I speak at least once on a month on how to start a successful consulting business. It’s common to have at least a couple people who were laid off from their corporate jobs and had consulting projects fall into their laps. In fact, that is how I got started more than 15 years ago.
Many consultants start off with a bang only to hit the doldrums two to three years in. Don’t fool yourself into thinking your business will build itself just because you have projects for the first several months. I call this the “pent up demand phenomenon”. When I first started my business, I was fully engaged for the first few years. I thought, “Wow, this is easy.” Then I hit a long dead zone. I realized that I had been working off the pent-up demand from all the people who knew me. I have spoken to many other consultants who have this same experience. It took me several months to develop a marketing plan and fill my pipeline. Thank goodness for zero interest credit cards!
I’m going to let you in on a secret – even the best consultants have dry spells, we don’t like to talk about it, but it happens to 98% of us from time to time. So, if all your consultant friends deny dry spells, they’re either lying or they’re in the 2%, you do the math.
I have two big buckets of clients for Billable at the Beach®. I have those that are just getting started with consulting and I have those that are two to three years in and have worked off what I now know if the pent up demand. Start marketing day one and never, ever stop!
Never Stop Networking
Networking is your single most important business activity. It is the best possible career insurance. It is the best possible use of your business development time. And the sooner you embrace it, the more successful you will be.
You must develop a clear strategy to create and maintain a high-quality network. Nearly all my business comes through referrals and yours will too!
I know, it’s hard. I am an engineer by background and networking didn’t come naturally to me. Every time I walked into one of those networking events, I felt like I was at a Junior High dance. I learned how to network effectively, and you can too! See 5 Easy Networking Tips from a Former Wallflower for how to do it.
A healthy amount of your prospecting time should be spent making connections at your target companies. Take some time to sit down and identify 10-15 target companies. It may be helpful to define your target criteria first. If you’re drawing a blank, get some brainstorming help from a couple of colleagues. And now I am going to share one of my best secrets. I’m not sure I should be doing it. It’s like sharing your secret parking spot at the best beach. If everyone knows about it, your secret will be lost. Oh well, here goes…
As a consultant, you are a water faucet resource – easy on, easy off. A big part of your value proposition as a consultant is being able to throw you in on a big problem or special situation, often very quickly if it’s urgent, and shut you off as soon as the issue is resolved.
If you are looking to lock in stability and security, you are in the wrong place. In fact, you probably need to time travel because those days are gone, long gone.
Now I protect myself by never giving more than 10, 15 maybe 20 hours a week to any one client. I typically have two “major” projects at 10-15 hours a week and drizzles of other projects starting and wrapping up. I shoot to bill 30 hours a week which is full utilization. A quick note on how my time breaks out: 30 hours a week billable, 15 hours a week networking, marketing and business development, and 5 hours a week for infrastructure and admin. This is how my 50-hour work week stacks up. These are averages. There is some ebb and flow from week to week.
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This is the fourth of the Top Seven Things to Know About Starting Your Own Consulting Business. My biggest surprise was the pent up demand phenomenon. Next, we talk about the hardest thing, constantly bringing in the business.