Although the term consultant is used often in public discourse, few people could probably provide a precise definition of the term — and that includes consultants themselves. In fact, the authority on definitions, a dictionary, provides us with some simple guidance on what a consultant actually is.
On the one hand, according to Merriam-Webster, a consultant is simply “one who consults another.” Given that most of us do this on a regular basis, but would not formally qualify as business consultants, Merriam-Webster’s other definition of the term might provide more insight: “one who gives professional advice or services: expert.”
Even this latter definition is very broad, but so, too, is what constitutes a business consulting company. Indeed, anyone that provides consulting services to any business qualifies as a business consultant. From sports experts and management pros, to healthcare advisers and independent accountants, if you help other businesses become better businesses, and get paid for it, guess what? You’re a business consultant.
As such, providers of business consulting services are essentially independent entrepreneurs, which means you constantly have to concern yourself with how to reach your target market. In other words, marketing your business consulting company is crucial. Here are a few tips on how to do just that.
Be an Entrepreneur. According to Inc. magazine, many business consultants don’t even view themselves as consultants or entrepreneurs, but as contractors. This is understandable, since many providers of consulting services first start out by simply working for someone on contract.
However, just the fact that you’re not someone’s employee essentially means you’re already working for yourself. And, especially as you’re providing more consulting services on a contract basis, you have very much become an entrepreneur — even if you have yet to realize it.
This realization is important because, as an entrepreneur, you’re responsible for getting and keeping your own clients. This includes being responsible for your own marketing. The earlier that business consultants make this realization, the greater their chances are of long-term client acquisition and retention.
Use Modern Advertising Techniques. Traditionally, many independent professionals, including lawyers, and, yes, consultants, would essentially resort to one marketing tactic — and one marketing tactic only: word of mouth. The more that people heard of you through people they knew, the more likely you were to get new business, or so the theory went.
As important as word of mouth is for just about any business or entrepreneur, it would almost literally be foolish to ignore all the modern-day methods designed to market a business, including marketing your business consulting services. And, yes, this includes having your own website, which is still not out of style — at least not yet.
Specifically, the consultant experts at Consulting Success point to the virtues of a landing page, which is nothing more than a specific page on your website designed to have prospective customers “land” from search engines or specific online ads. Such landing pages should provide prospective clients with specific information about how you can meet their needs and, most importantly, allow them to contact you for further inquiry.
Define Your Target Market. This is one of the first things taught in any marketing course, and it’s still as crucially relevant today as it was decades ago. It’s one thing to come up with a great idea, including a great idea on what kind of business consulting services you should provide. However, it’s quite another thing to find people that are actually willing to take you up on your offer. That’s what defining your target market is all about.
It involves determining the kind of business that would be interesting specifically in the kind of business consulting services you’re offering, which would then lead to finding them, selling to them, and ultimately getting their business. This is essentially Marketing 101 in a nutshell, isn’t it?
Indeed, there are many different kinds target markets for a business consulting firm. Some target markets are simply looking for an expert on a topic. Others are looking for troubleshooters to fix big problems quickly. Some target markets might be looking for an objective outsider. Whatever the case, find out which target market you can deliver to specifically.
It’s Still About Networking. In the same Inc. magazine piece linked to above, old-fashioned — as well as modern-day — networking is described as simply making things easier for the business consultant marketer. In fact, networking often doesn’t even feel like it’s marketing because it essentially involves getting to know people in your field. Yet the power of networking as a specific marketing tactic is formidable.
For example, as described in the Inc. article, sports consultant Joe Favorito says his marketing efforts can be boiled down to knowing, or being known, by as many people as possible — without even trying to get their business. It just eventually came.
Alternatively, this same type of getting to know people, or, more importantly, being known by people, can also be achieved via modern-day social networking. Ultimately, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or your very own blog, establishing yourself as an expert business consultant will keep you in the minds of prospective clients without having to sell to them directly.
Test the Waters. One of the great things about having your own business consulting firm is that you have control over your own working conditions. Claire Shields is a UK-based marketing and public-relations consultant. Before leaving her job as an in-house communications expert with another firm, she tested the waters by doing some freelance business consulting on the side. This allowed her to, in essence, do her own real-world field testing before deciding to become a full-fledged independent consultant on her own.
Her story is not an isolated one as many professionals have started their own consulting business while still working for someone else. Obviously, to do this, you have to be in a position to work very hard while not being in conflict with your current bosses. But, if managed properly, doing some business consulting on the side can help you find your own unique target market and determine how to cultivate it successfully in the real world.