5 Common Myths About Marketing Your Consulting Business | Force0six
Many freelance consultants or boutique consultancies have a rather hit-or-miss approach to marketing their services.
In truth, quite a few consultants do not learn to market themselves in the early days of their businesses because they are lucky enough to start out with business in hand.
That is, they leave a corporate environment, only to do their first few projects for their former employer. They moonlight until a solid long-term project comes along, so that when they give up their day job, they don't have to do any selling.
Eventually, of course, they run as far as they can on their existing network and referrals and they have to start getting the word out about what they can do for new clients. They read a lot of books and blogs, and even take some seminars, on how to market themselves. They collect a lot of good ideas, maybe even plan some good steps toward building visibility and earning trust among their target prospects.
Some people like to make a strong distinction between marketing and selling, and those are often different functions in larger organizations. But when you're a one-person shop, handling the entire process, it should be easy for you to see my references to "marketing" in a wider context.
Myth 1: Marketing Is All About Making More Money
Most of the time when I hear a consultant say, "I need to do more marketing," that person really means, "I need to make more money." They say this when their business hits a lull, or when they are doing some kind of end-of-year review and they start thinking about improving their incomes.
Good marketing allows you to continually move your portfolio of clients closer and closer to your ideal scenario.
The purpose of marketing is to give you choices, specifically, choices between clients. It allows you to take one project rather than another, and -- something too few consultants ever think about -- to replace existing clients with new ones.
Maybe the only choice you ever make is to select the bigger project, the higher-paying client, over the smaller project. That's fine, but some consultants who have pursued a "money is all that matters" strategy have found themselves working on projects that bore them with clients who annoy them. What's more, they find that they are working so hard, such long hours, to earn those good revenues that they don't have any time to enjoy the freedom that is supposed to come with running your own business!
Myth 2: Marketing Means Telling Prospects All About You
Few consultants sell a "thing." They sell services, that is, advice and action on behalf of the client. And above all, they sell themselves. Without some personal level of confidence and trust in the consultant, the client never books the business.
Given the intangible nature of what consultants offer, many struggle to explain their services, why they are the best choice for the client, what they do. That leads to a cycle of more and more comprehensive descriptions -- self-descriptions -- of the consultant's actions, approach, principles, experience, and so on.
Most consultants cannot resist talking about themselves, what they do, and how they do it. Unfortunately, consultants who talk about themselves all the time are about as appealing as dates who talk about themselves all the time.
What your clients and prospects need to hear about is their world. They need to hear their issues and challenges mentioned. They want to detect signs that you have dealt with their industry or their situation, that you understand things from their perspective. They need to have confidence not only that you offer solutions, but that you realistically take into account the constraints they face -- personal, financial, legal, and others -- in implementing solutions.
Clients love it when they come to a website, or read a white paper, or skim a blog and see themselves, as if in a mirror. When they find clear evidence that the person behind that information truly understands their world, they want to work with that person.
Myth 3: Your Passion For Marketing Determines Your Success
"Passion" is a word that's thrown around a lot by business gurus, especially when they are talking to independent professionals like freelance consultants. And you may indeed feel a certain passion for your consulting work, for helping clients become more successful in their businesses and in their lives. Your drive to meet your clients' needs is one of the foundations of your success, and you know that your "passion" separates you from many (by no means all) workers in corporate cubicles.
It is true that as you learn more about marketing, and get better at it, you may learn to like it.
Myth 4: All Marketing Is Online These Days
We all live online these days, and it's a rare freelance consultant who does not put up a website where prospects can go to validate that the consultant runs a real business. Meanwhile, you're probably doing a lot of research online, as you look for marketing strategies. That means you are constantly reading about blogs and podcasts and social media, at the very least. As consultants try to educate themselves about marketing strategies, they get a diet that is overly rich in online flavors.
You won't read nearly as much about calling a client on the phone! And you certainly won't see much discussion of direct mail, yes, using the original physical postal services to connect with prospects.
But those approaches might work for you. The mistake here is to accept a one-size-fits-all approach, to believe the gurus who say that everyone needs a blog or that every business needs a page on Facebook.
Look at your target market very carefully. Consider how they get their information. And be open to a mix of strategies.
Even if you are heavily engaged in blogging and maintaining an appealing and up-to-date website, the old-fashioned personal touch can make you stand out.
Myth 5: Consulting Success Demands the Optimal Marketing Plan
Consultants are usually good at learning, good at doing research, good at taking problems and matching them with solutions. That's why they love to do.
And they love to do it even more when it helps them avoid something they do not like to do.
I've seen many consultants on a quest for the perfect marketing strategy. Sometimes that means they research, and research, and research, and ... never take action. Perfecting their plan is a great way to keep from putting them in action and facing the results.
Sometimes it means that they start with one approach, then see something new and jump to that, so that they never continue any one strategy long enough to have even a chance at decent results. As a consultant to consultants, one of my most important services is to show my clients when they are behaving in those ways, letting the search for the perfect plan undermine effective action.
One of my most strongly held principles of marketing, especially when you're doing it all on your own, is the following:
A good marketing plan that is well executed will always outperform a great plan that is poorly executed.
Get a plan, and then execute it as reliably and consistently as you can. Stick with it for months, or for several cycles, until you have some real data to indicate how well it is working, and whether or not a few tweaks would make a big difference.
Your consulting solutions rarely bring your client to perfection. But they make a huge difference to the client's success.
The same considerations apply to you when you are your own client, designing marketing solutions for your own consulting business.
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