In this series, Calvert Markham, former Director of the Centre, provides basic guidance on starting and running a consultancy business. Previous articles have covered product definition, working out your fee rate, and pricing and terms of business. (Karol, we could even link them to the pieces, if possible?) This article covers promoting your services.
As a sole practitioner you can largely outsource the sales task by working as an associate to other consultants or firms of consultants; and there are nowadays consulting organisations with few professional employees that are based wholly on assembling teams of consultants from their associate database to work on specific projects. However, in this article we will look at promoting your services; this is about creating sales opportunities on your own account – generating enquiries from potential clients – while selling (which will be dealt with in the next article) is about realising them.
The mnemonic AIDA, which stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action, sets out the promotion process.
Raising awareness of your services is the key first step. As ever, you need to invest your time in promotion to best effect. The chances of your cold calling a potential buyer on the day they have a need for your services is slight, so ideally you want them to call you when they might need your services. There should therefore be a regular drumbeat in your promotional activity that aims at keeping you and your services ‘front of mind’ to potential clients, so that you come to mind when that need arises.
To this end you need a network of contacts with whom you regularly communicate. Current or past clients are the major source of new business for professional firms, so make sure they are on the list; even if they don’t have work for you, they may recommend you to others in their own networks. As such they are acting as connectors, and there may be others who fall into this category – other consultants, friends in executive roles, professional organisations, business school links. A rule of networking is not ‘who is on your network’, but ‘whose network are you on’. There is an economy of favours given and received and the more you do to help people on your network, the more they will help you.
Your promotional communications should be interesting and of value so use marketing personas (look it up!) to identify the different segments in your network and their interests. Likewise, your communication should reinforce a consistent brand core story; this is important in creating an identity that could make you stand ou from your competitors.
When sending an email newsletter, for example, put something amusing at the end e.g. a cartoon, joke, story; recipients will scroll down to look at it and you may catch their attention with other items as they do so.
This is moving the prospective client to a positive wish to engage with you; either because you have helped them articulate a need they didn’t realise they had, or this was already evident and you are seen as a possible supplier of the services needed. Once again think about your services as verbs rather than nouns, in other words, what you can do for clients. Case studies (headlines, read on if interested) are not only useful proofs of capability but can also help prospective clients relate their needs to your services.
If there is a call to action in your communication, clarify the customer journey thereafter, and ensure a positive response to client enquiries. For instance, if it is difficult for you to take phone calls, it’s better to get email enquiries and call back when you can. And make sure your website (and you should have one) is up to date; if the most recent item is a year old, then it has clearly been neglected!
As well as regular promotion you may engage in one-off campaigns, highlighting for example, offers, particular services, or sales of a report. Keep track of the effectiveness of these, doing your own ‘what works?’ analysis of the different activities you carry out.
Promotion takes time and the return on this investment is not always immediately clear. There's an old rueful line from firms that advertise: "We know that half of all we spend on advertising is wasted, but we don't know which half." It’s easy to put promotion off, so diarise a time each month when you are going to work at promotion.
For more on this and other related topics, see Calvert’s book Mastering Management Consultancy