Every strong consulting practice maintains a strong pipeline of prospects so that new work is always pending and closing. As this new work layers on top of your existing client work, you can project your revenues, profit margins and work schedules into the future. You can assess how much more marketing is required to fill the pipeline, and how much closing you need to do with the prospects that are pending.
Deals close when the client is ready to close, not when your schedule allows, or when you need the revenue. Often too much work threatens to overwhelm your ability to fulfill it. This seeming lack of control can worry you, either from too little pending work or from too much.
But worry is of no help, and discipline is useful here. A few recommendations:
- Control & manage your pipeline. This means you should establish some form of tracking “who/ what/ when/ last contact/ next action,” and refer to this tracking document regularly. Many of my clients use an Excel spreadsheet, others use an Intranet established just for the two of us, and others track on their calendars. It doesn’t matter how you maintain it — it matters that is is always up-to-date, and that you reference it every day to make certain you are managing the tasks required to close the prospects.
- Build templates to ease each step. Be sure to create templates that cover many of your responses to your prospects, and the materials your share with them –particularly standard deal memos, and proposals or contracts you write for them, which can be modified for each new situation. One of my clients spent 4 hours on each proposal before he began working with me: when I showed him what he needed to write to get the work, and helped build his templates, he could send a proposal in less than 30 minutes (sometimes in 15 minutes). Over time you should build templates for each of your expert specialties.
- Maintain the discipline of checking in, updating and responding to the action items on your pipeline every day. This discipline can challenge you, especially when you are busy with current client work, but it must be done. Failing to maintain your efforts to close new work is the downfall of many consultants: those who do not market and close new work while the current work is in hand lose their profit margins (for the year or longer) and often negotiate badly when they are out of work and needing the next gig. Don’t let this be you. I find this is the most common error of consultants with mediocre or failing practices.
- Do not worry that too much work will come in all at once. In the 25 years of my successful practice, I have only once been booked at 110% billable time. And I got through it. What happens when too much work is pending, is that the schedules you do not control take care of the threat for you. The prospect is not ready to begin when scheduled; one more budget review is delaying the project; a re-organization threatens the entire project until new management can get on board; the urgency expressed turns out to be panic that is not necessary to the real time-frame for delivery. Be available, but let the client’s needs run their course.
- Take control of the time-frame for starting. And, you can control (or delay) your start date by carefully setting your proposed start-date at a certain number of days or weeks following signature on the contract and receipt of the initial up-front payment. This way, you begin to control the calendar once the deal is actually real.
Working your private and referral network to gain access to new prospects, maintaining regular outreach in public speaking and publishing, and then managing your prospect pipeline will create a flow of work that becomes continuous. This steady flow of work is the beginning of real success in your practice.