I term platform attention marketing.
Although he does not use this term, you can see this method clearly illustrated in the marketing systems of most top performing consultants. Through articles, books, speeches, direct marketing and strategic alliances, they attract and serve their way to very powerful brands…not the other way around. It is rarely a smart idea for a small business to invest inordinately in brand image advertising rather than direct marketing to well-targeted market segments.
This is the way the best business consultants position themselves to be attractive to the executives and business leaders they work with. When prospective clients show up, they show up ostensibly on their terms, but in a way that positions you properly as the trusted expert advisor.
2. Get General Agreement
The most important thing to remember about dealing with prospective clients is that you clearly establish a differentiating value proposition, and that you establish your framework for understanding what the client’s needs are. This must be part a subtle but insistent part of your initial relationship-building.
Whether this is done through a situational analysis, opportunity analysis, threats assessment or some other specific mechanism is not as important as the fact that the path to getting it done is available and easy-to-understand.
It is during this process that you should ensure that you strike up a general agreement and framework of what you (or your organization) will do relative to the needs of the prospective client organization.
3. Send Them A Proposal
Depending on the scope of your consulting services, your proposal may just be a basic restatement of what was agreed or a fairly detailed sequence of milestones and outcomes. Much good work has been written on the subject of proposal writing and I won’t rehash that here. Make sure that your proposal accurately reflects your capabilities.
You should also consider asking for more information if you want some more information on the background context behind a RFP (Request For Proposal).
4. Commence Negotiations
After you have sent in a consulting proposal, don’t diminish your superior positioning by appearing too eager to get a response. If this is for a fairly significant investment, be prepared to wait for up to a few weeks before you call in to check on it. Of course, if you are aware that there is a looming deadline this would not be the right advice for that situation.
Always negotiate from a position of professional expertise and equality. Keep plugging away at this process, and you’ll find that you will soon land that first client.