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How to Land Your First Client

Guerrilla marketing for consultants and other solo professionals

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Consulting is a big—and growing—business.

The market for consulting services is estimated to be between $130B and $150B annually, and professional consultants are among the highest paid workers, earning more than many doctors, lawyers and other professionals.

It’s not surprising that consulting is attractive to many people who want to launch a business. After all, if you have a saleable skill, it’s an easy business to enter. No one will stop you from calling yourself a consultant and startup can cost as little as printing business cards and getting a business license.

On the flip side of the coin, consulting is fiercely competitive. Just ten firms own almost 40% of the consulting market share in North America alone, and they fight for every opportunity to grow. Today, clients have instant access to legions of experts at the click of a mouse, and they have found low-cost, offshore alternatives for many consulting projects.

The beauty of this market, though, is that many of the large, lumbering consulting firms focus on thin slices of the market. That creates an opportunity for smaller firms and individual consultants who know how to use guerrilla methods to snag their share of profitable business.

So how do your break into consulting?

Think about Your Fourth Client First

As a new consultant, you should be able to generate a project—or maybe several—through your networks of friends, past employers, and colleagues. After all, research shows that clients use their networks to select consultants more than any other method, and they, no doubt, know someone who knows you.

Unfortunately, your address book alone won’t sustain your consulting business long term. If your goal is to build a sustainable consulting practice, the real question isn’t how to get your first client, but how to create a business that will attract the second, third, and fourth clients to your practice.

Before you ask your contacts—or anyone else—to hire you as a consultant for that first project, ensure your success by taking a longer view of your business. Work hard to land that first client, but also put the marketing and consulting fundamentals in place that will secure your future as a consultant.

Start with these four simple tips:

  1. Know exactly what to say—in one minute or less—to prove you are the best consultant a client can find.
  2. Create a marketing strategy that emphasizes action over planning.
  3. Become a master of the consulting process, not just a subject-matter expert.
  4. Win with value and results, not price.
Have Something to Say…

Prospective clients rarely look for consultants until they have a pressing need. In other words, “we just can’t do it ourselves; let’s get outside help fast.” A recent client admitted that his team had been spinning its wheels trying to resolve a complex transportation problem for three years before they hired consultants and gave them four weeks to come up with a solution. They did.

The point is that, when most clients are in the market for help, they want it yesterday. And they want the best consultants they can find, at an affordable price. So, take the time to define what makes you the best consultant a client can find.

Many consultants mistakenly believe that by defining their expertise broadly, they’ll appeal to a wider audience and land more clients. The less specific you are, the less likely it is clients will think of you when they need help.

Why would clients turn to you for their most important projects? Be prepared to answer these questions during your first conversation with them:

  • What, exactly, are you offering? Is it strategy development, financial management, operations improvement, sales and marketing advice, technology development, change management assistance, or something else?
  • Why is it needed? What specific business problem or opportunity will your services address?
  • How will the client be better off after having worked with you?
  • What’s really different about your firm, its services, results or approach?
  • What quantifiable benefits and results can your client expect?
If you can’t articulate the answers in a minute or less, keep working. You may only have that one minute to make a first impression on a client, so make it count.

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