The biggest stressor for self-employed management consultants is business development: how to cultivate meaningful regular work. It’s vexing for a variety of reasons. First, consultants are good at helping clients solve problems but usually aren’t trained in sales or marketing. Second, when knee-deep in projects and facing deadlines, consultants are hard-pressed to find time to publish thought-leadership articles or create, launch, and manage marketing campaigns.
To meet the challenge, I recommend changing your frame of reference. Instead of thinking of how companies or consulting firms typically handle business development, use an approach suitable for how we work as individuals and solopreneurs. Take for example real estate agents, who are experts at keeping their names fresh in people’s minds:
Realtors realize that name recognition and timing generate opportunities. Independent consulting is no different.
When I ask independent consultants how they found their two most recent projects, 80% of the time they credit personal referrals. About 20% of the time work came through an agency or professional network.
Finding a good consultant is like finding a good dentist—most people ask someone they know for a recommendation. This is why being known for something is so important as well as keeping your name top of mind.
My #1 business development tip: nourish your network.
Instead of thinking of business development as some strange and overwhelming task, think of it as taking little actions all the time to build and sustain relationships. Be human. Be thoughtful.
It sounds easy but life gets hectic. Some of us just aren’t thoughtful by nature. Here are my 7 favorite tricks for relationship development:
Use a birthday list. Whenever I hear about someone’s birthday or see it at the bottom of their LinkedIn profile, I add it to my list. At the beginning of every month, I print it and put it on the bulletin board near my desk. As I go through the month I send quick emails or notes on LinkedIn, e-cards, or even traditional birthday cards in the mail. I send about three a week.
Some people may think birthday greetings are too personal. Not so. I just sent one to a former colleague via LinkedIn. The subject was "Happy Birthday!" Here's the text: "Hi Susan, I had a hectic week so this note is a little late but I've been thinking about you. It seems like a lifetime ago we worked together on the travel card rollout at NetApp. I hope all is well with you."
Leverage LinkedIn and make it personal. Use the "Notifications" feature at the top of your LinkedIn homepage to see what’s going on in your network. Instead of just clicking "Like", take 30 seconds to enter a message. I don't think the person is notified if you "like" the LinkedIn update, but they are notified about messages. Note: If you do this, don't just use the default text that says, "Congrats on the work anniversary!" Any bot can do that. Take 60 seconds and make it personal. "Hey Joe. Four years already? I hope you're still enjoying it! Let me know when you want to get together again for lunch. – Liz."
Whenever you think about business development, change the words to "relationship development." This makes the task much less daunting.
Keep it simple. Make it personal. Do it often. Don't become one of "those people" who only reach out when they need help or are looking for business.
It's as easy as "saw this, thought of you." Remembering to do it is the hard part. (See #1 above!)