It has been more than fifteen years since I, with my wife as my partner, decided to become a consultant. We have grown substantially over those years and established ourselves as a thriving expertise-based business and a trusted brand in the niche we serve.
As a result, we have been able to lead a life that has given us the freedom to spend time with our young children, travel as a family, and in general, maintain a high standard of living.
In short, the decision to become a consultant was a good one.
With more than a decade of experience under my belt, now seems like a good time to reflect on what brought us success and, where possible, provide a smoother, shorter path for anyone who wants to start a consulting business. In this post, I cover what I feel are the five most fundamental steps of the pre-launch and launch stage. I will discuss growing a consulting business and other aspects of consulting in future posts.
So, if you are wondering how to start a consulting business, you are in the right place. In this post, I’ll walk you through steps that were important for me and that I have found apply universally.
Important Note: It is important to remember that, with the growth of high-quality Web conferencing platforms as well as options like online surveying, sub-contracting through services like Fiverr, and other digital tools, it is now possible to run a consulting practice without ever having to hold in-person meetings. That has become even truer in the wake of COVID, which forced so many businesses to move most of their activities online. I now conduct the vast majority of my consulting work entirely virtually.
What is a Consultant?
Before we dive into the six steps, I think it’s important to define consulting as I use the term here. Consulting means different things to different people, after all.
My consulting definition is that consultants are independent business people who increase the capacity, the level of performance, and the confidence of their clients through providing expert advice and guidance.
That’s a bit different from the definition of consulting you are likely to find in other places, so let’s break it down a bit.
Consultants Build Capacity
This is a key area, in my opinion, where a true consultant differs from a freelance contractor. If an organization hires someone to complete a specific task or to do a job that it simply doesn’t have anyone on staff available to do, that’s a freelance contracting situation. The organization temporarily increases its ability to do certain work, but once the work is done and the contractor is gone, the capabilities of the organization haven’t really changed; capacity has not been built.
While a consultant may perform specific tasks for a client and create “deliverables,” this work is typically done in close communication and collaboration with the client, giving the client the ability to develop new knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors in the process (the essence of learning). When a good consultant exits, the client is more capable and able to do more with its capabilities than when the consultant arrived.
Consultants Boost Performance
Tightly related to increasing capacity, good consultants also lead their clients to achieve higher levels of performance with the resource they already have – for example, through training, coaching, facilitating the right conversations among the right people, or implementing new systems and processes. While this type of consulting work generally does increase a client’s capacity, it is not so much about being able to do more as it is about being able to do things better.
Consultants Increase Confidence
Finally, a natural outcome of building capacity and boosting performance is that the client’s confidence is increased. Indeed, consultants are often brought in simply to help clients increase clarity and confidence, particularly around key decisions. That may mean decisions that have already been made, that are in the process of being made, or that need to be made. Consultants, in this case, are often seen as objective outsiders who can help break through internal biases and barriers and bring clarity to otherwise muddled situations.
In the best cases, consultants in these situations don’t simply offer an expert opinion or make the decision for the client. Rather, they guide the client through a process to arrive at good decisions and lay the foundation for acting on those decisions.
It’s About Process
Effective consulting has a lot in common with effective teaching and effective coaching.
The above is not about deliverables or even about dispensing expertise. Yes, consultants do need expertise, but that expertise has as much, if not more, to do with process as it does with content.
It’s a myth that consultants must know more than or have achieved the same sorts of goals as their clients. Like great teachers or great coaches, it is more important that a consultant knows how to bring out the very best in their clients. That requires keeping all of the outcomes above in mind and mastering the process of leading your clients to them.
In my own work, I have helped organizations much larger than mine will ever be (by my own choice) and with much loftier goals. I’ve succeeded in the engagements because I have significant experience in the business of education, but more importantly, I have developed skills in critical thinking and analysis, in facilitating the right conversations and asking the right questions, in developing strategy, and in communicating clearly. In truth, it is a skill set I could probably apply successfully in just about any field industry.
Who Can Be a Consultant
The great thing about the consultancy business model is that it works in any niche you want, and more generalized expertise – like the ability to formulate effective business strategy or write compelling marketing copy – can apply across multiple niches.
For example, here’s Aaron, a leading content marketing consultant.
Val Giesler, a leading email marketing consultant, is another excellent example of a successful consultant.
Jon Loomer is a well-known Facebook Ads consultant with numerous high-profile clients.
And just in case you’re thinking you can only become a consultant in a digital marketing or management-related field, here’s an eye-opener for you.
Yes! That’s a potty training consultancy service – a very successful one. (You can bet there is a lot of process involved in this one!)
As I said, you can become a consultant in any niche because people hire consultants to make their job – whatever that is – easier and find a proven path they can follow to achieve their goals faster.
A consultant’s role is usually limited to the strategy part. However, in the case of business consultancy, many consultants also take care of the execution part by employing dedicated teams or partnering with the client’s in-house team.
Consulting is a huge industry worldwide. According to Statista, the market size of the consulting industry was $132 billion at the start of 2021.
And this will only grow in the coming years because there’s still a huge market gap because of which businesses are looking for competent consultants to help them move forward in a complex and fast-changing world.
Keep in mind that there really are no consultant degree requirements or best degree for business consulting. Have a formal degree in business or another relevant area can help build your credibility, but it’s definitely not a requirement. (My highest degrees are in English and comparative literature, neither of which is particularly relevant to my consulting work.)
Also, don’t buy into the myth that you have to be a niche expert to be an effective consultant. You’ll certainly find the path into consulting easier if you have solid background in your industry with practical experience in solving real business problems. And, as a consultant, you should always strive to elevate your domain expertise. But, again, it’s really mastering the process of consulting – the ability to ask the right questions, facilitate the right conversations, effectively diagnose the situation and guide the client to strategically appropriate responses – that matters most.
The 6 Steps to Become a Consultant
Most of what I’ve covered so far relates to what a consultant consults about and the kinds of outcomes you aim to deliver – again, improved capacity, performance, and confidence. You can be a consultant about just about anything. Being a successful one is much more about how you go about it – so let’s get to that
1. Embrace the Right Mindset
Many readers may be tempted gloss over this section as “fluff,” but I urge you not to. If I can point to a single factor that distinguishes the highly successful consultants I’ve meet from their less successful colleagues, it is mindset. By mindset, I mean your willingness to recognize the challenges inherent in launching a consulting business, face them head on, and be willing to do the work necessary to grow and improve substantially over time.
You will not, for example, get very far with a mindset that says “I’m no good at selling” if you want to become a consultant. The reality is that you will need to spend roughly half of your time marketing and selling if you want to build a thriving business. This means doing things like writing articles, speaking, making phone calls, going to meetings – activities that are only indirectly related to actual consulting.
There are two key purposes to these activities. One is to clearly establish your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. The other is to is to answer your client’s biggest question: “What’s in it for me?”
Whether you’re writing an article, recording a video, or appearing in a podcast, always focus on communicating the benefit of your consultancy services and their impact on your customers’ business. Because creating win-win scenarios with your clients is what ethical selling is all about.
I was fortunate in this regard: my background prior to starting a consulting business was primarily as a sales and business development person. It was familiar territory. I was also a good writer and a reasonably good speaker and I put those skills to work as part of building an “on ramp” to consulting. If the whole idea of selling makes you uncomfortable, you are going to need to do some serious work to adjust your mindset before you will be able to launch a consulting business successfully. As a starting resource, I suggest Dan Pink’s excellent book To Sell Is Human.
A willingness to sell, however, is only one aspect of mindset. Another, closely-related aspect, is belief in your own abilities. Many would-be consultants have trouble selling to others because they are unable to sell themselves on the idea that they actually have something valuable to offer. Naturally, this mindset leads to not asking for the sale, under-charging for services, or even delivering services at no charge, all of which are a recipe for disaster.
Very often the cause of this “unworthy” mindset is what psychologists have labeled “impostor syndrome,” which is characterized by an inability to fully appreciate our accomplishments and “a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud.'”
Here are some of its most common signs.
While there is no easy solution to overcoming imposter syndrome, the first step is to acknowledge it. Plus, realize that most of us have imposter syndrome to some extent. We just have to keep it in check, trust in our abilities, and let go of perfectionism.
For more information about imposter syndrome and tips on how to combat, I recommend a brief Harvard Business Review article titled Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a starting point.
One other aspect of mindset I will mention here is what I call the “curse of methodology.” – this may be the opposite of impostor syndrome – i.e., intellectual arrogance – or it may be a crutch – “I’m not worthy, but my methodology is.” Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all methodology, and prospective client usually don’t want to feel shoehorned. Also keep in mind that, to the extent that something can be documented as process/methodology, it becomes extremely hard to maintain as a competitive advantage in today’s world.
2. Create a Focused, Value-Driven Strategy
I can – and probably will – write a book on this one, but for purposes of this post, I’ll be as brief as possible.
Strategy is about clarity.
It is about how you will make decisions among the available alternatives and avoid distractions that sap your resources. When your aim is to become a consultant, it pays to answer the following questions as clearly as you can:
Who will I serve and – this is critical – who makes the buying decision for this group?
Serving small business owners, for example, is quite different from serving HR people at Fortune 500 companies. Ask yourself who you feel truly motivated to serve, who clearly wants or needs what you have to offer, and who will clearly benefit from what you have to offer. (I discuss this process in more detail in Hitting Your Strategic Sweet Spot.)
Narrowing your target in this way gives you a much better chance of aiming correctly and actually hitting the target. As a result of this process you will, for example, know much better which searches to do to research your market, you will have a better idea of the language to use in promoting yourself, know better which events you may want to speak at – the list goes on.
Keep in mind that the people most directly impacted by your work may not be the same people who make the decision to hire you. As a general rule, aim as high up the org chart as you can. If you are focused on executive team building, you need to be talking to the CEO. If you are focused on increasing sales, you need to be talking to the chief revenue officer or senior VP of sales (or the CEO). You get the picture. You don’t really have a prospect until you are talking to someone who has the ability to sign or authorize a check.
What value will I provide to them – i.e., what positive outcomes will I provide?
When you are done, what will be better? The outcomes you aim to create should provide the basis for nearly all messaging about your business. It will also serve as the basis for how you provide value and price your services for what they are really worth.
In my experience, articulating value effectively usually goes beyond the typical advice of emphasizing “benefits.” A better-functioning team, for example, is a benefit, but what is the ultimate value in that? Is it going to help move new products to market much more rapidly, thus accelerating revenue growth and enabling more investment in product innovation? The more specific – and, ideally, quantifiable – you can be, the better.
How will I position myself relative to the alternatives?
In most fields and industries, you can swing a cat and hit multiple consultants. If you want to become a consultant who doesn’t just win RFPs, but who is sought after by name (no RFP required!), you need positioning that stands you out from the crowd. While establishing such positioning may sound like a daunting challenge, it actually flows naturally from the previous two points: a crystal clear understanding of your audience and the valuable outcomes that audience desires.
It is not, in other words, about coming up with a clever name, or plastering your lovely mug all over your Web site with a slogan like “The World’s Best 7-Step Process.” No one cares. As Al Ries and Jack Trout put it in their classic, must-read book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind:
To find a unique position, you must ignore conventional logic. Conventional logic says you find your concept inside yourself or inside the product. Not true. What you must do is look inside the prospect’s mind. You won’t find an “uncola” idea inside a 7-Up can. You find it inside the cola drinker’s head.
So, get inside your prospective customer’s head and find the language and images that will really strike a chord. Keep in mind that coming up with the best positioning and related language may take time. Do the best you can out of the gate, and then listen and adjust as you go along.
It took us years at Tagoras (my consulting firm), for example, to arrive at the simple phrase “Reach. Revenue. Impact.” to help us describe our value to clients and position ourselves as focused on increasing reach, revenue, and impact specifically for organizations in the business of lifelong learning, continuing education, and professional development. This clarity helped us refine our messaging significantly and position ourselves at the higher end of the market.
3. Establish an Effective Web Presence
This one seems like such a no-brainer these days, but I continually encounter consultants who clearly do not know how to leverage the web to their advantage. This is not to say that you have to have a cutting-edge web presence to become a consultant, but you do need to have the fundamentals in place.
Before you begin actively promoting yourself as a consultant, here are some of the things you’ll need to do.
Your website is where your online brand lives, and its quality plays a crucial role in determining whether your prospects perceive you as a credible consultant or just another fake online guru.
According to research, people develop a first impression about others within one-tenth of a second. More importantly, this impression primarily drives their judgment and decisions about that person or brand going forward.
Make sure your website makes a strong first impression and positions you as the perfect consultant for your target customers.
How do you make such a website?
Here are a few things to consider.
Your Website Domain:
What would you think of a consultant if their website address reads like this
I don’t know about you, but most people I know would find it hard to trust a consultant with a free domain name like that.
Your domain is your website’s identity which is why you should always go for a professional premium domain name.
Now, you have a couple of options when choosing a domain name.
If you’re building a personal brand, go for yourname.com or yourname.net. If your name is already taken, see if you can find something for your name’s variation. For example, if I can’t find JeffCobb.com, I’ll go for JCobb.com. (And, in fact, I had to go with jeffthomascobb.com for my personal site, because Jeff Cobb the wrestler had already beat me to jeffcobb.com!)
Most consultants choose this approach because their business is built on their personal credibility.
Jeff Haden’s site is a good example.
Syed Balkhi, the founder of WPBeginner and Awesome Motive, has followed the same approach.
The other approach is to use your consultancy’s brand name for your website domain. SelfPublishingSchool.com, a consultancy program by Chandler Bolt, is an excellent example.
Whichever approach you choose, make sure your domain has the following qualities.
Brandable: Aligned with your main brand name (personal or agency).
Memorable: Easily sticks in the prospect’s mind.
Expandable: Offers you room for business growth.
Spellable: Doesn’t have a complex spelling that might confuse your visitors.
Relevant: Has a clear relationship with your business offer.
Plus, always try to get a .com for your domain but if it’s unavailable, go for .net or .org. But avoid the fancy top-level domains (TLDs) like .agency, or .coach. Consultant, etc., because people are still not used to these domain types and might find it hard to remember them.
As for the price, you can get an unregistered domain for around $15 to $20 per year from any reputable domain or web hosting company like NameCheap, Godaddy, BlueHost, SiteGround, HostGator, etc.
The other thing you need with a domain name is a web hosting account from a reliable and secure company.
Since you’ll be creating your website using WordPress (don’t go for any other CMS please), I’d strongly recommending a company that truly specializes in WordPress and will ensure that your is always up and running and blazing fast. For me, that mean WP Engine – where I host all of my company’s sites.
Yes, there are lower cost options, but this is your business you are talking about. Choosing the right web hosting service is crucial because it largely determines your website’s speed, uptime, and accessibility for users. And all of those factors directly impact your search engine rankings.
With WordPress, you don’t necessarily need to hire expensive designers to build an attractive website.
If you go with WP Engine as your host, you’ll automatically get access to their whole line-up of great-looking and highly optimized Studio Press themes. (Learning Revolution is built on one – and hosted at WP Engine.)
Alternatively, you can easily go to a WordPress theme store like ThemeForest and choose from thousands of high-quality premium themes. (I’ve also used these on various sites.)
Preview different themes in the store and choose the one that best fits your needs. Just make sure that it’s responsive (designed for mobile and desktop) and has positive reviews.
You can find a professional theme for around $40-60.
Once you purchase the theme, head over to Fiverr and hire a WordPress developer to configure it for you.
That’s it, your site’s design is ready.
As for your logo, I recommend using 99Designs, the world’s largest logo marketplace, where you can share your logo brief and get ready to use logo designs from hundreds of designers. (The logos for Learning Revolution as well as for my Leading Learning and Tagoras sites came from 99Designs.)
Website Content and Professional Photographs
If you’re just starting, don’t spend too much time building the perfect site. Instead, just go for a simple 4-page lead generation site with a homepage, services pages, a contact page, and a blog.
If you’re a decent writer, create the content for these pages yourself. For example, you’ll need a headline and accompanying text for your homepage header.
Ramit Sethi’s site is a good example to follow.
If you’ve got the budget, hire a professional copywriter to do the job for you because your site’s copy plays a crucial role in converting visitors into leads and customers.
Secondly, invest in a few professional photographs for your website. Don’t underestimate the importance of your pictures.
People immediately connect with you and trust you when they see your smiling and confident photographs (like Ramit’s site).
What’s the most popular page of a website after its homepage? You guessed it right – it’s the About page.
For consultants like you, the About page is more important than other businesses because your credibility determines whether a client decides to work with you or not.
This is why you should strategically design your About page.
What does that mean?
Instead of giving a boring introduction on why got into the consultancy business and where you graduated from, use the About to tell your visitors what’s in it for them.
According to a study by Nielsen Research, the best-performing About pages are transparent, authentic, and give users the answers they’re looking for.
To be specific, they clearly answer the following questions of a website visitor.
– What problems do you solve.
– What qualifies you to solve those problems.
– How do you solve those problems.
And by answering those questions, the perfect About page converts doubtful readers into convinced leads.
Let’s look at CopyHackers’ About page for inspiration.
Its headline communicates its core value and the next paragraph explains how they help you achieve it, and closes it with a Call To Action (CTA).
This is the header section of the page. The rest of the page has more details about what CopyHackers offer and why they’re different.
Jeff Walker’s About page is an excellent example of storytelling. He starts with his journey but quickly transitions to his core offer, The Product Launch Formula that establishes him as an authority in his niche.
As a consultant, your About page should be about establishing your credibility as an authority on your topic by listing your relevant experience, the unique value you offer, and the kinds of problems you’re most comfortable solving.
Always end your About page with a call to action inviting users to contact you, read an article or download a lead magnet to join your email list.
Using social proof on your site is among the best ways to differentiate yourself from your competitors and immediately position yourself as a credible expert.
What is social proof?
Social proof is anything that demonstrates your customers’, partners’, or any neutral party’s trust in your brand and demonstrates your credibility.
In the context of web design, you’ll mainly use two or three types of social proof.
Nothing builds your credibility faster than an elaborate testimonial from a well-known client.
According to research, 79% of consumers trust online reviews (including testimonials) as much as personal recommendations.
For example, Brian Dean, a well-known SEO consultant, displays a testimonial from Hubspot’s Marketing VP to increase his email sign-ups.
He then follows up with a couple of more testimonials on the same page from other well-known SEO practitioners.
Samar Owais, an email marketing consultant, displays three detailed testimonials from well-known marketers on her site’s homepage.
The truth is that when someone credible speaks highly of your services or product, people take their word. So if you have any past clients or even colleagues saying good things about your work, make sure you display it on your site.
Displaying the logos of your past clients or the publications that have featured you as an expert on your topic is another strong form of social proof.
This is why most consultants, marketers, and agencies use them on their sites.
The screenshot above shows the homepage of ConversionXL, a leading conversion optimization training site.
But you can use such logos on your About page and services pages as well because they always make an impact on your visitors.
Detailed case studies that show exactly how you solved a client’s problem go a long way in converting leads into customers.
Gill Andrews, a renowned conversion expert, has a dedicated case studies page on her site that’s also visible on the homepage.
An effective case study gives readers the before and after view of your past clients and helps them understand exactly what value you offer.
The purpose of content marketing is to demonstrate your expertise to your prospects through high-quality and actionable content.
It is among the most effective ways to build your authority as a credible consultant in your niche.
According to research, 70% of people would rather learn about a company through its content than ads.
Moreover, 82% of consumers feel positive about a brand after reading its content.
In short, content marketing is a great way to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise in your industry.
But it’s a long-term investment that you need to make on the sidelines of your regular marketing activities. It starts paying off after 6-8 months of consistent work.
But when you reach that stage, the results start coming exponentially.
So, how do you start content marketing?
The first step is to find the most common questions of your audience so that you can answer them in your content.
To do that, search for your topic on Google and study the questions in the People Also Ask section of the SERPs.
For example, here’s what I found when I searched for the keyword “how to increase productivity”.
These are the most frequent questions people are asking about productivity in Google Search. They offer great insights if you’re a productivity consultant looking for content ideas.
When you click any question in this list, more questions are added to the list. So basically you can explore hundreds of questions about your topic.
The other proven method for finding content ideas is competitor research.
Analyze your competitors’ blogs to find the topics they most frequently write about. Then use your expertise to create superior content on those topics.
Publish at least 10-20 high-quality articles following this strategy so that you can drive traffic from search engines and route your prospects to your content when they’re looking for answers.
Then make content marketing a regular part of your marketing activities with weekly or bi-weekly articles that address the different questions of your prospects.
This strategy alone can become your biggest lead generation source if you stick to it for 6-12 months.
Those are the main elements of your own website, and focusing on your own site is critical: don’t just rely on popular social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to create your Web presence. The rules of those sites can change at any time, and you simply do not have the level of control with them that you do with your own site.
That said, I do recommend that you choose one social network initially – e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter – to use as a way to help “amplify” your Web presence – e.g., by spreading the word about the content mentioned above, connecting with other experts and influencers, etc. My default choice for this is LinkedIn, simply because it has such a foothold among people who tend to make buying decisions for consulting, but you will need to consider where your buyers are most likely to be.
Over time, you will likely want to become active on other social networks, but resist the temptation to try to be everywhere at once out of the gate. Maintaining a truly effective social media presence requires time and energy. Particularly in the early days, much of this time and energy is better spent in other areas covered here.
Finally, I’ll note that you can start making connections and promoting yourself before you have all of the above in place, but I don’t recommend it. A firmly established Web presence gives you a place to refer the people with whom you have initial conversations. Just as important, going through the process of creating and deploying everything I cover above is extremely valuable for clarifying your strategy and informing how you communicate effectively about your business.
4. Establish an E-mail Capture Process
Repeat after me: a strong e-mail list equals strong options. Out of all the things I wish I had done earlier and better, building a high-quality e-mail subscriber list is number one. I include it in this post because it really does pay to start the process early if you don’t want to just become a consultant, but actually build a thriving, long-term consulting business.
Keep in mind that “high quality” is essential when it comes to building a list that is truly an asset. Do not add people to your list without their explicit permission, always provide relevant content when you send out e-mails, and make sure it is easy for people to unsubscribe if they choose to. With those factors in mind, there are three key elements to incorporating e-mail capture into the launch of your consulting business.
E-mail list software
While there are ways to use Outlook or other e-mail programs to send out mass e-mails, it is really better to go with a specialized e-mail software provider like ActiveCampaign or ConvertKit for managing your e-mail list(s). Processing subscriptions and sending out messages through these platforms can significantly lower your chances of being labeled a “spammer” – which can kill your ability to reach prospects and customer by e-mail – and they also offer good tools for automating your e-mail communications. All of the common platforms provide easy ways to place a sign-up form on your Web site.
Lead magnets/Content upgrades
These days, only a very small percentage of people will fork over their e-mail address just to receive a newsletter from you. To convert Web visitors to subscribers, you have to offer something of value that will be received only once an e-mail address is provided. This may mean access to a white paper, checklist, report, or video featuring content your target audience is likely to find valuable – an approach typically referred to as offering a “lead magnet.”
Similarly, you may offer the chance to go deeper/learn more about whatever topic you cover in a blog post or other freely available piece of content. Again, this may involve offering access to a white paper, checklist, etc. This approach is typically referred to as a “content upgrade.” You will likely need to try a few approaches over time to see what really clicks with your audience, but don’t get bogged down trying to figure out the perfect offer. Chances are you already have content around that you can re-purpose as an offer for attracting subscribers.
With a decent lead magnet, its actually not too difficult to start getting a pretty good flow of people signing up to your list. The problem is that most of them will start tuning out pretty quickly if you don’t provide them with ongoing value. Worse, some of these people will forget that they subscribed to your list in the first place and will end up marking you as “spam” somewhere down the line, which can damage the overall deliverability of your e-mails.
In most cases, you will want to send out something of value to your list at least once a month, and once every week or two is likely to be much more effective in most cases. In any event, before you start collecting e-mail addresses, it is a good idea to create a simple editorial calendar in which you note down a dozen or so items you might send brief e-mails about in the coming weeks and months.
5. Work Your Existing Network
Think of everything above as kindling. At some point, of course, you have to light a fire under that kindling, and the best way to do this is to leverage the network you already have.
A key first step is to reach out to all of your key contacts from any past business experience you have. Generally speaking, these people are going to fall into one or more of the following three camps:
Let these people know that you have become a consultant and clearly communicate the value you provide in that role. Ideally, point them to a specific, relevant piece of content on your site that you feel they will find valuable. (As noted above, this is a key reason to have your Web presence in place before you start prospecting.)
These are people who know and like you and who will likely be willing to refer you to others and others to you. as relevant, ask for a call or ask them for names of people they think would be interested. Make sure they know your Web address, and suggest some specific pieces of content they may find it valuable to share with others.
These are people with solid networks who can help get the word out about you even if they are not necessarily prospects necessary sources for direct referrals. You are looking for people reasonably strong blogs, podcasts, social networks, etc. You will likely already know some of these people. Others you will need to reach out and start relationships with.
At this point, you are aiming for a “money milestone,” to borrow a phrase from the guys over at Internet Business Mastery. You want to land that first paying client as proof of the fact that, yes indeed, you can do this.
6. Use Guest Blogging, Guest Podcasting, and Webinars to Drive Leads
Once you’ve set up your website for capturing emails and put your content marketing strategy in place, you’re all set to grow your business in the long run.
But you also need something to immediately drive results.
This is where I’ve found three strategies most effective. Two are quite similar, so I’ll discuss them together.
Both guest blogging and guest podcasting work the same way.
You identify a high traffic website or podcast that’s popular among your target audience and then publish an article on it or appear on the podcast as a guest.
For example, if you’re a marketing consultant, you can write for sites like Entrepreneur, Forbes, The Next Web, etc. as a guest author.
This would not only establish your credibility as a trusted consultant in your field but also give you exposure to new audiences.
But if you’re new to your industry, you’ll find it hard to land a guest blogging opportunity on a top site because they usually get hundreds of pitches per week.
Your best chance is to target mid-tier sites with growing audiences that aren’t as popular as the top sites.
The competition isn’t as stiff in podcasts.
But to get invited as a podcast guest, you need to have proven results in your niche or at least have some experience in your industry.
Search for the relevant podcasts in your niche on iTunes, Google Podcasts, and even Twitter. Also consider sigining up for a free account at PodBooker. Approach the shows that are most relevant to your expertise.
In your interview, refer to your consultancy services and also ask the host to share your website link in the transcript.
If you manage to land spots in 10-20 relevant podcasts in your niche, you’ll not only create a lot of buzz around your brand but also generate dozens of leads for your business.
These are proven methods that will drive leads for you.
But they require some effort, especially when you’re doing it for the first time.
But with each podcast or guest post, your job will become easier.
The third method I have found extremely useful for driving leads is Webinars. In some ways this can be similar to guest podcasting and guest blogging because there definitely opportunities to appear on other people’s webinars – and get them to share leads with you. I write about this more on my post about building your audience.
What I’ll focus on here is hosting Webinars of your own. To host a Webinar that focuses on a topic that falls within your expertise and is likely to be of interest to potential customers is kind of a no-brainer. You really don’t even need more than a handful of people to attend. You’ll get contact information from the attendees – that is, you’ll generate leads – and you’ll be reasonably confident that these are people who are interested in what you can offer – that it, they will be qualified leads.
Even if you don’t currently have an audience, you can almost always generate some sign-ups by mentioning the Webinar on social media and possibly paying to run ads or “boost” your social media posts about it.
And, of course, a Webinar is what I call a “production event” – you can mine it for content that you can use for content marketing and/or position it as a lead magnet by requiring people to sign up to access a recording.
While it is true that it is getting harder to get people to come to Webinars, I know from my own experience that it is definitely possible – in fact, we even get paid sponsorships for our Webinars – and they are really hard to beat as a way to showcase your expertise, connect on a more personal level with your audience than you usually can with podcasting or blogging, and actually get contact information – which you typically aren’t able to do easily on social media.
And, if you really want to become a consultant:
Get Started – Now!
Of course, I have the benefit now of ten years hindsight to organize my actions into the neat little segments above. I had nowhere near that level of clarity starting out, but the main thing was that I started.
“Consulting” has a way of sounding like something you can get to some day, when your schedule clears up some or when the kids are little older or when you have accumulated a little more experience and knowledge. But the “right” time will never come.
If you are serious about wanting to be the captain of your own ship, about pursuing work that simultaneously helps both you and the people you serve grow tremendously day over day, then now is the time. You’ve got the benefit of my advice above, and with a little search, of many others who have gone down this path before you to launch a consulting business.
So, brace yourself, pursue the areas above with focus and discipline, and look forward to a day soon when you will can say with both confidence and pleasure, “I have become a consultant.”
Bonus: Beyond Consulting
To become a consultant is, of course, only one business model for monetizing your expertise. It is often the best place to start, because the barriers to entry are low. Coaching is another model that can work well initially – so be sure to see How to Start an Online Coaching Business.
Over time, however, a key way to scale your consulting business is to sell online courses, memberships, and other knowledge products that help you reach a larger audience and create passive income. Look around this site for plenty of info about creating and selling online courses, memberships, and more, including:
- How to Make Money Teaching Online
- How to Create and Sell an eCourse
- How to Host a Virtual Conference – 10 Tips for Success
- 5 Reasons You Should Build a Membership Site
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