A couple years ago this September, I didn’t know where the next month’s business was coming from.
I had bills to pay, the kids needed new shoes, we like to eat regularly, have electricity, and on and on. But at the start of that September, I had little idea how I’d get enough work to be able to pay all my bills.
I counted up all the hours I currently had lined up–less than 10–and thought, “How am I possibly going to get 80 more consulting hours this month to pay my bills?”
It was scary. I felt flustered and scattered in a bunch of directions, not sure where to start first. And I didn’t want to appear desperate to existing or potential clients. And every day that ticked by and I didn’t have a solid lead, I’d get more anxious. My wife would ask how the consulting business was, and I’d cringe. So I know how it feels.
But I’ve found a way out.
It wasn’t quick and easy. That’s because running a business is hard work–but you already knew that. But I’ve found some tactics that DO work, and have made running my business a lot less stressful.
It’ll probably happen to you too
Unless you’re very lucky, there will be times when you’re scrambling to find new consulting/freelance business. Maybe some big projects are coming to an end, and you need to line up some other work. Or maybe the clients you’ve been working with are doing fine, and don’t currently need anything else from you.
Whatever the case, you’ve got bills to pay, and need to keep the work coming in.
People can smell desperation
I know what it feels like to be anxious and scared. But remember: don’t be desperate. People can smell it a mile off, and you’ll suffer for it. You might be tempted to lower your rate, or bid low on a project, or cap the cost of a project–just this once. But don’t do it. It’ll come back to bite you. I’ve let it happen to me, and I’ve seen it happen with other consultants.
Instead, be confident and matter-of-fact. You’re just doing another task for your business: prospecting and finding new business leads. Ideally, you should be doing this on a regular basis so that you have a relatively steady stream of new work. But wherever you’re at, don’t worry, just get started. Beating yourself up about what you “should” have done in the past won’t help; instead, congratulate yourself on tackling it now. I’ll repeat that: congratulate yourself on tackling it now.
Take action to prevent the problem in the future
Ironically, although I now have more business and it’s steadier, I often don’t know where I’ll get all my billable hours for the month. But the funny thing is, I’m not as worried about it, because I have steady streams of work from several consulting clients, and I have several marketing pipelines set up which require very little work on my part to keep a flow of prospects coming to me.
But it didn’t happen overnight. I built those pipelines over time, and as a result, don’t have to worry much about getting enough business every month.
So even if you’re scrambling now, take action, and it’ll pay dividends in the future. You’ll likely end up with new business fairly quickly, and even more business later on–that’s because it may take a while to close a deal or for a client to decide to move forward with a project–after all, they’re busy with other things too.
Keep plugging away at it though, since the most successful salespeople aren’t the flashiest or slickest, they’re the ones who follow up the most. (I read this somewhere in the distant past, but can’t remember where…).
Proven ways to get clients
All of the following are proven tactics to expose you to new prospective clients.
#1 Commenting on forums in your niche
I started doing this when I first started my consulting business, and it’s really paid off. It allowed me to become known as an expert in my niche, and it’s been a source of roughly 25% of my clients. It can be time-consuming–especially if you craft detailed answers to forum questions and provide a lot of value–but it will pay off.
The other key is to focus only on forums in your niche–that way, the forum readers are more likely to be people who need your services.
- have lower competition,
- be able to charge more,
- stand out as an expert more easily, and
- have clients seeking out your specialized skills & experience.
A niche, by definition, means a distinct segment of a market. So, no, IT consulting is not a niche; you’ve got to get way more specific.
#2 Contribute content in your niche
There are a number of ways you can do this, and I suppose that forums are one way, but I wanted to list forum posting separately since it’s been so helpful for me. You can start a blog, write articles for other blogs and websites, and even be a expert source for other articles.
A good way to become an expert is to sign up for the free service from HARO (Help A Reporter Out); this service links reporters and experts who can contribute info for the reporters’ articles. Yes, you CAN be an expert, so don’t worry about feeling like you need a Ph.D.–you don’t. You’ll receive daily e-mails tailored for your expertise, and then you can e-mail the reporters with your input. You can even be featured on high-traffic sites like HuffingtonPost.com
Contributing solid content will establish you as an expert in your field, which will make it easier to get clients. Prospective clients may even read your content and then come to you. Now that’s easy marketing!
#3 SEO for your website
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) simply means making sure that your website can be easily found, essentially by making sure it’s at the top of search engine results. There are a bunch of ways to do this, and you can find some great comprehensive info in SEOMoz’s Beginners Guide To SEO. Commenting on other websites (where you can leave your website link in the comment or attached to your user profile) helps with your site’s search rankings.
One of the neat things about being in a small niche is that you’ll have less competition; and in my tiny niche, it looks like I’m the only consultant who’s done any SEO. What this means is that clients who are looking for consulting services in my niche see my website ranking at the top of the search results, and sometimes multiple times on the search results page. Not only does that give me instant credibility, but it ensures that I get more prospective customers coming to me.
Within the past 14 months or so since I started doing SEO for my website, it’s brought me roughly $80,000 in new business (I know, since I track how I got each of my clients). And that’s all from clients I would never have known about if they hadn’t found and contacted me. That also means lost business for my competitors who aren’t doing any SEO.
So, SEO can pay HUGE dividends.
I’ve found that creating short videos (where I demo some of the things I do) quickly and easily boosted my search rankings. I posted a handful of 2-5 minute videos on YouTube and created my own YouTube channel, which I then linked to my website. I also include a tiny screenshot and link to my YouTube channel in my forum signature as well.
To create my videos, I used Camtasia, which is a fantastic screencasting app; it’s easy to use and has tons of features. Amazon is the cheapest place to buy it, but you may also be able to get a 30-day free trial. There are also some good free tools to create short videos if you don’t need some of the advanced features; Jing (from the makers of Camtasia) has a free version which allows you to record videos as long as 5-minutes.
#4 Free giveaways
You might be thinking, “Free?! I’m trying to MAKE money, not give stuff away!” True, but when you give away something that’s valuable, you show potential clients what you can do, and you also establish your credibility as an expert in your field. It’s a bit like building a portfolio of your work, which can be essential for clients to feel comfortable before they give you paid work.
You can experiment with what you’re giving away:
- An e-book
- A video that shows how to do something useful. In my case, my videos show clients the kinds of things that are possible to automate/customize in a particular enterprise software package; so, it piques their curiosity and gets them thinking about how my services can be applied to their situation.
- A webinar where you talk about some of the most common problems your target market faces, and how to address them.
- A podcast
- A blog
- A regular column in an online or offline publication for your target audience
- An infographic
- A workbook
#5 Subcontract for other consultants
This is how I got my first consulting/freelance work. Although you’ll probably work for a lower rate as a subcontractor, it allows you to get your feet wet when you’re starting out, learn how to run your business (invoicing, etc.), and builds your experience and credibility both with the contractor and their client. You’ll also be able to get a reference and possibly even a referral to get new business.
Another great thing about subcontracting is that it boosts your confidence. I still remember getting my first consulting paycheck, and thinking, “Wow! They’re paying me that much?!” I was immediately hooked, and realized that I really could run a consulting business.
Obviously, you aren’t going to want to be a subcontractor forever, but it can be a good start, and can also get you through some lean times.
Get out there and take action!
Those are some of the proven ways of finding and landing new clients. I’ve broken this topic into 2 parts, since I have a handful of other tactics to cover. So watch for the next installment as you start or keep taking action to grow your consulting business.
In the meantime, just start somewhere and get going!
- How have you found your best clients?
- What tactics have you used to find new client bases?
- What tactics have you found INeffective for getting new clients?