The lifeblood of a consulting business is a steady stream of clients. Run out of clients and you've run out of business. But where do the clients come from? How many should you have? Are long-term projects better than short-term projects? The answer: it depends.
The art of consulting requires flexibility and diversification. Be open to jobs of any length, from one day to many months. Generally I find that anything less than a day is not worth doing, because of the overhead of agreements and paperwork. However, I am perfectly happy with long-term projects. Consider taking any type of work as long as it is related to your general field. You consider yourself a technical consultant and a client asks you for a market analysis? Do it! Never done it before? Figure it out. The broader your skills and experience, the easier it is to find new work.
While flexibility is important, diversification is crucial. Diversify your client base. Don't become overly dependent on any one client. Diversify the type of projects you work on, such as research, analysis, training, design, and business development.
Most important, diversify your methods of attracting clients. Attend conferences, moderate panel discussions, join industry associations, and attend their meetings. Get yourself listed in directories, write articles for trade publications, index your Webpage with a long list of industry-related keywords to all the major search engines, and keep meeting and talking with people in the industry.
To generate leads, learn who the other consultants are in your field, develop relationships with them, and agree to trade leads when an opportunity comes up that's better suited for the other person or when one of you is too busy.
Spend as much time as possible on the premises of present clients to meet new people and to discover what other projects may need doing. Be bold and be proactive. Learn what problems a company may be facing and then propose solutions. Nobody asked you? It doesn't matter. I have developed some of my best client relationships by making suggestions, getting initial feedback, and following up with a detailed proposal. Managers are faced with problems all day. They find it refreshing when somebody offers a solution.
Since your best source of work is repeat business, do everything to satisfy your existing clients. If you underestimate the time needed for a project, don't deliver an inferior product, but absorb the cost as an investment in your relationship and learn from your mistake. If your clients perceive you as effective, dependable, and trustworthy, they will hire you again, sooner or later. And if you've done a good job, you can bet they will mention your name to other companies. Ask your hiring managers for ideas of who else might use your services. While you're doing that, ask for feedback on your work so that you can continually improve.
Finally, be patient. Some jobs come through immediately. For others I have waited a year between the initial contact and the job itself. So keep prospecting, keep increasing your exposure, keep proposing solutions, keep planting seeds. Before long the jobs will come.
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