How to get clients: Mistake 1 (your niche)

Consulting niche

Judging from the e-mails you sent, it was painfully clear that you’re struggling with how to get clients. People who e-mailed said that on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 meaning that getting clients is a huge problem for them), they were between 8 – 10. So, yes, getting clients and consulting work is a huge problem.

Let’s get right to it: one of the primary reasons that most people struggle getting clients and getting consulting work is that they haven’t identified a niche.

“Wait, but I’ve already done that–I know what I offer and who I’m targeting,” you might be saying.

Let me explain. If you don’t currently have a consistent flow of clients and consulting work, then you’re doing something wrong.

Even if you THINK you’ve identified your niche, chances are high that you’re making one or more of the following mistakes:

  • You mistakenly think your skills are a niche. (A niche is actually about a MARKET).
  • You haven’t sufficiently narrowed your niche.
  • You haven’t researched your niche to know what your prospects care most about.
  • You haven’t researched your niche to know if your prospects are BOTH willing AND able to pay for your services.

Has this happened to you?

  • You call/e-mail/meet with a prospect, tell them about your services, and they say some variation of: “Not interested”, “Not for me”, “Get lost”.
  • You ramp up your efforts, and make more calls, send more e-mails, schedule more meetings with prospects, but STILL have no clients and no consulting work.
  • You send e-mails to prospects, and never hear back.
  • You’ve built a website to promote yourself, but have no visitors, and no one calls you or fills out your Contact form.
  • No one sees the value of your skills and experience.
  • Or, you have no idea how to find prospects.

Whatever the case, you can’t seem to land any clients and don’t have any consulting projects. You haven’t cracked the code on how to get clients.

You feel stuck, discouraged, and maybe even ready to give up.

Generally, if any of the above has happened, the first place you should investigate is your niche. I’ve talked about what a niche is here and here and why a niche is important, so I won’t go into that at the moment.

But think about this: if you needed knee surgery, what would you do? Look for a general surgeon or a knee surgeon? Of course, you’re going to want a knee surgeon, not just any surgeon–or heaven forbid, a tree surgeon.

Your prospects are the same way. If you’re targeting a niche that’s too general, or not specific enough, you’re not going after people who care most about how you can help.

What you can do

First, remember, a niche is NOT about your skills. A niche is a market. And for consulting, a niche is people who are looking for something: answers to a question, a solution to a problem.

In real estate, the saying is that there are only 3 things that matter: location, location, and location.

For your niche, think: market, market, market.

For the moment, you may even want to ignore your skills and expertise, since in many cases, your skills and expertise can probably be used in many market niches.

To go even further on this point, you likely have a broader skillset than you realize. To use myself as an example, my main technical skills are in SQL and VBA programming. However, I also have skills in marketing, writing, product development, education & training, and behavior change. Those skills can be applied to a much wider variety of niches than the one I’m currently focused on (my current niche is small and mid-sized law firms which use a specific enterprise software product). Even within my niche, I can use my other skills to solve a much wider range of problems for my clients than my typical software/technical projects.

So, instead of focusing on your skills, identify a niche market where your skills & expertise might be valuable. Here, you want to think NOT about WHAT you can do, but WHO cares about the kinds of problems you can solve?

An example

Let’s get specific. Say you’ve been working in human resources for several years, and want to start consulting. So, you create a website where you detail your experience and skills, and offer your services–maybe review hiring practices, rewrite employee handbooks, create benefits packages, etc.

Nobody calls.

So you do some research on companies in your city similar to where you used to work, and call or e-mail them to let them know your an HR consultant and what you offer.

No one cares.

What next?

Well, forget feeling discouraged and frustrated. You haven’t yet identified your niche. You’ve been focused on your skills instead of a market.

You can do this. Changing your strategy will give you different results.

Instead, you start thinking about what kinds of problems you can solve.

From your work experience, you know that for companies to grow, they need to hire, train, manage, and retain good people–and that all takes time. In addition, most people don’t know how to recruit good talent and/or people with a great work ethic. Managers typically don’t know how to manage. Owners and managers don’t know how to keep people motivated and retain their top performers (as an HR person, you know that giving bonuses and raises don’t help much to retain top employees or boost performance).

See what’s happening?

Instead of thinking about your skills, you’re now thinking about the value you can provide.

That mindset is a fundamentally important shift, since it moves you away from commoditizing your services.

For example, rewriting the employee handbook–as you’ve already found–is something that nobody cares about. And even if they do need it, they could have it done by someone in-house, or from ODesk, Craigslist, etc.

Not exactly top-dollar work.

But what if you could help companies find and keep top performers? That’s something that lots of companies want–and something that they’d be willing to invest a lot to get.

The next piece is figuring out what kinds of organizations have the kinds of problems you can solve.

Will you only look in your local market, or should you look outside your city/state/country? What size organizations? Are they service- or product-based companies? What industry are they in? What’s market niche are they in? What sets them apart from others in their industry or market niche?

Instead of a broad, shotgun approach, you narrow your focus.

This doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck in a particular niche forever; it just means you need to get specific to reach the people who care about what problems you can solve.

Maybe you decide to focus on professional services organizations, since skilled people are the heart of any service organization. For example, you could focus on:

  • audit and tax consulting firms
  • IT security firms
  • funeral homes
  • cosmetic surgery clinics
  • interior design firms
  • outpatient physical/occupational rehabilitation clinics
  • corporate event planning firms
  • university/college development and fundraising

The list goes on. You don’t need to target everyone in the world, but by applying some filters, you can decide which market niches might be good potential fits for you.

Maybe you want to focus only on employee retention. In that case, look for niches that have high employee turnover and where the revenue per employee is high or the cost to hire & train new employees is high.

Or maybe you want to focus on improving morale and motivating for top performance. In that case, maybe you’d want to focus on companies who’ve undergone transitions, acquisitions, new management/ownership, or a slump in sales which is counter to their industry.

Now you’re starting to get much more specific–and when you get to the point of reaching out to those specific prospects, you’ll have a much more specific problem that you can help them with.

Remember, this is just a piece of the puzzle in figuring out how to get clients.

The next articles will go into more detail on other mistakes and what you can do.

What you can do this moment

Overwhelmed? Don’t worry. Start from where you’re at, and adjust, learn, and repeat. You’ll get there.

For right now, comment, tweet, or e-mail me what your niche is.

I’ll choose at least 1 person to use as an example so we can get you more specific. (Don’t worry, I won’t use your name if you don’t want).

Stay tuned

Oh, and stay tuned for my next article, where I’ll talk about the next common mistake people could be preventing you from getting consulting clients.

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