While there are some who may have been fortunate enough to launch a consulting business and immediately establish (paying) clients, that did NOT happen for me. And, I’m glad for that! It would have been too easy and I would NOT have learned what it REALLY, REALLY, REALLY takes to establish and keep a consulting business going.
A key factor…Since you are taking a leap of faith to step out (as extra curricular activity or to leave your current employment), you must establish business (engagements) with people / companies who may not (yet) have worked with you, or know you in this context. This is where it becomes crucially important to establish 3 reference accounts (people and companies who can recommend you/your services to others, because they have received them from you, in the context of your new business).
Some background…I launched my business in 2002, which was NOT a good year for business (we were in an economic downturn). But, it was the PERFECT time for me.
Prior to the step of leaving the employment of corporate America (which had been a long term goal of mine), I engaged a business launch mentor (for a fee) to work with me (after-hours) on my business plan and lay much of the groundwork we have covered here. And, once I voluntarily left my executive position (in June of 2002) I immediately established a board of advisors, all of which helped me get my consulting business “off the ground.”
At this point (fall of 2002) I had pretty much done EVERYTHING outlined in the prior posts on this topic. The result: I had not yet hit “pay dirt.” To be fair, I did take a good bit of time off that summer to hang out with my family during this rare opportunity when I had no pressing work-related deadlines 🙂
Now that the kids were back to school it was time to land a client. At this point I tried a number of things with NO success. I’ll share these things (which you might consider; or not) and then provide the strategy I used which kicked things into high gear!
During the late summer and early fall of 2002 I:
- Acquired marketing lists (names, titles, companies, email addresses, phone numbers, etc) of target prospects
- Sent letters and emails
- Made a TON of cold calls (always fun 🙂 )
- Paid to be on a business-related radio talk show (I’m glad there weren’t too many listeners, that I am aware of, as it was horrible 🙂 )
- Joined our local Chamber of Commerce and attended events
- Paid for lead generation services and followed-up on “minimally” qualified leads (what a waste of time/money)
- Placed an ad in the Yellow Pages
While the above activities didn’t generate any business (for me), they are things you might consider. The reason: each of the above served as practice, practice and more practice as I honed my message and further deepened my conviction to make something happen – WHATEVER IT TAKES! I was NOT going back to the world of corporate employment!
After doing ALL of the above (it is now November 2002, and I’m sweating a few bullets) I said: “I will do ANYTHING (so long as it is legal, ethical and moral) to land 3 reference accounts.” I just needed to find the missing piece to the puzzle.
At this point, I reviewed my offerings and approach. The approach started with performing an assessment of how a company manages its customer interactions, relationships and overall experiences. Something that is a “for fee” / limited scope / short-term engagement. From there, we help drive the improvement programs recommended in the assessment results (which are medium to longer-term engagements).
Because I had not (yet) landed a paying client for this assessment, and I wasn’t doing anything else (for a fee), I decided to offer a free (yes 100% no-cost) assessment to as many people / companies as it took to establish the 3 reference accounts I was after.
To do so, I began promoting this to my personal network, Board of Advisors, etc. And, within a very short period of time 3 people / companies agreed to receive the free assessment, which had only one condition. Assuming that they enjoyed and benefited from the experience (something that I was obviously 1000% committed to) they would write-up a testimonial that I could post on my website and include within other marketing collateral.
Nailed it! That was the missing piece to the puzzle!
Of the first 3 people / companies that accepted my offer, all 3 provided valuable testimonials and 2 of these turned into longer term, paying clients / engagements. The 3rd company needed and wanted my help, but was too small and could not afford my services 🙂
My investment of time for these 3 (free) assessments: about 3 days each. Not a hardship, considering I wasn’t doing anything else for a fee (at that time).
We are now off to the races!
In future posts we’ll cover approaches to keep things going (and avoiding the “typical” consultant’s experience / challenge of feast vs. famine).