There are a whole host of things to think about when starting and operating a consulting business; at times it can seem rather overwhelming. In this article I’ve tried to narrow down the many important aspects of consulting to put together the ten keys to creating a successful consulting business.
1. Write and follow a business plan. This might seem obvious, but many consultants simply don’t do this very well. Write a thorough, detailed business plan forces you to examine all aspects of your consulting business, leaving nothing to chance or happenstance. Once you have a good business plan in place, don’t just leave it sitting in a filing cabinet somewhere. Rather, keep it accessible and make a point of referring back to it on a regular basis to help measure your progress.
2. Focus on customer service. The world of consulting services can be extremely competitive, so you have to find a way to stand out from the crowd and show clients why you should be their first choice. One of the most effective ways to do this is by focusing intensely on customer service; build good customer relationships, go above and beyond expectations, and provide world class customer service to each and every client, no matter how big or small they might be.
3. Be professional and polished. Always present yourself in a way that is professional and polished, whether it’s the way you answer the telephone, the way you dress for a client meeting, or the way you interact with others during networking opportunities.
4. Get on the web. You don’t have to have a fancy web site, but in today’s world you absolutely must have at least a basic web presence. There’s no reason not to be on the web, thanks to the plentiful selection of services for getting your own domain name and launching an attractive, professional-looking web site.
5. Market yourself creatively. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking paid advertising is the only effective way to market your services. Think about offering free introductory sessions to potential clients; make a point of speaking to professional or service groups; volunteer your time and services to a local charity or non-profit organization; or look for opportunities to write articles, blogs, or other materials where you can demonstrate your professional knowledge and expertise.
6. Follow up, follow up, follow up. It’s easy to move on to the next client once you’re finished with a current client, but this would be a big mistake. Always follow up with clients after completion of a project to ensure they are completely satisfied. Look for other reasons to stay in touch with them, such as passing on interesting articles; sharing information related to their business needs; or providing them with a copy of your quarterly newsletter.
7. Demonstrate the value of your services. Give specific examples of how your services are making a real difference for the client. How much money have you saved them? How many new customers have you brought them? How much have employee satisfaction ratings gone up? The more you can demonstrate a real, concrete value to your services the more likely you are to get repeat business from that client.
8. Close the sale. Sales skills don’t come naturally to many people, but as a consultant you have to develop them right away. Perhaps the most important part of selling is actually closing the sale; when the time is right and you have discussed your project proposal at length with a potential client, the next important step you must take is to ask for their business and close the sale.
9. Clear terms and conditions of service. Always be sure your consulting service contracts are crystal clear on the terms and conditions of service. Include specifics about deliverables, due dates, expenses, personnel, and the like.
10. Be persistent. Remember that it takes persistence and consistence to win client business, so don’t give up after just one contact. You don’t want to “bug” potential clients, of course, but you should not be shy about staying in touch with them either. Set up a schedule of making regular contacts with existing and potential clients, and be sure to make those contacts on a consistent basis.