Maintain a strong network of referrals — avoid erratic work flow.
Most consulting gigs come through someone telling someone else about you and your expertise. This talking about you constitutes a “warm” introduction and becomes a referred prospect. Without a strong network of the appropriate people who know potential prospects that meet your ideal client profile, your work is likely to be erratic. An erratic work flow with long periods of little or no revenue is the killer of your profit margins and your ability to create wealth.
Find the appropriate referral sources: a 5-point profile.
You may know lots of people in your industry, but most of them are not referral sources — they are the source of “buzz.” Buzz is good general marketing, but buzz is simply a supporting factor in your attracting and closing new clients.
The appropriate referral source is most likely
- your peer who works in an adjacent part of your market space (or better still, your market niche),
- providing other services (or products)
- to a similar client base. It helps if these colleagues are
- senior or on par with your expertise, and that they
- function as trusted advisers. Then they can recommend you to their clients.
So, look for your referral sources among those who fit this 5-point profile.
Select and assess your networking groups and private referral sources.
Some consultants join networking groups that gather specifically to learn about the other members’ expertise (and be understood in return), and to exchange referrals. Other groups are less specific in their expectations for referrals, but allow you to become well-known by a dozen or more of your peers. Generally, a colleague who is a member must introduce you in to such groups.
When selecting such groups to join, ask your colleague to report on the kind of members you will be meeting, and if they meet your profile. Visit various groups a couple of times without committing. Take care to see if the members meet the 5-point profile. Remember that it can take a year or more to know if such a group will be of use to you.
At the end of the first year (or each year), review how many referrals the group provided, and how many of those referrals fit your ideal client profile, and how many you were able to close to become your clients. Also, of those who became clients, what quality of client came from those referral sources — in terms of length and amount of contract, high-maintenance, margin, and retainer-based or repeat business.
Beyond established groups, of course, is your own collection of colleagues who understanding your work, including (most importantly) your satisfied current and former clients. You must stay in touch with this group through regular contact by phone, email or other contact points. You should manage this group and your connection to it as part of your marketing and prospecting outreach. Use whatever tools (databases, newsletters, “trinkets” or other sharing, phone calls or coffee meetings) are most suitable to your practice.
Make it easy for others to refer you.
Beyond knowing how to “work the room” with referral sources (as you do with prospects), you must also do your part to stay “top of mind” with your referral network. This means mastering your unique value proposition into a memorable soundbite, and having two or three very short examples of your successes to share with those who will refer you. These materials must include a word or two (no more) defining your target clients. Defining your own soundbites is perhaps the most difficult of your marketing challenges, but it can be done. The secret is to simplify.
Establish an ongoing discipline.
Like most outreach, these tactics require an ongoing discipline of refining your value proposition and soundbite, managing your outreach to your private and group networks, and continuing to study and refine the profiles of your target referral sources, and your ideal client profile. This discipline is one of the key characteristics of maintaining your successful consulting practice.