For many consultants, while they may not view themselves as such, they in effect are entrepreneurs. If they have multiple ongoing contracts, they are a consultant and not a contractor. And making that distinction can be an important one to make.
According to David Siteman Garland, the author of Smarter. Faster. Cheaper. and the host of the popular web series The Rise to the Top, the increase of consultants is rather easy to decipher and much easier to succeed at thanks to the Internet: "If the car dealer down the road advertised, then you felt you needed to advertise or be left behind. But now, the barriers to successful marketing have crumbled and the Internet has evolved to be one of the greatest places where you can DIYDS (Do It Your Damn Self). You don't need to be a tech genius or have an advertising degree to hop on the opportunity."
But how do you stand out from the other thousands of consultants out there? It's all about relationships, networking and word-of mouth. In this guide, we'll explore how best to capitalize on those existing traits, why advertising may harm more than help your consulting business, and how the best consultants promote themselves.
How to Promote Your Consulting Business: A Success Story
Joe Favorito is somewhat legendary in the world of sports publicity. Talk to many in the industry, and he's known simply as "Joe Fav" and described as one of the most intelligent, nicest guys you'll ever meet. In his lengthy and impressive career, Favorito has worked for the Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks, United States Tennis Association and the now defunct International Fight League, all on a full-time basis. But when IFL went out of business three years ago, Joe threw himself into the vast world of "full-time consultants," and business has been great ever since.
In those three years, Joe has never sought out a client or business, or spent a dime on marketing or advertising. And his current roles read like a Chinese food menu: sports marketing and publicity blogger, Huffington Post contributor, producer of a sports marketing newsletter with over 20,000 subscribers, instructor at Columbia University, associate producer of the Broadway show Lombardi, author of Sports Publicity and more. That's on top of his consulting business, where he works with big-name clients from Bloomberg LLC, Sports Illustrated, Comic-con, Fantasy Sports Ventures, and on and on and on.
"I don't really like to sleep much anyway," Favorito says. "My entire career, I've always been a connector, bringing people together from different departments within the organization for a bigger goal. The difference now is that I'm using my experience and relationships that I've developed and bringing everyone that I know together for projects that I really believe in. So other than maybe getting 27 different 1099 forms in 2009, it's not really too different for me. I guess the only difference is that when companies hire me, they're getting Joe and not some big company name."
Why has Joe been so successful? It's because people know who he is, they like him, and most importantly, they like his work.
How to Promote Your Consulting Business: Why Networking And Relationships Really Matter as a Consultant
If you ask ten different people to define networking, you'll get ten different answers. But according to The Oxford Dictionary, a network is "a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes."
"The real definition of networking to me is building relationships before you need them," says Diane Darling, an expert on the topic and the founder and CEO of Effective Networking, Inc. based in Boston. "It's difficult because we tend to only do things in life when we need to. But if you're running a marathon, you don't wait until the morning of the race and then just go out to run. On that day of the race, you remember all of the time and hard work you put in ahead of time while training to get to that point. With networking, when you really need a job or new clients, empowering your existing contacts is the key to getting you there."
The key to networking successfully is focusing on quality instead of quantity. Think of it in terms of Twitter followers: it's better to have 200 great people that you follow instead of 1,000 that are average. Technology in 2011 almost all seems to revolve around networking and relationships. By tapping into your existing relationships and networks, you're able to keep tabs not only on what everyone is doing professionally and personally but also to see what opportunities might be out there where your background and skills could fit.
"The rise of social networking platforms has made networking and relationship management considerably easier, but at the same time, has negatively impacted the importance of face-to-face interaction," Favorito says. "In the course of a day, I'm able to see what everyone in my network is doing whenever I want. But to me, the key is really all about time management and not hiding behind email and these networks. That little bit of extra effort and time can make a world of difference."
Favorito maintains a blog, a newsletter, a Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn profile and more. He says that spreading yourself across those networks may seem like a burden at first. But in many ways, it's a simplified (and free) form of advertising. By telling others in your network what you are working on, and in turn commenting and seeing what they are working on, it's much easier to keep track of potential business opportunities.
The beauty of many online social networking sites is their group features. On LinkedIn for example, if you type "consultants" in for a "Groups" search, you'll see 1,879 different groups you can join to meet other consultants, find out about upcoming events in your area and more.
Beyond social networking, it's vital for full-time consultants to spend quality face-to-face time with both current and potential clients. Whether at a conference, cocktail hour, Tweetup, or Linkedin group networking session, you should be prepared to talk about not only what you are working on but what you'd like to do. For example, if you are in the technology industry in New York City, you'd want to attend the NY Tech Meetup, held the first Tuesday of each month. There are events like this all around the country that already exist or that you can organize yourself. To see a full listing, visit www.meetup.com.
How to Promote Your Consulting Business: Why Paying to Advertise & Market Your Consulting Business is Wrong
Like anything, there needs to be competition to drive success. As a consultant, if you're just starting out you may feel the need to advertise your business in newspapers, online or through Google AdWords. But be wary of this approach because some will view this as a cheapening of your brand. And when you're a consultant, you're selling your name and your skills. If you have to spend money to do that, are you really as good as you say you are?
"The easiest way to promote yourself is to do your job really well with the clients that you already have," says Lorin Beller Blake, an entrepreneur, consultant and owner of Big Fish Nation, a San Diego-based development firm designed for female business owners. "We might throw dollars out thinking it's going to be a shortcut. But what we really need is that due diligence, every day repetitiveness and social networking, talking to people on the phone and stuff like that. It almost never has anything to do with investing money in something."
Regardless the type of consulting work you are doing, you are in the customer service business. It's imperative to consider this relatively minor point, but consider the people you work with "customers" and not "clients". A "client" implies that the consultant is superior, as opposed to the term "customer," which suggests that you are beholden. Customer service and relationship management is perhaps the most important aspect of your job as a consultant.
Other than doing your job well, perhaps the best way to advertise your services is to publish original, technical content that can easily be found by others (whether on a blog, website or in a magazine). Much like Favorito writes his blog posts and various articles, keeping your name out there in the public eye across various outlets is only going to add to your experience and allure for potential clients. When prospective customers are investigating a potential consultant, a quick Google search that shows articles and your website lets the customer find out for him or herself that you're qualified rather than relying on you to simply claim that you are. Communicating your message well is a skill you should constantly be improving.
Dig Deeper: How to Deliver Great Customer Service
How to Promote Your Consulting Business: Proven Methods
A lot of consultants put all of their time and energy into becoming an expert in their field. They undergo training and practice, but they don't invest time or energy into learning how to get clients and grow their consulting businesses. Instead of wasting that time, money and effort on advertising, here are a few tips and tricks (by no means comprehensive) for successful promotions that will result in an increase in business and revenue, which is what really matters at the end of the day for all consultants:
• Facebook page: in addition to your personal page, start a business page for your consulting practice (free and easy) and use it to promote what you are working on but also to share information.
• Twitter: create an account and share your own thoughts but also share relevant stories in the field you are calling yourself an expert in.
• Blog: There are a variety of sites you can set up a blog at, but the big five are WordPress, Posterous, Blogger, Tumblr and SquareSpace. The ability to customize the layout and sharing features makes it considerably easier to cross-publish this content.
• LinkedIn: Obviously you should have a profile, but join relevant groups or start a group of your own and organize questions, topics and event in-person meetings.
• Website: It's pretty hard to sell your business in 2011 without a well-designed, working website. Luckily, domain names are cheap on sites like GoDaddy.com and you can use a variety of free web design services to make it look like you really know what you're doing, even if you know little to nothing about HTML.
• Consulting Associations: Depending on the field you are in, you may need a certification to promote yourself as legitimate. Check out the Institute of Management Consultants USA to see what might be required in your field.
• Speak at Events: There is no better way to promote yourself than to get in front of a room full of people (both existing and potential clients) and speak on a topic you are an expert in. You'll add serious credibility and get great audio/video clips that you can post to your website.
These are just some simple tips. Being a successful consultant takes hard work, commitment and in the early days a lack of sleep. But if you do it the right way, you can gain business without ever spending a dime.
Dig Deeper: The New Rules of Branding Your Business Online
LOU DUBOIS is a Philadelphia-based Social Media Editor for NBC Universal's local news affiliate (WCAU-TV). He is an experienced writer, editor and marketer who has worked with and written about Fortune 500 companies and small businesses, focusing on social media, emerging technologies, small business success, entrepreneurship, sports business and corporate policy. Previously he worked for Social Media Today, Sports Illustrated, the Associated Press and SOBeFit Magazine, along with various newspapers.