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Consulting 101: How Do I Market Myself as a New Consultant
This article is in response to an email from a reader. Here's the question:
I have been working towards establishing my own Consulting Business for some time now and have done several contracts over the past few years. I would like to focus on consulting and up to this point have not really found the best way to market myself.
The area I would like to target is Manufacturing/Industrial Engineering in the automotive industry. I have made some contacts but the contracts I have landed have been through "headhunters" and I know there are choice contracts out there but I am not going to find them through a third party search pattern. I prefer to take control of my own options.
I hesitate "jumping the gun" and losing potential contracts because of a bad approach - first impressions are never recaptured and difficult to change. Also this industry is very tight, word gets around quickly. I have to overcome the fact that I am a woman trying to make it in a man's industry without the added hinderance of a
bad first impression…
Is it better to approach "face-to-face" or "cold calls" ? Personally I prefer "face-to-face". Is e-mail preferred?
And, here's the answer:
Marketing yourself is always the hardest part of consulting. It's always easy to do the work but it's hard to get it. Let's start with the basics – by defining marketing and sales.
What is Marketing?
Everyone has a different definition but this is the one I like:
Marketing is the creation of demand for a product or service.
What is Sales?
As with marketing, people define sales differently but here's what I like:
Sales is the execution of strategies to fulfill demand for a product or service.
Applying these Definitions
In terms of getting a small consulting business, I would recommend the following marketing steps to create demand for your services.
Blog. Showcase your knowledge with a website or blog (my preference). Given that this is how you found my article, it's a pretty good example, isn't it? Blogs are drop dead easy to create (and I do offer services if you need them but you probably don't) and I will plug Essential Blogging here, a book that I co-wrote (huge bias obviously). Building a blog is an ongoing, daily effort but it pays off in spades.
Answer Questions. Find the vertical market website where questions about your domain of expertise are asked and start answering as many as possible. Put a signature line on every posting so people know who you are and how to find you and that you are available for work. Example:
Speak. Try and get speaking engagements as much as possible. Often all you need to do is ask. Sometimes you'll even get paid (much to my surprise, I was paid for a recent talk I gave; I honestly had no idea that I'd get paid).
Write. If you aren't a strong writer then I'd encourage you to work on it. Writing is a key marketing tool for any consulting – no matter what you do. Try and write articles for the trade publications that cover your field. Trade magazines always need content but you do need to ask them about it. I've even written books about the fields I'm interested in.
Teach. Here's something most consultants don't do – teach. Is there a local school that teaches what you do? Can you offer a course in it? This might not directly bring in work but it goes a long way to making you look credible.
Network. Very few of us like to do it but it is a requirement. If there is an industry association for your field then join it. If there is a conference going on then go to it. If there is a bar where employers might frequent then drink there. Always, always, always have both business cards with the correct contact info and a brochure about your services with you.
Persistence. As with sales, marketing is a ongoing, continuous thing. You need to do it daily since it takes a long time for any marketing message to sink in.
Email. Answer every single email you get and do it quickly. Leads come in regularly once you start these activities and you can lose work as easily as you can get it
(note – lately I've been guilty of messing this up myself; but I'm getting better at it)
Honesty. Be honest and no BS. People don't want it anymore and don't worry so much about being a slick sales person – we've all had our fill of those. If you don't know the answer say so – but get back to them with it.
Be Persistent. These things take time. Here's an example. Back in April of 2002 I got an email over the transom from a potential lead in Luxembourg of all places. He told me then that he'd be ready to start work in 2 weeks. I did the quotation and proposal dance and then it was postponed. And postponed. And postponed. But all through the process I'd periodically contact him and maintain the relationship. As of my last email a few days ago, it may be a go in the next two weeks.
First Impressions. First impressions are hugely important as you note but you can almost always take the approach of "Bear with me, I'm new at this …" and a bit of self deprecating humor goes a long way. Everyone likes to help people when its easy for them to do so – since it makes them feel both good and powerful. Understanding this little bit of psychology can go a long way.
Being Female. Since you are female then, while that's a disadvantage (and good for you!!! it's tough to be a female engineer) then ask yourself " Can my being female in a male dominated profession become an advantage?" Are there any female owned firms in this industry that you could get in more easily? Does it help you to get
govt work? And, just as a tip, like most men, I'm much more likely to read an email from a female name than a male name (so change your email sig to Patricia not Pat). I'll also take a phone call or meeting with you more easily. And, if that makes me a pig, so be it. At least I am an honest pig. Bear in mind that professional sales companies know this and have been using it for years. An example is RR Donnelly's Yellow Pages advertising sales division which is largely female. Why? Most small business owners are male and they can get in the door more easily.
Face to Face. I'm a huge advocate of face to face whenever possible. It's always, always good to look people in the eye and shake their hand.
Getting in the Door. Email is a good way to get in the door at times since it eliminates secretary like gatekeepers.
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