Monday, January 28, 2008

Marketing a Consulting Business: A Recap of the January TVCNet Meeting

I've had a few days to think about the most recent TVCNet meeting and here is my interpretation of the roundtable discussion we had on marketing a consulting business.

The discussion started with the attendees discussing the challenges they had marketing a consulting business in 2007 and (essentially) what they plan to do in 2008 to overcome those challenges.

The biggest challenges in the past year according to the group:

  • Marketing a niche service. It's difficult to sell a niche product or service and link it to the expectations of the client. Most of the time, the client has difficulty understanding how it may benefit them. One suggestion to overcome this challenge is to develop case studies with a real world example of how your product or service will benefit the client.
  • Being too general with the target market for your product or service. I believe the saying goes, "Master of all, servant to none." Eventually you want to find an ideal target market, but when you are starting out it's OK to not be so targeted with your market. This gives you and opportunity to explore, experiment and find the ideal target market where the need and your passions intersect to create a profitable situation for you and your business
  • Lack of focus in your consulting business. Are you doing what you set out to do? Are you offering products or services just to get business? Consultants can feel challenged marketing their consulting business if they are doing things they originally didn't set out to do. It's better to resist the temptation to go after the quick buck, forgo the product or services that are not in the scope of your business and focus in on the things you like to do best. Follow your passions.
  • Customers who drag you down. We want the business, but when paying customers don't take you up on your offers for your core services and ask you to do things out of scope, what's a consultant to do? Fire those customers. This is related to lack of focus. Refer the customers who take your focus away from the things you like to do best to people or businesses who offer the services they want. It may be painful at first, but it can be liberating!

Some other comments made during the meeting include:

  • Most marketing problems boil down to either wrong product / service or wrong market. It's trial and error and you must be patient when you start out in consulting. Most consultants don't see real success for almost 3 to 4 years after they first open their doors for business.
  • If you want to leverage the media, make their job easier. Feed them ideas for stories or write articles and submit them. One consultant noticed how understaffed the local media was and took advantage of the situation and submitted quality articles for print in a local newspaper. The articles provide added exposure for his business and the field he serves.
  • Use the right channel to reach your target audience. Know what mediums they use and take full advantage of them.

Marketing is a large part of any consulting business. If you are patient and observant, you can effectively promote your business and demonstrate your value to the business community.


Sarah Lewis said...

I found the round table format very effective and enjoyed the discussion.

Due to the sometimes isolated nature of our businesses, it was great just to know that I'm not the only one wrestling a particular issue, and it's especially helpful to hear how others have tackled it.

I also heard several suggestions that took the meeting out of the realm of theory and into the real world, which I always appreciate.

I came away with several specific action steps (some of which were just off-hand remarks that caught my attention) and have started implementing them (for instance, I think it was Johnna who mentioned the idea of asking your customers what they need... I'm now doing that for a book I'm producing).

Looking forward to more of these sessions in the future!

Justin Beller said...

Thanks for the comments Sarah. Any time you can go to a meeting and receive information you can act upon makes it all worthwhile.

Stacy Harshman said...

This was my first time to attend a TVCNet Meeting and I felt it was well worth my time. Not only did I get the opportunity to network with other consultants, I also gleaned valuable information as to how to market my new business. I especially liked the idea of feeding the media with information. I think that can be a valuable alliance and a good way of promoting name recognition.

I hope to attend more sessions in the future.

Stacy Harshman

Peggy Jordan said...

Another thing that came up was the difficulty of writing your own marketing materials, especially the bio and 30-second pitch. That's where enlisting another consultant's services could really pay off -- but sometimes we're the worst when it comes to taking our own medicine. We're stubborn (and okay, cheap) and think we can do everything ourselves.

I'm a case in point: for more than a year I meant to get around to building my own website. Then finally admitted I wasn't getting anywhere and hired Sarah Lewis, and presto! I had a fabulous blogsite that looks and sounds like the real me, and all I have to do is fill in the blanks to keep the content fresh.

Peggy Jordan