A great way to de-risk your consulting journey is to lock in steady, repeat customers right at the beginning of your journey. But how do you win such customers?
We’re very excited about the next post in the ‘Key Considerations for Independent Insight Consultants’ series. Because it’s about the element that kick-starts and anchors your journey as a micro entrepreneur: the treasured repeat client. What’s that about? And how do we make it a reality?
Ask yourself: Is there a potential customer who believes in you?
A great way to de-risk your consulting journey is to lock in one steady, repeat customer right at the beginning of your journey. Ideally, this is a past customer who truly values your expertise. Over time, they have become like a friend. Many consultants we know have begun with one such customer. They are already predisposed to your strengths and working style. They give you the freedom to be creative and take risks. And you enjoy a good rapport. For example, they may allow you to invest time in learning an allied, cutting-edge skill or even to take up a creative project with long-term benefits. So, how do you win such a customer? The answer lies in one of our earlier considerations!
1: The unvarying power of expertise
If you have developed expertise in a niche insight-related area, you are likely to find it easier to locate such a customer. Chances are you already have customers like this who believe in you. They should be agencies or large companies who have steady requirements in your area of expertise. If your area of expertise also needs continuous work, like a Customer Experience Program, then that’s even better. It guarantees a steady stream of work, on which you can build your consulting business.
One way to identify if you have valuable expertise is your ability to charge a fee that’s not tied to a ‘per unit charge’. A per unit charge is typical of commodities. For example, if a client asks you for a ‘per PowerPoint slide rate’, the project is very unlikely to require valuable or rare-to-find expertise. On the other hand, if you are handling a highly impactful project like modelling of data using a cutting-edge technique, it is highly likely that you would be able to charge a fixed fee which is de-linked from a per unit fee. In such cases, you are able to charge for the unique expertise, talents and impact that you create for your client. What is the pathway to hitting this zone?
It requires identifying and nurturing clients whose projects need both high expertise and efficiency. It is this combined effect that creates the magic and adds the multiplier effect. The following chart illustrates how to break it down:
Having expertise alone is not a guarantee to getting repeat customers. Your expertise needs to be recognized by a paying customer, which in turn means that it needs to be impactful! Our experience tells us that you need to have at least one such client in the bag to ease your transition to independent consulting. This brings us to our next point.
2: The power of networking
If you’ve begun the consulting journey, you may be already aware of the necessity of networking. Perhaps it’s something you’re good at. Perhaps it’s something you are averse to. Conscious networking with potential users of insights services in your niche area of expertise is highly recommended right from the start of your career. It is also best done 3 to 5 years before you embark on your career in independent consulting. That way you would have created deep relationships that you can leverage when you begin. Moreover, if you’ve been able to prove your expertise with a few such customers through impactful outcome-driven projects in the past, word can spread quite fast! For those of you worrying about how to network, we can explore that in another post.
Let’s say you have a network. The next crucial step in becoming an independent consultant is to step up and ask for what you want.
3: Ask for what you want sincerely and unapologetically
We may think asking for work makes us appear vulnerable or hampered. However, throughout entrepreneurial history, the most iconic leaders have boldly and passionately made a case for what they want – from prospects, friends, and investors. You can ask customers you have served in the past if they are willing to support you once you go independent. It would be prudent to engage your current employer in this conversation. For example, would your current employer be willing to become your first customer? Trust us, if you have valuable expertise, they will not want to lose you and it could be a great way to redefine and reenergize the working relationship. Another prudent step would be to consider a ‘cooling off’ period of a year or so before taking up work from clients of your previous employer. That way, you can avoid slipping back into the demands and pitfalls of the very role you were trying to steer clear of and reinvent your positioning and attitude.
Finally, expertise is of no use if it does not create an impact and delight your client.
4: Go beyond ‘excellence’ and WOW your client
Clients leverage consultants who solve their needs. But clients treasure consultants who go beyond the brief and give them unanticipated results. Those are the consultants they come back to every single time and trust and recommend to their peers. That’s the place you want to occupy. Here’s a hard truth: that special place will not come from just doing what is expected. You need to go beyond expectations by having an offering that is truly thoughtful and impactful.
Your ability to deliver unique outcomes on challenging insight projects using your expertise is the most natural and sustainable way to ‘wow’ clients. However, that is not the only one. Several independent consultants differentiate themselves primarily on speed of execution, especially when competing against larger firms which are bogged down by systems and procedures.
It is usually challenging to assess customer delight as a micro-entrepreneur. You may not be able to put in systems that allow customers to rate your work. Having honest, self-critical conversations with customers who value your work is a great start! At InsightGig, we are developing a simple 5-star rating system followed by a qualitative reason that enables clients and independent consultants to rate each other.
You would also need to consciously follow up on the decisions that were taken based on your work and look for opportunities to create case studies with your clients.
The big insight here is you are competing often not with others, but with your own past versions. So to create impact and delight clients, keep anatomizing past performance, look for gaps, and then seek to close them.
Of course, ultimately though, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If your customers keep coming back to you for more, that’s a good sign!
5: The chain reaction of referrals
Depending on one customer is risky! Over time, referrals from delighted client(s) should bring in more work, to the point that you could choose what to accept – the sought-after dream of every consultant. In fact, in a recent poll conducted on LinkedIn, the ability to choose the right project for which they have deep expertise was the main reason for 23% of insight professionals to go independent.
How can you trigger referrals? Of course, the best way is to create high impact with your client. But a more concerted effort would involve developing and sharing your client case study online and with your other prospects. Also, get them to give you an endorsement on LinkedIn. That gets noticed by their peers who in turn will reach out to you. So, unlocking more business involves not just doing ‘wow’ work but also actively promoting yourself online. More on that in a separate post!
At InsightGig, we’re focused on developing a deep vertical-focused platform that can ease the journey of becoming a consultant.
We know that it is not easy reaching out to clients all over the world, marketing your specific skills. Which is why we bring them together on one platform for you. For clients, InsightGig provides a single platform to access passionate, experienced independent consultants with the right expertise in every insight niche!