Updated: May 19, 2021
One of the considerations a consultant must make when developing their initial business plan and strategy is considering their future clients. Depending on the consulting specialization, the nature of their business and target market, and even the personality of the consultant themselves, some clients will be more compatible with the message and services the consultant has to offer. Attracting the right clients is only the first step, though. Consultants must build trust through consistent dependability and productivity. Another important aspect of constructing a successfully consulting firm is solidifying “the deal” by crafting a written proposal that captures an agreed upon process improvement or other service. There are many factors that can contribute to success but there are four necessary functions that all consulting businesses must utilize. This paper will explore those function, clients, consulting, and building success.
Clients, Consulting, and Building Success
While there are many critical aspects of consulting, perhaps none so vital as the clients themselves. Afterall, no clients mean no consulting practice. Understanding which clients are compatible with the consultant’s skills, traits, and attributes is a complex, yet key, consideration in building a lucrative consulting practice. The landscape of consulting is making accessibility to the most compatible consultant, or consultant firm, effortless as clients can research websites, videos, social media and any and all marketing materials the consultant produces, assuming it is tagged and appropriately posted online. Clients are no longer forced to rely on expensive elitism that demands higher and higher prices. A skilled consultant may be an individual who has practiced 30 years in the field, or a young entrepreneur who may not have the years of experience but does understand the interconnected nature of the digital society that is evolving ever so quickly. There are many critical elements that contribute to success in consulting including attracting the right clients, building trust, creating proposals, and mastering independent consulting when applicable.
Critical Elements for Success in Consulting
Consulting, while a simple concept that entails applying one’s skills to the betterment of another’s situation, potentially has many moving parts and complexities. With few barriers to entry in the consulting market, meaning practically anyone can attempt to build a consulting business, the reality is that there is a lot of competition and huge variance in skill level and experiences. Distinguishing a repertoire of skills from the masses of consultants out there usually entails finding a niche. There are general consulting categories such as management consulting, HR consulting, IT consulting and other similar facets, however it would be most advantageous to specify the niche further. The idea would be to attain mastery in that niche and find way to become recognized in that field, it is far harder to get that recognition the more generalized the niche. For example, and management consultant may specialize in change management with a focus on corporate culture during acquisition. In this way, they would market themselves to corporations that are undergoing acquisitions and provide data on the impact of an acquisition on their company’s culture. Why is that important? Because culture drives performance, employee satisfaction, and can impact the bottom lin. In addition, there is likely a lot less competition then if the consultant simply marketed themselves as a management consultant.
Not so long-ago consulting was based primarily on word of mouth. Today, many potential clients turn to technology, specifically online platforms and search engines, to locate consultants. Schippers discusses how to be more client-centric by using technology, speaking highly of the use of social media marketing and developing business through online awareness. That is not to say that the things like the business card is obsolete, on the contrary the gesture of presenting a business card can communicate that the consultant is are of the rules and ready to play the game, essentially creating a tangible way to make a connection .
Building trust is a fundamental product of positive and beneficial human interaction. The phenomenon of trust stems from the human need to connect as well as the need for safety . Although the roots of trust building are firmly planted in evolutionary mechanisms, their application in consulting are no less important. Burns discusses the important of being aware of client’s touch-points. Of course, those points can differ from client to client, but things like quick response times to emails and calls, consistently updated websites, and even the consultant’s tone of voice are all very common. If phone calls are consistently returned in less then 24 hours the client will begin to build trust that even if the consultant does not pick up that instant, there will be a response shortly, and they may not search elsewhere for services right away. On the contrary, if that very important point of contact is not nurtured a client will client search for a more dependable consultant.
A proposal should be crafted after the consultant has already had a conversation with the client, essentially landing the sale, but needing to solidify the details in writing. Zipursky discusses the common misunderstanding that the proposal is supposed to win over the client or land the sale, but the business should have already been won at the point that the proposal is produced. Focusing on the buyer, and not the consultant’s business is another essential aspect of an effective proposal.
As mentioned, a conversation about the consultant, their business, and relevant information to the proposal, should have already been previously discussed. On that note, the proposal should not contain any new information, clients may not be receptive to “surprises” in the proposal and that can even come across deceitful depending on the issue. Zipursky also breaks down the structure for a proposal template including summary, goals, project details, responsibilities, investment and terms. These neat sections aid in formatting the document in an easy to follow manner where the client can skip straight to a particular section of interest, if needed.
The Building Blocks for Successful Consulting
Although there is not one recipe for building a successful consulting practice there are common denominators that tend to point the way. When conceptualizing the business in its infancy, a consultant must dream big and start small in many cases. For some consultants, limiting views such as start up capital and investors can make them feel like they will never be able to achieve their consulting dreams. Quite to the contrary a consultant can start with very little, and with precisely one client.
Carra explains how one of the most common ways to get started is by leveraging the network the consultant has as well as meeting an immediate need. Many consultants offer collaboration and other professional services as well which can include a nearly limitless array of services loosely related to the consulting domain they practice in. Identifying strengths of the consultant, and team members is vital.
The most successful consulting practices align the strengths of each team member with the skills the are most proficient in. The four functions for success that any consultant or team will need to address include marketing, sales, operations, and finance. All these functions must work in unison with a cohesive business process and foreseeable goal.
The Individualistic Nature of Independent Consulting
Consulting can be individualistic because the focus is on a specialized skill-set that is applied for the improvement of client’s circumstances. Many times, this service start with one consultant, or a partnership. However, it seems as though the larger consulting firms get broader in their focus and perhaps less specialized. The concept of a specialist, or subject matter expert, is highly competitive. After-all, everyone wants to be the best- to be able to charge more for their services or even just bragging rights and recognition. Clients who have the resources and want the absolute finest the field has to offer will pay handsomely for the consultant (or firm) who can offer those specialized services. As a consultant, or lead consultant of a firm, the personality of the individual undoubtedly comes through in the methodology, choice of clients, even the specialization chosen. Depending on the focus this can be limiting, but that may prove to be incredibly valuable too if there is niche that is just developing or being newly discovered by investors as a having high potential for profit.
Clients are arguably the most important aspect of a consulting business. With no shortage of clients in the market for consulting services, consultants have the ability to fine tune their approach, skills, and niche. Individualistic consulting as seen in sole proprietorships or international firms alike, must address the business needs of marketing, sales, operations, and finance for the business to flourish. While adaptability to change in the market is crucial, many of the traditional business etiquette rules still very much apply. Clients need to feel heard; they must feel like the consultant has a sense of urgency in addressing their needs, and they look for the consultant to stay fresh in their approaches. While there is no recipe for sure fire success, dependability and consistency will certainly put a new consultant on the right path.
Keywords: Clients, Consulting, Change Management, Success, Profitability, Growth, Team Building
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