When I was a young consultant, a prospect said to me (friendly, it was), “Yeah, yeah, you do strategy, but do you DO anything?” I immediately changed my tag line to “Joey Tamer designs and builds….” so I could promise the result and bury the strategy (but I got paid for it in the detailed agreement). I became results-driven very early on. Later I learned how to establish my value, my client’s trust, the promised results, and the re-assurance of my client.
In many cases with a new prospect, you need to get inside the company or department to understand the extent of your true scope of work. For this you need to conduct a (paid) audit, assessment or needs analysis (pick whichever word fits your industry). In pitching this idea, you need to avoid the skepticism I experienced, and countermand it in the pitch itself.
Now, some industries and prospects think a needs analysis is just the consultant finding more ways to charge for services, or to avoid actually delivering any concrete results. Other companies understand its use perfectly.
To pitch an assessment, however, takes a certain skill to overcome these suspicions. Here are some tactics to include when proposing an assessment:
- Explain that the assessment will reveal the most (cost-) effective approach to solving the challenges you were invited to solve.
- It will define the challenge more clearly, suggest what kinds of employees or contractors would be best to hire on, to create a team to work on the challenges.
- Beyond that, it may indeed restrict your (expensive) role by early off-loading work to experts in the market niches required, so that the client may work with specialists that cost less than you do.
- This approach may cost less money to the client.
- Remember: re-assure the client that you will be there every step of the way, and that you will oversee the project.
- Remember: re-assure the client that you are functioning as a trusted adviser to the quickest and best good of the company.
- Remember: remind the client that you will stay beside him or her as long as requested, but will also plan for your own obsolescence. Promise you will stay on as an adviser (for a reduced but rational fee), as long as you both agree is appropriate.
- Remember: you must both energize your client, and make him or her comfortable and not threatened. This is the success secret many consultants forget (or do not understand).
In all these tactics, you are establishing value, gaining your prospect’s trust, promising results, and offering reassurance. Good luck.
You have been invited to present to a room filled with excellent referral sources, perhaps in one company, or in a networking group. You don’t know them, but you want them to share their clients and contacts with you for new projects.
I often help my clients by drafting these presentations, or reviewing what they offer as a first draft. Defining your value proposition and structuring the presentation to not seem like a sale pitch can require a subtle use of language.
Of course, you must not “pitch.” Everyone hates to be “sold.” You must define a larger problem that you and your referral sources can begin to solve. You must educate your sources to understand your unique value and where it fits in the target markets and threats to success of their client companies. And you must first engage your audience and make them “see” you as a compassionate expert, and to connect with you.
Here are the elements of a successful partnering/referral pitch deck:
- Must engage the audience to like you and your willingness to help their client companies.
- Must define your expertise.
- Must define a larger problem than they (the audience or their clients) can solve themselves (economic shifts, technology changes, etc.)
- Must define a larger problem in general — the failing of companies based on current conditions (all which can be solved by your expertise).
- Must define the impact of the problem if left un-resolved (failed companies, loss of employment, investment and ROI).
- Must educate the audience about the problem and the larger issues mentioned above.
- Must tell stories of threatened companies and the resolution to that threat by the expert (you).
- Must remind them that you care, and why you care, and how you can help.
- Must then offer services which they can research on your site and Linkedin, and also allow them to ask you direct questions.
- Must provide contact information.
- Must leave time to engage in an open conversation.
This approach, for all its structure, must be sincere. If you are only pitching, it will show. If you don’t care about your clients and your referral sources, that will show. So dig deep and find that real part of you that wants to truly engage with your colleagues, and speak from there.
These five rules are effective to keep you focused on results, and to avoid wasting time on efforts that bring no return on your investment of time and effort.
For every project, marketing outreach, or other time-consuming effort on your business plate, no matter how small, make certain you stick to these basic rules.
1. Define the result you want from this effort in a short phrase, and verify that this effort will meet the 5 rules.
- I want this to bring me more prospects.
- I want this to alert my referral network to send me more referrals.
- I want to win this gig.
2. Identify the audience (the specific target market), for example ~
- qualified prospect who has passed my screening criteria
- existing client ready to be upsold to more work
- your referral network
3. Speak only to the specified audience about the result you want.
- Do not address any audience other than the one you have targeted.
- Say one thing well to one audience.
- Brief is better.
4. Craft a message that presents your value to that audience to gain the specified result.
- Do not confuse the outcome with any adjacent messages.
- See #3 above.
5. Ask for the result.
- When you have crafted your single message, addressing your single target audience, and you have presented your value, ask for the result you want. Be specific. Make a direct request for the referral or the sale.
These 5 rules will save you much wasted effort, and focus your outreach, projects or prospecting in the most efficient manner. Be sure you review the 5 rules you have created for each project while you are working on it, to be certain you have not moved off-message or off-target.
This is the task that successful companies and consultants mark as a priority, and most others neglect: defining, testing and refining your ideal client profile.
Your product or service or consultancy is serving a specific market, and that market must be defined. Yes, it may be broad-based (“horizontal” as in “all consumers ages 18-49”) or very narrow (“vertical” as in “doctors in private practice in the top 12 metropolitan areas”), but there is always a market to be defined.
Excellent companies focus on this definition, and continuously test and refine this profile based on their successful penetration and on their failures. Even small one-person consultancies must attend to the definition, and refine it often, especially in light of lost clients that were not well-served.
So, begin with defining your ideal client profile in as much detail as possible. Then test and test again — does your marketing reach those profiled? What is your close-rate and your retention rate? Does the message need to be adapted? How are leads generated? If by referral, then you must define your ideal referral source. If your audience is reached by marketing and advertising, then you must refine your message to fit the profile, or you must segment the profiles into narrower targets so the messaging can be fitted to each.
As you continue to refine your profiles and your outreach to those profiled, you must listen to the feedback you are receiving. If the outreach gets you “non-clients” and prospects that do not close, change the outreach or change the profile. Remember that every lost prospect you pursue is not just wasting your time and effort and expense, it is costing you the lost opportunity to pursue your ideal prospect that will close.
This is not rocket-science. This is discipline. And this discipline is one of the foundations of success.
Pitching your results is the best way to close a new client.
We spend a lot of time working on our pitches to gain new clients. We delineate our services’ features and benefits. We tell our histories and stories of our mission and our passion. As we get more sophisticated, we refine our unique value propositions. We put sizzle in our deck.
But the most effective pitch is the one that speaks directly to the prospect’s interest — “what’s in it for me?” In truth, your prospects do not care about your story or your passion. And they don’t even care how you will get their needs accomplished.
All the prospect cares about is: can you bring your track record of success to meet the required goals?
And the only way to speak to that is to present the results you have achieved in the past, with similar challenges and clients, that will affect the outcome of your proposed work. This means your success stories, your unique way of approaching problems, your experience in bringing in the results desired.
So pitch those first.
Often it is appropriate to offer our books or other collateral for sale when speaking in public. Here are some tips on the best handling of the sales.
Preparation: What to take:
- an assistant (or the venue’s host) who has agreed to handle the selling activity
- lots of business cards
- Books or other saleable items
- Receipt booklet (with carbonless copy) with name of item and dollar amount written in (in advance).
- Small sign (in clear plastic photo frame, 3″ x 5″ or 4″ x 6″ in which is printed in bright red or black letters: “Book <title>: $20 ($28 SRP)” or some such announcement, “Special for tonight (or, for tonight’s audience): Discount: $20”). Note on the sign if you take cash, cash & checks, or cash, checks & credit cards.
- Accept cash (or cash and checks) only, unless you have a credit card set-up.
- Take lots of smaller bills for change. Lots.
- Take a box or closed file folder for the smaller change-bills and for the cash received from purchases, and for the credit card copies and receipt copies.
Set up: At the venue before you speak:
- Set up a table with the retail person/assistant at the back or side of the room.
- Put a stack of books or other collateral on the table, with at least one book standing up and facing out to the audience.
- Place a stack of business cards at the front of the table, or insert one into each book before arranging on the table.
- Place the pricing sign in front, with any notes about discounts.
- Have the receipt book and a pen ready.
- Determine if you will take cash only, or cash and checks, or all of those and credit cards (say so on the sign).
Conducting the sale: before and after your presentation
- Have your assistant handle the retail end of it — the selling, money handling, the receipt writing. You must stay free of this to handle the prospects who want to speak with you.
- Have your host announce the availability of the book, and its discounted price, during the introduction before you begin your presentation. Do not mention the selling or the book yourself, unless you are well-known to the audience members.
- Proceed with your contact with the audience, with your presentation and with the crowd of prospects and fans who want to speak with you after your presentation.
- Do not pay any attention to the selling (as you will have set everything up in advance so as not to distract yourself from your prospects).
While the selling is going on without you, after your presentation, speak with the audience and work with any prospects in the room. Here is a related article on handling these crowds.
There is a delicate line between pitching your expertise and offering your help. There are subtle behaviors in walking that line ~ without giving away too much information (or strategy or resolution) and engaging your prospect with full understanding of your value.
The approach must be: “I’m here to be of service…. to help/ to explore / to see if my expertise can be of any help to you /your dept / your team.”
You must not act like a vendor selling your wares or competing with “bids” on an open Request for Proposal.
You must not need anything (even if you are desperate for paying gigs).
Do not pitch. Again, do not pitch. Instead, offer something of value — a new direction in approaching the prospect’s problem (but not the solution itself), or a success story you once resolved for a similar problem.
The prospect interview (the first, perhaps also the 2nd or 3rd) should be a direct demonstration of your expertise, essentially, a small consulting meeting. The prospect cannot know the value of your services unless he/she experiences the effects of that value. You need to give some stuff away.
Here is that fine line you must learn to navigate. You do not offer the final resolution to the problem, or the strategy itself. But by the questions you ask, and the suggestions you make, and the brief success stories you share, you show your prospect how you think, how you approach the problem, what questions to ask to get to the next steps, and so on. Many of these suggestions may (should) need your further participation to be effective.
Essentially, you must “step back” (from pitching) so that your prospect has enough space to “lean forward” to ask for more from you — more thoughts, more expertise, more co-dependence, more work (under contract).
Successfully walking this line comes with experience. The first step is to realize that you must assume this position when speaking with potential clients, and be aware of this “positioning” at all times.
I admit I have a great aversion to paying for insurance. That said, I have always spent a great deal of my annual expenses for lots of coverage. As I have always been an independent consultant and entrepreneur, I have never had the (phantom) assurance of a larger corporation looking out for my welfare. So, always insisting on self-reliance for my income, I have approached creating protection for myself and my tiny consulting practice against the catastrophic Unknown.
I know, some of you may want to rely on your husband’s or your wife’s income and coverage, or your family’s wealth, but an accident or a crippling disability may last a very long time, well beyond the tolerance of others and their resources. And besides, what if your partner loses his or her job or business or practice? Insurance companies were created to provide exactly this kind of coverage. If we are going to pay them for coverage, then they should provide it.
Long-term care insurance is usually considered insurance that old people get as they confront their mortality. But we must widen our perspective. Long term care is not an issue only for the elderly — we can encounter an accident (car? rock climbing? skiing?) or an unexpected illness that requires extensive care at any age.
Long term care coverage is based on your inability to perform any two of six basic tasks in your own care, such as dressing, bathing, eating, toileting, continence, transferring (getting in and out of a bed or chair), and walking. The payments cover help in your home, or in qualified facilities (assisted living, nursing homes, Alzheimer’s care facilities, etc.). In my long-term care policy, there is a calculation that my total premiums would cover 81 days in a care facility if paid out of pocket (without the insurance).
Lots of variations to choose from, in each kind of policy: get help
Long term care policies last as long as you pay the premiums, which are lower based on your age and health, so earlier coverage is better. Disability insurance replaces a percentage of your established income (the insurance company determines the percentage), and lasts until you are 65. Both kinds of policies have an exclusion period (30-90 days). There are variations among different policies and you can design one (or a combination of both) that fits your conditions and budget with the help of a Certified Financial Planner (I particularly like Scopp & Associates for excellent knowledge and strategy). Take your spouse or life-partner with you for a joint policy for long-term care, which will offer a discount for policies covering you both.
So, yes, I recognize the dread and the avoidance of paying for more insurance. And I also know that these protections are needed, especially as we live longer and healthier lives, as breakthroughs in medicine keep us living beyond 100 (especially you GenXers and Millennials), and as we may well outlive our incomes, our intentions and our supportive communities. The time to plan is now.
Managing your calendar to support the efficiencies of your work life is a learned skill. There are tactics for controlling your time, your calendar, your clients and your work/life balance. You can learn them, adapt them to your own particular preferences, and then you have to apply enough discipline to maintain them.
In working with my clients recently, this topic has risen to prominence again. They feel scattered and interrupted. They waste time in traveling (especially here in L.A., where we are sensitive to long commutes and lost hours in the car).
So, here are some simple tactics you can adapt to your own needs:
- Create standing meetings with your clients at a regular, confirmed day and time into the future. Allow the client culture to dictate how such meeting schedules will be created, but get them committed on all the relevant calendars.
- Respect your own “best-times.” If you are not a morning person, do not be available in the mornings. Notice when you are at your best, and schedule your client contact during those times.
- Cluster your client meetings into whole days devoted to meetings with several of them, so those days are spent in meetings and not expected to be spent on deliverables, prospecting, and other work commitments.
- If travel time is a consideration, schedule your travel times to meetings to avoid rush hour, and leave some buffer time in case the traffic delays you. The stress of sitting in your car worrying that you are holding up your client or a room full of people will certain affect your excellent performance when you arrive. Leave room for the unexpected. This means you need to slow your pace a bit, to leave that time available.
- When booking multiple client meetings into a selected day, leave buffer time between meetings, not just for travel, but (also) so that you can pause after each meeting, make some notes to yourself or deliver some immediate follow up from the just-concluded meeting, and feel complete that you have handled the meeting and required follow up before moving on to the next meeting.
- Re-confirm all meetings the day prior, by noon at the latest. This can be a simple email or text note (“Confirming ….Still o.k. with you?”), or an automated calendar reminder. But get a response. This means you must ask for re-confirmation directly.
- If you generally have significant follow up work after these client meetings, then cluster the client-meeting days with a “work day at your desk” day in between. Otherwise, you will be working in the evenings to do what could be done during the next day-time.
- Design your availability for the kind of time you need and the kind of tasks and work-product you must deliver. Again, you are the one who must design your availability.
- This design will respect the other issues in your work and life: your non-work obligations (health, family, pro-bono work). Block these commitment on the calendar as if they were client meetings.
- Respect your own work time as if you were your own client. Leave long spaces of time to do deep work, client work, prospecting, marketing.
- If a client cancels a meeting with short notice, take control of the schedule: write back the days and times you are available, with no apology (since you did not change the commitment). Do not invade your own time that was sheltered for another client’s deliverable, or a family commitment. Do not waste a “work day at your desk day” to interrupt that open flow of time to travel and meet with a client who changed the plan: offer him other times that fit more closely with your schedule.
- Schedule phone meetings with clients or prospects when you know you will be at your desk. Tell your caller (at the beginning of the phone meeting) how much time you have before you need to end the call or be somewhere else, so everything can get done, and so the agenda can be prioritized.
- Unless the person on the other end of the phone cannot hear that you are in a car (noise, distraction, etc.), do not hold important client meetings, or early prospecting meetings, from an environment that signals the listener that you are “fitting him in.” You owe your clients and prospect more respect (and they will appreciate you for it). And you owe yourself more attention to your own safety.
- If you can, pick the best time for the tedium of unavoidable administration (with your assistant and for those tasks you must do yourself). This is often Friday afternoons, or Monday mornings. Set aside two hours that cannot be interrupted, and settle in to handle the administration that needs to be completed. Otherwise it will nag at you on the weekends (watch that life/work balance!), or you will not be able to find some critical piece of information later in the week.
- Take a few minutes to enjoy the sense of completion that comes with a clean desk and an organized upcoming week.
Finally, try these tactics and adapt them to your own best practices, and then keep to the discipline they offer until they are second nature to you. You will live a longer and happier life, and get more done with less effort.
Lots of us sign up for life insurance, while few of us will pay for disability insurance, even though we are seven times more likely to be disabled for the short- or long-term, than we are to die. As independents, consultants and entrepreneurs, we are at much greater risk of damaging our financial stability than are employees. And, often, employers’ disability policies cover only 50% of your salary. (Thanks to Ken Scopp for these statistics; more on disability and other insurance at his site, Scopp & Associates — highly recommended).
I was reminded of this recently when two friends of mine let me know they needed immediate treatment for different kinds of cancer. One has disability insurance, one does not. Both are independent consultants and looking at long-term treatment that will interrupt their practices and their income.
Nearly 20 years ago, Ken Scopp (a certified financial planner) and I designed a disability policy for my practice, with lots of bells and whistles no longer available in today’s market. Then, 10 years ago, in 2003, we converted part of that policy to another program that covered long-term care. So now I carry both, for the same annual cost. Why? Because disability insurance payments, important as they are, get determined by the insurance company (are you 40% disabled for the type of work you do? 70% and so on), and end when you reach 65. And because, long term care is not just for the elderly, but for anyone who has an injury or disability that will last longer than six months and will need assistance in the home, or in a care facility. Long term care lasts as long as you pay the premium, which gets locked in (in most policies) at the time of purchase, so the younger you begin, the better the deal. (Look for a separate article on long-term care, soon).
So, if you are a significant income-generator for yourself or your family, it is important to protect yourself against the unknown. I am one who believes that any insurance is a necessary evil. My insurance costs are a significant portion of my overall business expenses. Because I maintain a strong cash flow, I treat insurance as protection against catastrophic events, for the most part. But your situation may differ, which is why some strategic help from a financial adviser is useful.
In any case, it is wise to educate yourself on these kinds of protections for your income, especially if you are the one who creates the income and runs the business.