Distributing self-produced electronic newsletters and orchestrating an impromptu introduction with a potential client in a public place are some of the ways independent consultants can get noticed and possibly grow their businesses, say valuation consultants.
Sole practitioners know how hard it is to build and market the business, because at the same time as they are marketing, they have to actually get some work done, said Marc Bello, director of business valuation and litigation support at Edelstein & Company LLP in Boston. While it is advantageous to have some staff to help with marketing, that is probably not likely for independents, he added. Therefore, consultants who truly are on their own need to know exactly what their capabilities are, so they can use those capabilities to market the consultancy fully, he said.
For example, consultants who like public speakingor like to be in front of clientsshould seek out business groups where presentations on related topics can be made, Bello says. However, for those consultants who are not public speakers, there is behind the scenes work they can do to increase their name recognition, he adds.
When it comes to marketing a consultancy to someone whom an independent consultant has never met, it is important to set objectives and to target potential clients and then work to grab their attention, says Richard Gray, the director of business valuation services of Daszkal Bolton LLP, of Boca Raton, Fla. Because independent consultants cannot just call up potential clients on the phone and hope to arrange meetings, they have to be willing to throw in lunch, he said. However, consultants should not use lunch meetings haphazardly, said Gray, who used lunch meetings to introduce himself immediately after relocating to Boca Raton and starting his practice. In is important to set a strategy for the lunch meetings, he said, adding that the strategy he implemented was to take potential clients to lunch at least four out of five business days per week.
In addition, that is not the only restaurant strategy suggested. Consultants who want to meet a potential client but do not have any way to be introduced might consider meeting a prospect outside of the normal channels such as running into them at an eatery, Gray said. There was a potential client who lived in Boca Raton and who would have coffee at a Starbucks every day, he said. The prospect would get his coffee, sit a table with his computer and work for an hour. So I got into the habit of meeting him every so often in that Starbucks for coffee and to talk, he said. Gray used the discussions to get to know him [the potential client] a little better before making a pitch, he added.
There are other ways to engage clients, and technological advances have provided consultants with plenty of communication methods that can get the message out there, Bello said. The problem is that most clients are so busy they have short memories, he said. Most people remember things for about 10 minutes, and, even with existing clients, once a consultant is done, nine out of 10 times, they [clients] forget you no matter how good you are. Therefore, Bello does not take for granted that a prospect or existing client will remember him, and he continues to initiate contact using the technology available.
Consultants who have the technological capabilities and good information technology staff should consider using electronic newsletters as a way to maintain contact with past, present and potential clients, Gray said. One thing my firm does is we e-mail a newsletter, and it goes out to all of our clients and contacts, he said. The newsletter contains summaries of the various articles in the e-mail newsletter and when a respondent clicks on the articles, their e-mail addresses are sent back to the firm so we know whose looking and whos reading what, he said. I, in turn, will send them an e-mail saying we sent you out this e-mail newsletter and thanking them for taking a look at it, he said. In addition to the thank you, Gray uses the opportunity to introduce himself to new readers, he said. Thats another way to develop contacts, he adds.
There are some cautions that consultants who use the electronic newsletter strategy need to be aware of, Bello said. If a really large file shows up in a potential clients e-mail and the prospect does not know who it is from, newsletter will probably get deleted, he said. Therefore, consultants who use this approach need to stress the name recognition of what it is they do, he said. A way to do that is to include a short blurb on the subject line of the e-mail, he said. When this strategy works and the prospect clicks on the link to an article, youll know you got their attention and theyre interested in what youre doing, he adds.
Because most consultants have areas they are expert insuch as benefits or insurancethey tend to stick with those areas of expertise, Gray said. That is an opportunity for consultants to work with other consultants who specialize in other areas, he said. Forming a partnership with consultants outside your area of expertise allows consultants to widen the potential client base, he said. They get to know and trust one and other, and share ideas, he said. If you can work with another consultant, they might come back to help you, he said. Partnerships increase of possibility that the neighbor down the street could become the best referral source, he added. When that happens, youre not stealing business, youre growing.
Because a consultant never knows where business is going to come from, a willingness to work with others is key, said Bello, who adds that he still gets referrals from a consulting firm he left six years ago. The more people you can talk to, the better, he said, but it is what the clients think of the job a consultant does that will ultimately land more work. A real indicator of how well a consultant is doing is whether, after doing work for a client, the consultant gets a call from that clients competitor. Theres no greater compliment, he said.
J.J. Smith is manager of SHRMs Consultants Focus Area.