I have been approached in the past year or so by several people who wanted to know what the secret to our success has been and how I managed to make a smooth transition from my corporate career to my speaking and consulting practice. This post is intended to pull back the curtain a little and share a few principles that have helped us to succeed and excel along the way. Whether you are looking to moonlight as a solopreneur or you are looking to become a full-fledged consultant, I’d like to offer you some perspective that I believe will make a difference for you. In the spirit of transparency, this post does not contain specific sales and marketing techniques, so if that’s what you are looking for, I’m afraid I can’t help much. In fact, I consider myself a novice in those areas, as just about all of our business so far has come to us through word of mouth.
Just to share a little background as context, in December 2016, I left a 31 year corporate career behind to pursue speaking and consulting on a full time basis. It wasn’t exactly a “leap” of faith, because in a lot of ways I had started building a bridge toward this next career for years by planting seeds for it wherever I went. I had published my book, The Transformative Leader, a little over a year before that and it was doing pretty well. I had a pretty good network, in the US and abroad, who were familiar with my work as I had been speaking on leadership and culture transformation for several years. In any case, I’m happy to say that I have had to pinch myself a few times since then because my transition has not only been seamless but successful beyond my imagination. I get to work with my wife and both kids and we do the work we love to do for a set of super cool clients that we love to work with. What’s not to like?
My team and I have discussed creating more comprehensive material that would help new entrepreneurs set themselves up for success without having to learn everything through the school of hard knocks. We would love to be able to guide you in detail so that your transition is as smooth and successful as mine was, but that material is not available yet. Until then, however, I’d like to share a few things for you to consider if you are thinking about starting your own consulting practice of any kind:
1. Know your message and your audience. It is great if you have a lot of talents and, in some cases, are able to pull from your vast experience and supplement your main work with additional skills that you uniquely bring to the table. However, it is important for you to narrow your focus down to the type of clients you are going after and exactly how you are going to add value to them specifically. In my case, we guide leaders in creating extraordinary cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Our primary audience is mid-level or C-suite leaders who are looking to supplement their internal resources and processes with external support. By getting clear about your audience or clientele, you can better decide which of your talents and skills should be brought to bear in delivering the best value for their particular situation.
2. Create a robust plan to support yourself financially while you build your business. Set aside some savings and an emergency fund. My wife and I have been following Dave Ramsey’s program and it has served us well such that we didn’t have to worry about being profitable immediately. In our case, we were fortunate to not have to dip into our savings, but it is not wise to plan based on the best case scenario and then panic if it doesn’t work out. As the saying goes, hope for the best ad plan for the worst. A resource to consider is www.daveramsey.com, however any financial plan that involves setting emergency money aside and not relying on loans and credit should work just as well.
3. Make a commitment to deliver exceptional service. There are a number of ways to make a fast buck, but if you are looking to establish and grow a solid practice that will be fueled by referrals and repeat business, there is no other way than delivering extraordinary value. Short cuts may be tempting, but they don’t work. If you expect to have a 6-figure business, then provide 7-figure service in everything you do.
4. Know your worth and don’t hesitate to charge accordingly for your services. Do your research and take your level of experience and expertise into account in setting your rates. Don’t sell yourself short. If you indicate that you don’t think you’re worth a lot, by either setting your rates too low or not having enough confidence in quoting your rates without feeling bad about it, your potential clients will pick up on this and certainly won’t be confident in engaging you. Don’t aspire to be the “budget” option, because people tend to infer value from price and not vice versa. For instance, if you needed surgery, your first instinct wouldn’t be to pick the cheapest surgeon, and it is no different for your clients choosing a consultant. My experience has been that as my rates have gone up over the years, so has the caliber of clients I work with, because they are the ones who know the value they are going to get and are committed to making it happen. An excellent resource on value and pricing, among other things, is Alan Weiss’ Million Dollar Consulting (4th or 5th edition).
5. Be willing to give. Set aside a certain number of engagements or percentage of your time for which you are willing to reduce or waive your fee simply because you want to make a difference. I have worked with, and will continue to be involved with, several organizations that are doing great work in the community and I don’t mind giving my time and expertise pro bono to make a positive impact. Sometimes, I get business from people who are involved in these activities, even though that is not my primary motivation, because people naturally want to collaborate with someone who has a willingness and enthusiasm for helping make the world a better place.
6. Look for opportunities to expose large number of potential clients to your work. Find out where your potential clients hang out and what association events they attend and establish a presence there. This may involve you speaking at the event or setting up an exhibit, and it may be free or it may cost you some money. I have personally never paid to set up an exhibit at an association meeting. When I speak at association events, whether it is for a fee or if I waive my fee, I always ask to set up a table in the back of the room and sell books and offer services, and I have never been refused. Be willing to make unreasonable requests and you may be surprised what you receive in return.
7. Build a website that clearly communicates what value you bring to whom. I believe the clarity of your message is far more important than any bells and whistles that accompany it. There is a minimum standard of aesthetic appearance that you must meet of course, but beyond that, what is important is whether a visitor to your website can quickly figure out what you can do for them and how they can get in touch with you to engage you. There are plenty of DIY website services you can use if you don’t want to hire a professional, such as Squarespace (which we use) or Wix, but the important thing to keep in mind is that even if you hire a professional, you need to be accountable for making sure your content and how it is arranged best suits you. The best resource I know for creating an effective website, as well as marketing and copy, is www.storybrand.com.
8. Establish the right amount of social and professional media presence and be consistent in your contributions. You need to do your homework and decide which media you need to be present on and what and how much you are going to post. But once you decide, be consistent and reliable so that those who begin to follow you can count on your presence and contribution to them.
9. Build your email list but do not spam people. When you give away free resources and add value to people, they will be interested in hearing from you. Begin to build the list of your contacts and inform them of your offerings in a sensible fashion, but do not spam people and do not inundate them with excessive messages. We use Mailchimp to send a newsletter once per month, to those who have signed up in person at my speaking and training events, and our list has steadily grown with little to no drop off.
10. Customize your services to each client rather than offering a one-size-fits-all service. The amount of customization depends on your specific services, but make it point to treat every client in a special way by seeking to understand their particular situation and delivering customized service to them. Remember, you are not a department store where customers come to purchase a bunch of identical clothes; as a consultant, you are more like a tailor that ensures that every client’s fit is unique and suited to them.
11. Have an abundance mentality. Network with your “competitors” and support them. In reality, with an abundance mentality, you don’t have any competitors, just collaborators and partners to learn from. In most cases, this leads to more business for you, but even if it doesn’t, it is a lot more fun to go through life without a scarcity mentality and cringe every time you hear about somebody’s success. There is plenty to go around.
12. Don’t try to be an expert on everything. Unless you are a CPA and a lawyer, hire a few experts who can set you up so you can focus on your work, rather than worrying about your cost accounting, etc. Be straight with your clients about anything you do not have competence in (or cannot become competent in before the project begins) and outsource those areas where you would benefit from the expertise of others.
13. Set up your internal communication and tracking systems. Whether you are a solopreneur or you have team members, it is important to set up your internal processes in order to eliminate the confusion and rework. We have found Slack to be a great tool for us, but for project management you could also try something like Monday.com or even Trello.
14. Use a Client Relationship Manager (CRM) program. Whether you have 10 clients or 10,000, the sooner you establish your CRM process, the better. We use Hubspot but there are many others out there that you could research and pick from. Stay in touch with clients and always cultivate relationships and make contributions to them once or twice per year, not just when you want their business.
I hope you have seen a few ideas on this partial list that you can apply in your practice. I would appreciate it if you could make additional suggestions on ideas that have helped you in your business or pose specific questions you have so we can all help each other make a greater contribution to our clients.
About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.
As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!
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