I suspect most people who come to this blog are consultants to the SMB (small-medium sized business) market and as such this often means you run, or help to run, your own small consulting business. In other words, you are most likely wearing multiple hats in your firm, from CEO to chief cook and bottle washer.
But the hat I want to talk about today is that of Marketer. I ran my own consulting business for 10 years and, without question, the most difficult part of the job was getting the word out about the services I provided. Like most small consulting firms, I couldn’t afford much more than some business cards. Brochures were too expensive and I didn’t have the artistic ability to make them look good anyway. Sending out letters or ads was also expensive and I suspected they were really just a waste of time, particularly for the very niche field I was in, (simulation modeling of production systems). At the end of the day this meant that my marketing efforts consisted of cold-calling and networking, and not much else. I was successful at it but, frankly, it was tough work.
That ended in 2001 when I started work here at Fishbowl. When we started, Internet marketing was just barely getting going and we made a lot of dumb (and expensive) mistakes. But we kept at it and today I think we do as good a job as anyone out there. Our marketing department now brings in well over 1000 leads a month through all types of marketing tactics from pay-per-click, to PR tours, to a very large and coordinated social networking campaign. Some of these marketing approaches work well for small consulting firms but some don’t, and are way too expensive. So, for my marketing money, here are my rules for marketing a small consulting firm.
#1 Avoid unnecessary costs like the plague! Let’s face it, you are a small consulting firm and haven’t got any money so don’t waste what little you have on pay-per click, an elaborate website (but you DO need a website!), printed material (except business cards), or ads, particularly if you are in a market that has a lot of competition. Fortunately, paying for advertising is no longer necessary.
#2 Determine your 30-second elevator speech. Like most independent consultants, as you started your business you probably took on any consulting job that paid money (and maybe some that didn’t). As a result, some of these engagements weren’t really what you wanted to do and maybe now your various engagements look like a shotgun blast across the spectrum of all possible jobs for someone with your skill set. So now that you’ve got some experience under your belt and have built up a clientele, take a moment to step back and really evaluate what you want to do by asking yourself some direct questions.
Which engagements did you really enjoy AND paid you money? Let’s face it, if your answer is none then maybe you are in the wrong business. But I suspect you had some engagements that you found rewarding both financially and personally. Would you like more just like them? Then take a few minutes to figure out what these clients have in common. Do they sell similar products? Are they similar-sized companies? Maybe they focus on entirely different markets but their needs are very similar. What was it that you found personally rewarding in the service you provided? Whatever it is, figure it out to the point where you can describe, in 30 seconds or less, what it is you do and want to do. It will not only help you in your promotions but will also help you focus on where you want to be.
#3 Don’t try to be all things to all people. In the age of the internet, (and more specifically, internet marketing), if you can’t describe what you do in just a few words then you don’t stand a chance. I can’t tell you the specific questions to ask, but I can say that the closer you get to clearly and succinctly describing the services you provide (and WANT to provide), the easier they will be to promote.
#4 “The easiest way to promote yourself is to do your job really well with the clients you already have.” Lorin Beller Blake, entrepreneur. Before jumping into promoting yourself, take a moment to really consider if you have done a great job for those clients you already have. Are you confident they were delighted with your services? Would they give you a reference to use on your website or with other clients? If you can’t say yes to these questions then consider the possibility that you are trying to sell an inferior product. How could you expect anyone else to buy your services if the ones who have already bought probably wouldn’t do so again?
#5 Proven methods for promoting your consulting business. Note: Since plagiarism is ALSO a proven method for Promoting your Consulting Business, the following is heavily plagiarized from an article in Inc. Magazine “How to Promote Your Consulting Business.” Disclaimer: I personally use all of the following promotion methods, but I am not yet the expert on all of them that I aspire to be (but our company is). At Fishbowl, we have specialists on each one of these so it’s a lot to learn, but well worth the effort.
• Facebook page: in addition to your personal page, start a business page for your consulting practice (free and easy) and use it to promote what you are working on and also to share information.
• Twitter: create an account and share your own thoughts and relevant stories in the field you are calling yourself an expert in.
• Blog: (Like I’m doing right now) Lots of different sites you can use: WordPress, Posterous, Blogger, Tumblr and SquareSpace. I use WordPress, which can take a little getting used to. It’s not as simple as writing up something in Word, but once you get it down it works well.
• LinkedIn: I’ve got a profile and have started joining groups that are relevant to what we do here at Fishbowl (i.e. QuickBooks or SMB Consultants, Supply Chain Management, etc.) You can also start up a group of your own and develop a following for your expertise.
• Website: Gotta have a website, but BE CAREFUL here! You can spend a fortune to have a website developer build your site for you or you can try to do it yourself. Use one of the free web design services that have pre-fab layouts for all types of businesses, including consultants. Just take one of those templates and modify whichever way you want with HTML. (It’s really not that hard!)
• Consulting Associations: There are professional associations for EVERYTHING, so find yours and sign up. For credibility you may need to be certified in your field. Check out the Institute of Management Consultants USA to see what might be required in your field.
• Speak at Events: This is big. Conferences, Lunch and Learns, anything to promote yourself as the expert in your field. There is no better way to promote yourself than to get in front of a room full of people (both current and potential clients) and speak on a topic you are an expert in. You’ll add serious credibility and get great audio/video clips that you can post to your website and link to from your social media outlets.