This column, Thirteen Steps to Building a Successful Consulting Practice, was previously published by DC Web Women
You have started a new business. You are designing web pages, teaching computer courses, practicing law, working as a CPA, providing career coaching or involving yourself in some other venture. How do you generate referrals? That is, how do you get the word out that you are “open for business”. Follow these thirteen steps to building a successful consulting practice and you will be on the road to success.
The key is twofold: marketing and skill development. First, allocate time each week to market your services — no matter how busy you become. This is vital because the most important time to market is when you are busy — not when you are lean and looking for work. Also, diversify your marketing efforts. That is, market in many different ways. If you do this your marketing efforts will have a synergistic effect. Second, focus on developing and refining your skills. Strive to be among the very best in your field. This, in tandem with your marketing efforts, will culminate in a thriving business. Here are some of the outreach methods that you might want to consider:
1. Develop an area of expertise.
That is, develop a niche. Consider a niche that is easily understandable to the public and has broad appeal. Try marrying a hobby or a personal interest with a professional skills. For example, if you an attorney who has adopted a child, consider writing about the legal aspects of adoption. Similarly, if you are knowledgeable about dating and have a masters in social work, consider writing and speaking about romantic relationships.
2. Continue to upgrade your skills through continuing education.
No matter how well-developed your skills are, continue to develop yourself professionally. If you are already well-qualified in your field, take additional training in a specialty or a niche area. The key here is to work to become a true expert in your field. This will help you to become more confident and more competent.
Moreover, taking course work is an excellent way to network. It will allow people who are senior to you witness your skills. If they are too busy to take a new referral, they may refer to you. Also, while taking courses, you will get to know colleagues, this too may culminate in referrals.
3. Train less experienced professionals in your field — or very experienced people who are not knowledgeable about your niche.
Develop a training program. Not only will functioning as a trainer allow you to be viewed as an expert in your field, it’ll allow you to become a talent scout. When you are too busy, you can refer to talented students. In that way, you will assure that people who seek you out receive quality services. Also, you will build loyalty among your students and proteges. This will help you to be viewed as an expert in your field.
4. Teach as an adjunct faculty member at a college or university.
This can be a wonderful experience. You will constantly be updating your knowledge of the field. You will be reading the literature in your field. Teaching can be very stimulating. Students who are new to the area often present novel perspectives and challenge conventional wisdom. If you teach regularly, you will be asked to review textbooks. You will have an opportunity to design curriculum, to influence the thinking of those entering the field and to place your imprimatur on people entering the field. Moreover, a university appointment will solidify your credibility as an expert in the field. Contrary to popular belief you can teach without a doctorate and, at times, even without a masters. If this interests you, you may want to read. “Getting an adjunct teaching position at a University: Not for Ph.D.’s only.”
5. Teach within an Executive Education Program.
Many business schools have Executive Education Programs that offer courses, ranging anywhere from three days to a month, to business professionals in the corporate sector. Often, they partner with Fortune 500 companies. If you can develop a talk that is useful to these professionals, these can be excellent places to teach. You can establish linkages with the corporate sector and network with high-powered executives. Also, you can take the same talk and sell it to a lot of universities. Teaching in Executive Education Programs does not require the traditional semester long commitment needed in traditional settings. Moreover, in contrast to adjunct teaching, teaching in Executive Education pays extremely well.
6. Write about your business in an informative way for the popular media.
If you write well, write a few articles about your business — particularly if it entails writing. Post your articles on your web site. If it is allowed, post your articles on relevant listservs. Publish them in the newsletters written for those to whom you are marketing. The key here is your “staying power”, don’t just write one article, do a quarterly column. Be sure to provide extremely helpful information. Remember, the reader will assess your skills based on what they read. To learn more about how to get books published read Michael Sedge’s book, “Marketing for Writers”. This will provide you with public visibility.
7. Write a book.
After publishing several useful articles, edit them and write a book. In order to learn more about marketing your book, read Jay Levinsen’s, Guerilla Marketing for Writers. He’ll tell you how to promote your book.
8. Become a public speaker.
If you are comfortable with public speaking, give talks. Just be sure to impart lots of useful information. If you are not comfortable in this arena, join Toastmasters International so that you can learn to speak with ease. In that way, you can reach many prospective clients at once.
9. Publish in professional journals.
While teaching, publishing in the popular media and giving talks will help you to establish your expertise, publishing in professional journals will garner the respect of your colleagues. As you develop your niche, identify ways in which your information might be useful to colleagues in your field.
10. Network with people in adjacent professions.
A web designer does not have much to sell to other web designers. A CPA may not have much to offer other CPA’s. But, both have a considerable amount to offer those in adjacent professions. Identify ways in which what you have to offer can be useful to other adjacent professions. Write for their web sites. Lecture to their membership. Establish credibility with them. These activities in tandem with efforts to establish credibility with colleagues will likely generate referral.
11. Establish a networking group.
Take a page from Bob Burg’s book, Endless Referrals. Create a group of 6-10 professionals from adjacent businesses. That is, include people who would be likely to refer to you. For example, if you are an accountant, you might want to include a tax attorney in your group. Or, if you are a webmaster you might want to include a content writer, etc. The key here is not to have overlapping professions. That is, you don’t want competition within the group. Meet weekly with the exclusive purpose of generating referrals for each other. Be sure to include professionals who are as serious about growing their businesses as you are about growing yours.
12. Establish concrete networking goals. Establish an accountability mechanism for talking about and pursuing these goals.
This is different than your referral network. Your referral network exists for the exclusive purpose of generating referrals. Gather a group of like minded friends, or meet with a career coach and/or a career coaching group to set goals and to support each other while pursuing your goals.
13. Do your very best work.
It may sound obvious. However, doing your very best work, holding yourself to the highest ethical standards and trying to be fair with everyone with whom you come into contact with will culminate in referrals from satisfied clients. In my experience, these are often the best referrals.
In letting people know about your services, it is vitally important that you undertake an array of activities. Those who diversify their outreach efforts are met with the most success. If you follow these Thirteen Steps to Building a Successful Consulting Practice you will increase your likelihood of success.