Consulting is a large and fast-growing industry.
But are you capitalizing on the growth?
2015 is about to close with consulting bringing in around $200 billion in the U.S. alone and an average of over 5% growth each year in the past five years.
You might already know this and are ready to take on some bigger clients.
You’re just not (entirely) ready to put more boots on the ground…Yet.
A bigger staff means more training, increased payroll, and maybe even an office space.
Bigger clients mean new revenue, bigger bottom line, and more notoriety.
These two truths leave you with one question:
Can you get bigger clients (and all of the great things that come with them) while avoiding hiring more mouths to feed?
We think so.
It may even be better to remain small and agile.
In fact, this Forbes post states that over 230,000 sole proprietorship businesses make over $500,000 in a year.
Whether you’re a one-person show or have just a tight-knit crew, you can get bigger and better clients without increasing overhead.
Are you ready?
This post contains five key tactics that can help you catch some of the bigger fish in the sea (if implemented correctly, of course).
Key Tactic #1: Cross Promote Yourself
Just because you don’t want to hire any staff doesn’t mean that you have to take on the whole world all by yourself.
We’ve already talked about the size of the consulting industry that is, in part, due to the loose definition of a consultant.
con·sult·ant (kənˈsəltnt/) – a person who provides expert advice professionally.
IT, management, human resources, sales, social media, and marketing are just a few of the seemingly limitless number of consulting categories. All of which have individuals and corporations willing to pay for expert advice.
That’s why opening up and communicating with other professionals (in a different, but related, specialty) is so important.
Example: Let’s say you’re a management consultant that can whip any team into shape before the next casual Friday, but you’re not the best at HR.
Developing a relationship with another qualified consulting pro in that field is the definition of win-win-win.
A fellow entrepreneur gets a gig, you get referred work, and clients get the best help possible.
How does this help get bigger clients?
Not knowing everything isn’t a weakness. It’s an opportunity.
Besides, it’s hard to get people to believe you’re an expert in “everything.”
It’s more likely that you’ll run into clients that have both team building issues as well as problems in their hiring, onboarding, and termination process (continuing our example).
Let’s be clear. Cross promotion isn’t just saying, “I know someone who can do that.”
It’s a coordinated effort between you and someone you trust in a related field, to find clients that need both of your services. These are typically larger firms who want a larger scale intervention (like the movie Office Space without the hilarity).
There’s no need for a detailed partnership agreement before you start. Just make sure to work out general contingencies up front and handle each client as a temporary collaboration.
This cross promotion allows you and the person, or people, you’re collaborating with to give off a multi-faceted agency vibe (more on that a little further down).
Key Tactic #2: Learn to Say Yes
There are so many books, blogs, and podcasts telling you to say the word ‘no’ more often, but that’s not how a consultant gets the big clients, is it?
No. You have to say yes.
Large consulting firms (like Protiviti) used to outplay the smaller guys by offering, well, everything. From finance to IT to web design these big players are the Costcos of the expert world, but things are changing.
The good news is the one-stop shops have less of an advantage than they used to in the current freelance marketplace.
The really big clients want lasting partnerships with companies that can preferably handle several different issues. If you get a seat at the table of potential providers, the last thing you want to do is say no to everything except your specialty.
Important note: We aren’t telling you to lie. We are telling you to say that you can handle a project.
For instance, you may be an expert in social media marketing. Facebook ads segmentation, retargeting and conversions come naturally to you, but you can’t design an attractive ad to save your life.
Your (potential) client asks: Do you handle the ad design?
There is no shortage of places to find freelancers who can fill the gaps to create a complete project for lucrative clients.
Check out these for a little help:
Just price in the extra work that you agreed to and find a talented person to contract for the job (They won’t be part of your staff and can even make you a higher profit).
Bonus Tip: Make sure to check a person thoroughly before you hire them by checking portfolio pieces or references, and feedback they’ve been given. Also, get on a call with them before making the hire.
Key Tactic #3: Spend More Time Pre-Pitch
Good chefs all have something in common. It’s a simple French term that may be the secret to their success.
Mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahs).
Translated it means “put in place,” but it sounds way better in the original dialect. The best culinary experts spend most of their time prepping the food before they put the first item on the heat.
Consultants can learn something from this technique.
Chances are, you have your pitch down pat. You’ve got every word ready for the elevator, the dinner meeting, and the phone call.
Being ready to cook is great, but how much work did you put into your choosing your leads before putting them to the heat?
Cold contacting leads can be effective, but it works better when proper care is taken beforehand. Sending out the same scripted email won’t get you very far.
There is a reason decision makers of larger companies are taken out to meals and treated to rounds of golf.
Do a little legwork. Choose the companies and industries you’re best suited to work with and personalize an approach to each one of them. You can personalize your approach in several ways:
- Niche down to a certain business type. Specifics will help you stand out, such as knowing their terminology and common problems.
- Send emails/make calls slower. Do a little research beforehand about potential issues and cater the conversation toward your solutions.
- Move them along. Not all your leads will be ready to jump in immediately. You can push them down a funnel toward the goal with communication and useful information (more on this down the page).
Statistic: According to one study, emails with a personalized subject line received a 17.36% higher click through rate.
Key Tactic #4: Make Your Business Look Big
You may be the only full-time employee in your business, but it doesn’t have to look that way. Using a few tactics, your company can look like a multinational entity because big clients like to deal with established firms.
How big can you go?
There are a lot of options when you’re trying to seem larger, but we’ve put together a decently detailed list.
- Logo (obviously)
- Private area (for quiet phone calls especially)
- Self-hosted website (well designed)
- Email address (not a Gmail or Yahoo, but a bona fide jondoe@yoursite(dot)com address)
- Fancy email signature (don’t go too far, it’s not a resume)
- Do a press release to a special event or piece of content
- Answering service for phone calls
- Rent a “when you need it” executive office suite to hold client meetings (if your space isn’t suitable)
There are also tools all over the internet to help you on your upsizing. Use a few of them and it will make your potential clients think you travel with an entourage.
Bonus Tip: The contractors that you use for different projects can be on your website as part of your team. Just because they aren’t on your permanent payroll doesn’t mean they can’t be given credit (while making you look good).
Key Tactic #5: Set Up a (Proper) Funnel
We have to admit that we’re a little bit partial to setting up great email interaction with your leads, but this is an important step in getting some of the biggest clients you can.
You probably know you need something (like a lead magnet) that encourages a potential lead to hand over their email address.
While this is a great way to keep them in contact if you aren’t talking to them (the right way), you’ll never get them to use your services.
Larger clients sometimes take time to hire consultants. Underlings and middle management types might be doing research to give to decision makers, maybe they compare several options, or wait until a fiscal quarter or year rolls over.
The hold up isn’t important. The most crucial thing to do during this waiting period is to stay at the top of their mind. There are several ways to do this, but here are a few to get you started.
- Create a great reason for your clients to sign up to your email list like a course, industry report or white paper (delivered by email, of course).
- Send content that establishes yourself as a leader, identifies the client’s problem(s) and gently encourages them to get in contact.
- Deliver promotions and educational content that informs, leads and helps them get ready for conversion to full blown client.
A funnel (when done correctly) nurtures leads. If you communicate poorly, or not at all, you run the risk of alienating both the big and not-so-big clients.
Being personal doesn’t always have to be time-consuming. There are ways to automate the whole process.
Bonus Tip: Once you land a few of those big clients it’s a great idea to stay in contact. Remaining helpful to past clients is a great way to get more work and referrals.
Which Tactic Are You Starting With?
Five ways that you can use to land the biggest clients your consulting business has ever had. Now it’s time for you to get moving.
Set your sights high, do your prep work, and nab that big fish right out of the water.
Which tactic will you implement first?