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Consulting For Dummies, 2nd Edition includes a reorganization and narrower focus of the topic, with new or updated information that delves into the specifics of running your own consulting business. There is greater emphasis on the business of consulting, along with financial and legal issues involved in setting up a consulting business, deepening coverage of consulting proposals, and entirely new chapters on higher-level consulting issues that more-established consultants are ...
Consulting For Dummies, 2nd Edition includes a reorganization and narrower focus of the topic, with new or updated information that delves into the specifics of running your own consulting business. There is greater emphasis on the business of consulting, along with financial and legal issues involved in setting up a consulting business, deepening coverage of consulting proposals, and entirely new chapters on higher-level consulting issues that more-established consultants are demanding.
Part I: So You Want to Be a Consultant.
Chapter 1: Introducing the Wonderful World of Consulting.
Chapter 2: Determining Whether Consulting Is Right for You.
Chapter 3: Taking the Plunge into Consulting (Or at LeastGetting Your Feet Wet).
Part II: Getting Your Consulting Business Off theGround.
Chapter 4: Setting Up Your Consulting Firm.
Chapter 5: Getting a Grip on Legalities, Finances, andEthics.
Chapter 6: Setting Your Fees.
Part III: The Short Course in Consulting.
Chapter 7: Defining the Problem and Writing a WinningProposal.
Chapter 8: Collecting the Client Data You Need.
Chapter 9: Problem-Solving and Developing Recommendations.
Chapter 10: Tell It Like It Is: Presenting YourRecommendations.
Chapter 11: Implementation: Making Your Prescriptions Stick.
Part IV: Selling Your Consulting Services.
Chapter 12: The ABCs of Selling.
Chapter 13: Getting the Word Out: Promoting Your Business.
Chapter 14: Building Business and Referrals through CurrentClients.
Chapter 15: Building Business with New Clients.
Part V: Taking Care of Business.
Chapter 16: Contracting for Business: It’s a Deal!
Chapter 17: Keeping Track of Your Time and Money.
Chapter 18: Communicating Your Way to Success.
Chapter 19: Troubleshooting Common Consulting Issues.
Part VI: Taking Your Consulting Business to the NextLevel.
Chapter 20: Building on Your Success.
Chapter 21: Advanced Pricing Strategies.
Chapter 22: Enhancing Your Image and Reputation.
Part VII: The Part of Tens.
Chapter 23: Ten Ways to Improve Your Cash Flow.
Chapter 24: Ten Effective Marketing Strategies for NewBusiness.
Chapter 25: Ten Ways to Build Business with a Client.
In This Chapter
Attracting potential clients to your business is a definite must if you expect to sell them on your product or service. (Chapter 20 details the kinds of things that you need to do to bring potential clients to your door.) Now that they're at your door -- or on the phone, in your mailbox, or on electronic mail -- what do you do next?
The next step is to convince your clients that they need to do business with your consulting firm. Or rather, that you -- and perhaps only you -- can best help them with their needs. So much so that your business has the clear edge over all your competitors.
In this chapter, we explore exactly what you need to do after you get the attention of prospective clients. We tell you about the importance of the personal introduction and the significance of quickly establishing good rapport and a firm basis of trust and goodwill. We walk you through the process of making a pitch to your clients and then following up -- and we talk about the importance of keeping your commitments.
In many ways, the personal introduction of a prospective client to your business is probably one of the most critical points in the process of selling your services. Blow it here, and you probably won't have to worry about seeing that client again. However, if you make the right impression (and we're sure you will!), you'll have a client for life -- or at least as long as the checks don't bounce!
We know that you're not necessarily in business to make friends. You're in business to make money. But you have to remember that business involves much more than just dollars and cents (or pounds, pence, marks, yen, or whatever your monetary persuasion). Consulting is first and foremost a social activity. Not person-to-machine, not client-to-faceless bureaucracy. We're talking human being to human being. One on one.
In the sections that follow, we consider the things that go into this most important beginning phase of your consulting relationships: the personal introduction.
Depending on the size and nature of your organization, the first experience that a potential client has with your consulting business may be anything from speaking to your answering machine or receptionist to visiting your Web page to meeting you personally through a mutual acquaintance. We can't emphasize enough the importance of a potential client's first experience with your business -- in many cases, it may be your only opportunity to sell that client on the benefits of working with your organization. Consider these two scenarios:
What kind of initial impression does your organization make with your clients?
There's never been a valid excuse for sloppy service -- and there still isn't one today. What's more, in these days of satellite telephones, nationwide telephone paging, personal digital assistants, Internet e-mail, and more, you have less of an excuse than ever before to be hard to reach -- even if you're a one-person organization. If you can't get your introduction right, why should a client trust you to get anything right?
Peter remembers the time he called a large insurance firm to get advice on a business transaction. Instead of a real-live receptionist, Peter got a voice-mail system that presented him with six -- count 'em, six -- different dialing options. That wasn't so bad in and of itself, but when Peter got to the option he wanted -- the next to last option, of course -- and punched the number into his phone, he was quickly and efficiently cast into the River Styx of voice-mail hell. "All telephone attendants are busy right now. Your call is important to us. [You, however, apparently are not.] Please continue to hold while we serve other callers."
After listening to the message -- over and over again -- for five full minutes, Peter decided to try to escape. Pressing 0 on his phone, Peter was greeted with a curt "I'm sorry, but that is not a valid system option." "Here's a valid system option," Peter thought to himself as he slammed down the phone and then called another insurance firm (coincidentally, a smaller, local brokerage), where a live person answered and then quickly transferred his call to an agent who took the call and answered the question. Mission accomplished!
If you want a quick reality check on the first impressions that your organization is making with your clients, pretend that you are a new client and do the following:
Seriously consider the answers to these questions and then make any changes that you need to make to ensure that all your clients and prospective clients have a positive first impression of you and your organization. Don't forget: You have only one chance to make a first impression!
The best professional salespeople know that their primary responsibility is to help potential clients find the best solutions to their needs. This means asking questions and then listening -- really listening -- to the answers.
You have no doubt dealt with salespeople who have their own agendas and have little time to hear about yours. Before you can get out even one word, they launch into a prepackaged speech about whatever they have to sell. And if you do manage to get a word or two in edgewise, your word is quickly ignored as the canned speech continues, and continues, and continues.
How does that make you feel? Like trying to find another salesperson? Exactly!
In his book Selling For Dummies® (published by IDG Books Worldwide, Inc.), master salesperson Tom Hopkins presents a very useful rule:
Listen twice as much as you talk and you'll succeed in persuading others nearly every time.
Think about why this is true:
The simple fact is that you can't possibly understand what your potential clients need unless you give them the opportunity to tell you. And you can't possibly hear what your client is telling you unless you take the time to listen! To make sure that you both ask clients the right questions and listen to their answers, we have developed the following four steps to effective asking and listening:
Avoid asking questions that might introduce an element of trepidation into your relationship. Questions along the lines of, "Do you realize how incredibly expensive it's going to be to straighten out this mess?" or "Who's the incompetent jerk responsible for running this department?" are to be avoided at all costs.
Never forget the golden rule of consulting: listen before you leap! You'll have plenty of time to do plenty of talking after you land your client. For now, content yourself with asking a few questions to help draw your client out, and listen, listen, and listen some more.
Just who do you think you are? What makes you such an expert?
Your clients want the best service that their money can buy. Your job is to give it to them. However, before you get the opportunity to do so, you have to prove that you've got the right stuff. And just how can you do that? Here are a few ideas to get things rolling. You don't want to overwhelm your potential clients at this point in the process -- you just want to set the stage for your relationship.
You have now reached your first critical intersection in building business with new clients -- do you go forward, or do you tell your potential clients to look elsewhere?
What? Tell your clients to look elsewhere? Did we temporarily lose our marbles, perhaps? Are we a few cards short of a full deck? No. It may seem nuts -- after all, why would anyone turn away a paying client? In the real world of consulting, a wide variety of good reasons for turning down work exist.
Consider these reasons, for example:
Regardless of the reason you decide to veto a particular project, try to refer the client to someone who may be better able to take on the opportunity. Successful consultants maintain extensive networks of associates who can pitch in to help on particularly large or complex projects.
So is the light green or is the light red? Only you can decide.
Because of the nature of person-to-person interactions, every consulting relationship involves a certain amount of chemistry. If the chemistry is good, a consulting relationship can be long-lasting and beneficial to all. If the chemistry is bad -- like a high-school lab experiment careening out of control -- you can count the length of the relationship in nanoseconds instead of years.
So how do you build the foundation for a stable and mutually beneficial relationship? We'll let you in on a little secret: It's not rocket science. Just as in your nonbusiness relationships (you do have at least one or two nonbusiness relationships, right?), consulting relationships are built on trust and on an honest desire to help one another. Sure, every consultant has something to sell, whether it's dragging a company kicking and screaming through a long-range planning process, conveying a lifetime of expertise in finding underground oil deposits, or setting up a company's Web page. But the best consulting relationships come first from a place of wanting to share your unique skills and expertise to help someone who needs them.
In this section, we consider some techniques to help you establish a good relationships with your potential clients. We discuss how to build rapport with your clients-to-be, get your clients what they need, and build a firm foundation of trust to carry your relationship forward into the future.
Before you enter into a business relationship with prospective clients, you have to establish some degree of rapport with them. Rapport is the connectedness that individuals in a relationship feel for one another. Rapport comes from shared experiences. A shared experience can be as simple as a shared joke or as complex as a common lifelong interest. In some cases, a relationship is established between people instantly; in other cases, a relationship never really blooms. If rapport doesn't develop between the parties of a relationship, you can bet that the relationship won't last.
When you're the client, it really doesn't matter whether you're an introvert, an extrovert, or something in between. However, when you are a consultant and are on the selling side of the equation, you definitely have to take on the personality of an extrovert -- whether you feel like one or not.
Two ways exist to be comfortable initiating new relationships: Either you developed this skill as you were growing up, or you can learn it now.
We both grew up in homes where our families were transferred from one place to another every few years. Although this lifestyle did disrupt more than a few friendships as we grew up, all the moving around did teach us how to feel comfortable with all kinds of people. Whether it was the suburbs of Washington, D.C.; a small town 100 miles south of Atlanta, Georgia; or Paris, France; we learned how to adjust to new circumstances and make friends quickly with an incredibly diverse range of people around the world.
Fortunately, if you weren't lucky enough to learn the art of establishing instant rapport when you were growing up, it's not too late to learn how:
Helping your clients get what they want is really your number one job, and you have to be particularly vigilant to avoid letting your needs take priority over their needs. It's not uncommon for a consulting business to develop certain assessment or training tools or products and to then feel a lot of pressure to make clients fit these tools or products -- even if it means pushing the clients into a box that really doesn't fit.
For example, a business that conducts long-range planning sessions with the top management teams of for-profit corporations may have developed an assessment model that works great in the private sector. When a local nonprofit agency asks for help in its long-range planning, the consulting business decides to apply its standard for-profit assessment model to the nonprofit organization -- despite the fact that the fundamental nature of the organizations is quite different. Although this tactic makes perfect sense from the consulting practice's cost perspective (why spend the money to adapt the assessment tools for a one-off project, after all), it may make no sense at all from the perspective of getting the best results. In a case like this, if the consultant is unwilling to take the time or spend the money to tailor its approach to the needs of the client, it would really be better for all concerned to refer the work to someone else.
Some consultants allow their egos to get bigger than the side of a barn. When you're selling yourself or your business as an expert in a particular field, it's hard not to start believing your own sales pitch. Although nothing is inherently wrong with letting your ego show from time to time, you should do so only if it doesn't interfere with your client relationships or with giving your clients the best advice possible at all times. If you see that ego is starting to get in the way -- either with you or with an associate -- step back for a moment and take a close look at what your clients really need. Then push that big bad ego out of the way, if only for a few moments, to determine whether what you're offering is really what your clients need. If it is, great! You're on the right track. If it's not, go back to the drawing board and come up with an approach that does meet your clients' needs.
On the flip side of this coin, you may need to tell your clients things that they just don't want to hear but that reflect the truth of a situation. For example, while speaking with your client about a problem he's having with the response rate for direct-mail advertising, you may quickly realize that the problem is the poor quality of the advertising piece that the client's firm is sending out. Even if your client disagrees vigorously (after all, he created the ad personally and knows what works and what doesn't), you have to call it like you see it. To do any less would be to do a disservice both to you and to your client. A good consulting relationship is built on trust, and part of building trust is being honest with your clients -- even if occasionally the truth hurts.
Although many things go into making a good consulting relationship, trust is probably the most important factor of all. Trust is the cement that holds a relationship together. Without it, a relationship quickly falls apart -- crumbling into little bits and pieces before your very eyes.
So how do you build trust in a consulting relationship? At this early phase of the consulting relationship, doing the kinds of things that set the stage for the development of a strong, long-term relationship is most important. Here are some quick and easy ways to build trust with your clients:
It's very likely that your first contact with a potential client will not be in person but will be by phone, e-mail, letter, or other mode of communication. However, after you get past the initial introductions and find a clearly mutual interest to proceed, you have to take the relationship to the next step, which usually means a face-to-face meeting. Don't get us wrong -- we're not saying that you have to fly across the country for a meeting whenever a prospect calls. Your decision to meet face-to-face with a client depends on many factors. But, as we have said before, consulting is a people thing. Although you can establish and carry on a long-distance business relationship with your phone company or with a mail-order bookstore for years without a face-to-face meeting, consulting is a different animal.
Consulting is different because it is very much a personal service. As a personal service, consulting depends on person-to-person interaction for its success. Think about it: Would you entrust the financial viability of a business that you spent your lifetime to create and build to someone whom you have only just met through an online chat room? We don't think so!
Steve Dente and Signature Software
As the owner of San Diego, California-based Signature Software, Steve Dente (
Consulting For Dummies: How do you find your clients?
Steve Dente: Almost all have come from networking with other programmers and other companies in the industry.
CFD: Let's consider both of those avenues. So how do you network with other programmers?
Dente: I belong to programmer groups, which include independent consulting programmers and programmers who work for large and small companies. When they get a call to do a program and they're too busy to do it, they'll pass the work on to someone else in the group. We all know what each one of us is best at, so if they hear of a job that requires certain skills, they'll recruit one of us for it.
CFD: So if you have a job that you need some help on, then you give one of the members of your group a call, and vice versa?
Dente: Right. And also, each of the programming language groups maintains Web sites on the Internet where companies can post needs or you can offer your services. For example, I am a member of discussion and programmer groups at a number of Web sites.
CFD: You said that there were two ways that you network, the first with other programmers and the second directly with businesses. How do you pursue networking directly with businesses?
Dente: The companies that I consult for hire me because I am involved as a geologist in the mineral business. So having knowledge of that business and being able to write software programs as well gives me a unique expertise to write industry-specific software for gems and minerals.
CFD: What is a typical consulting job for you in the gem and mineral industry?
Dente: The last one I did was for a large American mining company. I wrote a program that helps them sort and track the cutting, [calculate] the yield results, and organize the pricing of their sapphires.
CFD: How do you break the ice with a new client? How do you tell them about yourself and convince them to hire you?
Dente: Well, normally you talk about who you know in the business and what your potential client's company is doing in the market. In other words, you show an understanding of what their business is. I often send them samples of programs I've done before.
I think if you show people that you understand the general nature of their business, that you also have insight into how other people are doing business, and that you understand what their problem is -- and you can present the outline of a solution -- then the rest takes care of itself.
It's all a matter of developing a relationship and gaining a level of comfort with the client. If you can convince a customer that you understand the problem and have insight into a solution, then that becomes the area of conversation. The terms of the contract and the finances then become pretty easy to deal with.
CFD: So the money becomes secondary?
Dente: Yes! The money pretty much takes care of itself; it's not the main issue. That's the way I like to work.
CFD: When you meet with clients, do you meet with them at your office, or do you go out to see them at their offices, or someplace in between?
Dente: Most of my consulting jobs are initiated over the telephone and, because the problem is theirs, I usually go to their site. In the last year, I have called on clients throughout Southern California, New York, Montana, Korea, China, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. The field of geology is international in nature, and I have contacts in all these places.
CFD: So why do these firms hire you instead of another programmer?
Dente: In general, programmers are programmers, and business people are business people. I'm in the unique position of having spent 20 years in the gem field as a geologist, and then becoming a programmer as well, just out of my personal interest. That gives me a businessperson's insight to programming, which is useful. A lot of times, programmers know how to write code, but they don't know how to solve business problems. My level of consulting is multilevel and multifaceted instead of just a limited skill set.
CFD: What advice would you give to new consultants to establish and develop their businesses?
Dente: You can advertise all you want, but advertising is the least effective way for consultants to get clients. Your last client is your best source of the new client. And your current client list generates your new client list. So the best thing is to maintain a good rapport with your clients, provide them a quality service, and effect a solution to their problems. Business is the maintenance of relationships. And consulting in particular depends on relationships because what you're selling is yourself -- your skill set and your services.
CFD: Right. You're not selling a can of soup, are you? You're selling yourself.
Dente: That's right. So, how well you work with them, how well you listen to them, and how well you gain insight into their needs results in how happy your clients are with you. This then results in more work -- both with that particular client, as well as referrals to other people they network with.
The world is a big place. We understand that the potential rewards of a business relationship don't always justify the expense of setting up a one-on-one meeting. And we also understand that the Internet, e-mail, voice-mail, cellular phones, and all those other nifty technologies make it easier than ever to communicate with anyone you want, anytime you want. But despite all these great innovations, nothing can replace the power of a face-to-face meeting.
Meetings put a face on a distant voice on the phone or on the typed meanderings of an e-mail message. Meetings breathe humanity into the digital bits and bytes that flow through the phone lines from your office to your client's office. When you're sitting before your client -- in living color -- ignoring your message is a lot harder than when it arrives by mail, phone, fax, or computer. And getting your message across is a lot easier.
Not convinced? Check out this story.
A couple of years ago, Peter's literary agent called him with some good news -- he had met a woman who was looking for someone to ghostwrite a book for her. The potential client had built a very successful company around a series of seminars that she presented around the country. She hoped that a book distilling the essence of her seminars would be useful for furthering her goals -- both by having something to sell to participants in her seminars and for reaching a wider audience through distribution in bookstores. Although she was a gifted communicator, she just didn't have the time to run her business, conduct seminars, and write a book at the same time. Armed with her name and phone number, Peter made the call.
Unfortunately, although Peter's client-to-be was interested in discussing the project with him, she let Peter know that she had already pretty much decided to contract with a writer with whom she had already met and discussed the project. Hmmm . . . what to do? In a last-ditch effort to save the project, Peter suggested that they get together over coffee the next morning anyway, and that he would pick up the tab. What would it hurt to spend a little time discussing the project? His client agreed, and the stage was set.
When Peter and his client met, they felt an instant rapport, a connectedness that just wasn't evident when they talked on the phone the day before. Despite the fact that Peter's client was 99 percent certain that she already knew who was going to write her book, what was supposed to be a 15- or 20-minute cup of coffee and chitchat became a two-hour discussion of personal philosophy, vision, and project goals. Peter's client called later that evening to tell him that she had selected him to do the project.
If there is a lesson to learn here, it's that you can never underestimate the power of face-to-face meetings. The meeting sparked a new level of communication that was absent in their phone conversation the preceding day. As a result, Peter was able to persuade his client that he would do a better job on the project than the writer she had already selected. When Peter confirmed that he could meet her budget and schedule to boot, the deal was sealed.
One more thing: Scientists and other smart people have determined that some 85 percent of communication when people meet with one another is nonverbal -- you know, facial expressions, tapping of toes, crossing of arms, and sighs of boredom, or edge-of-the-chair excitement indicating rapt attention and interest. When you communicate with a client over the phone, through the mail, or via a computer, you end up with only 15 percent of the message, and you lose the other 85 percent that you can't see. Of course, this is also true for the messages that you send to your clients. So if you can't meet in person, make sure that you're especially careful to get your entire message across.
Despite our attempts to fill in some of this communication gap with cute voice-mail messages ("You have reached the desk of the great and powerful Oz -- ignore that man behind the curtain!") or the ubiquitous usage of those pesky emoticons in e-mail messages (you know, these things :-), :-(, and worse), nothing has yet replaced the emotional power of the personal meeting and, at least until we all have access to full-body videoconferencing worldwide, it's likely that nothing ever will!
The question is not should you meet with a prospective client. The question is: Do the benefits of meeting outweigh the costs? For example, at a cost of a cup of coffee and 20 miles worth of gas, the benefit of Peter's meeting with his ghostwriting client far outweighed the cost. However, if the client lived in New York -- 3,000 miles away -- the relative advantage of the benefits to be gained over the costs would not have been so clear and compelling. When you consider your options, take the time to weigh the potential benefits of a face-to-face meeting with your potential clients against the costs.
In the following sections, we present some of the things to consider when you decide whether to meet with a prospective client. If the pluses outweigh the minuses, pack your bags and get going!
Plus: You may get to visit some interesting new places and meet some interesting new people.
Minus: You may get stuck in the airport in a blizzard and your bags may get lost. Also, airplane food is pretty bad news unless you can talk a flight attendant into bringing you a few crumbs from the first-class cabin.
Net Result: Make the trip if the potential benefit outweighs the cost of the trip, but bring your own food supplies for the airplane flight. A laptop computer loaded with the game Myst is a compelling bonus.
Plus: You can catch up on your work and return phone calls while you wait for the snowplows to clear the airport runways.
Minus: Due to a special government regulation, airports are inherently boring places to be. Especially if the airline loses your bags. You'll probably want to do anything but work as you wait in the airport bar for your oft-delayed flight.
Net Result: Your time is worth money. Do the benefits of the trip equal or exceed the opportunity cost of staying home? If not, cancel that reservation -- right now!
Plus: Travel costs are generally tax deductible. Unfortunately, the costs that are the most fun are generally not tax deductible.
Minus: Could cost a lot of money, especially if the client is a long way away or if you have to travel on short notice. Furthermore, airlines don't reimburse you for the full amount of your loss when they lose your bags.
Net Result: The money you make on the deal should at least meet or exceed the amount of money that you spend trying to get it. Don't forget to add in the cost of replacing your lost luggage.
Plus: This meeting may lead to a long and fruitful consulting relationship that allows you to get your kids through college and step up from that '68 Volkswagen you've been driving since college.
Minus: This meeting may turn out to be a complete waste of both your time and your client's time.
Net Result: You don't know until you give it a try. When in doubt, consult with your nearest psychic.
In most cases, the best person to meet with is the one who can decide whether or not to hire you or your firm. Why? Because if you're dealing with people who don't have the authority to hire you, you may be wasting your time. However, the next best thing to meeting with the person who can make the decision is to meet with the people who can favorably influence the person who makes the decision.
Who are some of the people you should meet with? Before you schedule your next meeting with your clients-to-be, make sure you see how they stack up according to the following list:
So how do you get to the right person or group in an organization? After you select your target, simply pick up the phone and call. In our experience, you save a lot of time and money by sidestepping staff and using your phone to go directly to the person or group in charge. E-mail is also a great tool for getting to the right person. We have found that, in many cases, a person who won't return a phone call for days or weeks (or ever!) will reply to an e-mail in minutes. You may have to spend a little time with the receptionist or other employees in doing some research on who's who in the organization, but, after you find out, be deliberate and assertive in your efforts to contact the right people.
You have the option of meeting at your place, the client's place, or somewhere in between. The selection depends greatly on the nature of your business, on whether you're traveling a great distance for the meeting, and on your client's time constraints. Consider the pluses and minuses of each option.
Most busy clients prefer for you to meet them at their office. So where you meet with a particular client really depends on whether you can effectively demonstrate a solution to your client's problem at his or her site and whether the cost of getting to your customer does not exceed the expected financial benefits of doing business. When in doubt, err on the side of going out of your way to meet your client at the place of his or her choosing.
Should you try to set up a meeting as soon as possible -- strike while the iron is hot, as it were -- or should you take things slow and easy? Although some people say that good things come to those who wait, this is not necessarily the case when it comes to consulting. The truth is that consulting is a very competitive field, and the more appropriate adage is likely, "You snooze, you lose."
When you press for immediate meetings with prospective clients, you not only impress them with your obvious interest in meeting their needs, but you also help to ensure that your firm is selected before other consultants have an opportunity to get their foot in the door.
So what is the correct answer to the question of when to meet? Now! Not enough time or not enough notice to meet today? Then set up a meeting for first thing tomorrow. The point is, the sooner you get your meeting scheduled, the better chance you have of landing the deal.
Despite successfully making it through all the hurdles of getting to know new clients and winning their trust and confidence, many consultants ultimately lose their deals when they fail to follow through with their clients. Though you may prefer to think of consulting as the art of performing the services in which you're expert, the one thing that makes the world of consulting go around is ultimately your ability to sell yourself to the people and organizations who can afford to pay your bills.
If you can't sell yourself, you can't sell your services. It's that simple.
After you make your sales pitch, the next step is to set up a system of follow-through with your prospective client. As a consultant, you find that many of your prospects are very busy people, and it is easy for them to lose your proposal amongst all the other priorities that they are charged with juggling. The purpose of follow-through is to keep your proposal fresh in your client's mind and make sure that he or she doesn't forget about you.
Bob has his system of client follow-through down pat. Whenever he meets prospective clients for his services, he puts them on the mailing list for his newsletter, Rewarding Employees. The newsletter, which is published monthly and sent to more than 2,000 clients and clients-to-be, provides its readers with an enormous amount of useful information about employee rewards and reward programs. Not only do Bob's clients learn something useful, but they also are reminded that Bob offers a wide variety of reward-oriented products and services.
However, don't forget the number-one rule of following up with your clients: Don't be a pest. Proper follow-through walks a fine line between an occasional reminder that keeps your name in mind and a full-court press that makes you more trouble than you're worth. Be sensitive to the needs of your clients when you decide on your follow-through strategy. Although every situation is different, you can't go wrong by applying the follow-through techniques presented in this section.
If you don't have an appointment calendar, a daily planner, or a personal digital assistant to keep track of your appointments, stop right now. Do not pass go or collect your $200 until you go out and buy one. You have one? Great! You're all set.
What is the next step in selling yourself to your client? Another meeting? A technical demonstration? Mailing or faxing a copy of a journal article that you authored? A phone call to check to see whether you are going to be selected to do the proposed job? Until you land your consulting job, make sure that you always decide on what step is required next to get you closer to your goal, and set a date and time for its completion.
Whatever the next step is -- no matter how trivial -- make a note of it in your calendar. If the event is set for a definite time, make sure that you make a point of recording the time, too. The point is, you don't want to take the chance of forgetting what you need to do to land your consulting job. Two of the key tests that you have to pass for your clients are punctuality and reliability. If you say that you'll call to follow up at 9:00 a.m. on September 30, then you'd better be dialing the number at 8:59 a.m. on the 30th of September.
A thank-you note can do wonders to get you planted squarely in the middle of your client's good graces. Just as a post-interview thank-you letter makes a positive impression on a company that is hiring a new employee, a sincere thank-you note makes a positive impression on the individuals who decide whether you get a contract for your services.
Writing good thank-you notes is an art. They should be sincere and from your heart, and they should leave the reader with a positive impression of both you and your business. Whenever you write a thank-you note, make sure that it does the following three things:
So when should you take the time to thank a potential client? Consider sending a thank-you note whenever you find yourself in the following situations:
Of course, you may feel that a thank-you note is appropriate at other times. If so, follow your instincts. You don't have to write a book -- all it takes is jotting down a couple of sincere sentences of thanks and then dropping your note in the mail. When in doubt, send it out!
The medium that you select to follow up with your clients is not as important as making sure that you do follow up. Each possible way of following up with clients has its pluses and minuses, and which one you choose depends on your style of doing business and on what seems to work best with a particular client. You always have the flexibility of selecting one method or a combination of methods of follow-up. Ultimately, the decision is up to you.
Consider the advantages and disadvantages of several media for client follow-up:
Here's a sample e-mail thank-you note to help get your creative juices flowing:
Subject: Thank you!
Just a note to thank you for taking the time to speak with me about the companywide performance assessment that you would like to conduct next fiscal year. We are very interested in working with you to complete this important task. As you have seen, my company has more than 15 years of experience in successfully completing performance assessments for a wide variety of Fortune 500 firms. Each of these firms has been tremendously satisfied with the results, and I have no doubt in my mind that we can do the same for you.
I will call you next week to see where we go from here.
However you decide to thank your clients for their time, you need to keep one key rule in mind: Be sure to thank them. Not only do you leave a positive impression in their minds that may help you land the deal, but you'll also be remembered for future opportunities even if you don't do business this time.
In the process of selling your services to potential clients, you have to decide which ones have the greatest potential of doing business with you or your firm and which ones have the least potential. Although being able to put your all into pursuing every single lead that you get might be nice, it just isn't realistic from a cost perspective.
Following through with clients takes both time and money -- and lots of it. Because both time and money are available in limited amounts for most consultants, the wise thing to do is to split your client list into two pieces, active and inactive, and put most of your resources into the former. Consider the differences between active and inactive clients:
In our experience, considering
Posted March 30, 2009
This book consists of some good information on consulting, things you would not have thought of before. However, it also contains a lot of "fluff" of issues and thoughts that really could be left out, such as where to locate your office within your home.
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Posted June 3, 2010
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Posted December 9, 2009
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