Are you one of the great independent consultants out there? You have lots of expertise in your area of business. You are waiting for the contracts to roll in, but they don’t. Or, you start off with a flurry of work, and it quickly dries up. What’s going wrong?
Here are 15 main reasons why independent consultants fail. The fails fall broadly into three main categories: business set-up, client communications, and the consultant’s own behaviors.
There is a lot of competition out there. Any new consultant, and longstanding ones for that matter, needs to stand out from the crowd. When a prospect or client hear the consultant’s name, it should evoke positive thoughts of wanting to work with only that person. Too many independent consultants rely on their expertise speaking for itself, and forget they need a clear visual identity in their advertising. They need to have hard copy materials that include company name, logo, and branding. It is important to get clients to associate that identity with the expertise, and then they’ll keep coming back.
Potential clients needing independent consultants will, more often than not, do an internet search. Add to that, when a consultant is cold-calling, it is incredibly useful to point potential clients towards a web page. Make that web page a lead magnet – well-designed and informative – and it will help hook clients in
For an independent consultant, charging by the hour is immediate death to their business. A solo consultant should only charge on value and only deal with buyers who can write that big check. For a client, especially when working with a consultant for the first time, charging by the hour is off-putting, because they cannot tell what the final costs will be and clients may think the consultant dragging out the process to bill more hours. Working out an overall price per job is much more attractive to clients.
With value-based pricing, the faster a consultant solves someone’s problem, the more valuable that person is. If they fix one problem a day, everyone is happy.
Assuming “one size fits all” is a common mistake. Each client is different, and that means they have different working methods and require varied solutions for their projects. Independent consultants must learn to ask what the client wants, and discover what they need. This is why the consultant that gets paid the big bucks.
Many inexperienced independent consultants focus their business around what works for them – charging by the hour and cookie-cutter solutions are just two examples. All too often, consultants forget about client needs and structures. The most successful consultants always do their research, put themselves in the client’s shoes, and aim for results. They are there to solve the clients’ problems and must allow clients to define what solving the solution is to them instead of the consultant defining how the project will be successful.
Independent consultants sometimes fail because they expect their business expertise to speak for itself. They forget that they need to build relationships with clients if they are going to attract new or repeat business, especially in a crowded market.
When an employee is doing a job, their employer knows what they are working on. With a self-employed consultant, the company is reliant on that consultant regularly reporting on progress. It is a mistake to assume the client will be happy to let you get on with it, and wait until the end for a report.
A consultant is expected to be a good communicator, period. Communicating poorly is as bad as not communicating at all. Consultants keen to communicate sometimes fall into the trap of not targeting their reports effectively. Communication therefore comes across as haphazard, and does not tell the client what they need to know. The best consultants agree what needs communicating, and when, with the client at the start of the project.
It can be very hard to get past “gatekeepers”: the people in a business whose job it is to screen calls. There are two ways to improve this: First, a consultant must attract prospects to go to them, mean they never have to deal with gatekeepers. A successful consultant does this by getting referrals, writing books and articles, speaking, etc. Second, if a consultant must deal with gatekeepers, they should learn the communication skills required to convince the gatekeeper that it is worth their boss’s while speaking to them.
It is very easy for a consultant to fall into the trap of launching straight with what they can offer. The client, however, already knows what’s on offer – that’s why they approached the consultant in the first place. They won’t be impressed if the consultant spends very little time listening, without tailoring their response accordingly.
A consultant might be working for a client, but is not an employee. The consultant provides a service that the company is buying. The client does not want to know that the consultant needs a holiday, or only works 9 till 5. Consultants need to structure their offer around their own circumstances from the start, and then deliver.
It doesn’t matter what their age, gender, or culture is, most consultants do not see themselves as their clients’ peers, but as subordinates. They’re submissive and they come to the job hat in hand. If a consultant wants to make six figures or more, they need to alter their mindset.
Many consultants fail because they have low self-esteem and not enough confidence in the value they bring to the table. So, they do not push themselves forward enough, or give up too easily with marketing, networking, and selling strategies. That means prospective clients do not notice them in the middle of the crowd and do not have tolerance for self-esteem issues.
Promoting thyself is hard, even for a consultant with plenty of self-esteem. Networking strikes fear into many a heart. It is, however, one of the best ways for a consultant to pick up business, including from fellow consultants, who might be looking to sub-contract or have more work offers than they can handle. A common mistake among inexperienced consultants is therefore to miss out on business lunches and other networking events. They assume it is a waste of valuable business time, whereas the opposite is in fact true.
Even the most successful consultants get cold-calling rejections, or have problem clients who like to find fault or complain about poor performance. One of the most important business skills for a consultant is therefore to learn to deal with the hiccups with a stiff upper lip, and move on without taking it personally. This does not mean that clients should ever get away with abusing a consultant though.
Consulting could be very lucrative career, but does involve a different mindset than other careers. Not falling into any of these common mistakes will be a good start for a new independent consultant in making a success of their business.
Are you a practicing independent consultant? Which of the above do you shine in and which do you need to improve on the most?
I welcome your comments.
Mirna Bard has been a business development and digital strategy consultant for 10+ years to top brands as well as small businesses all over the globe. An entrepreneur and educator at heart, she launched Consult to Profit™ to teach aspiring consultants how to launch profitable and scalable consulting businesses, saving them time, money, and frustration in trying to figure it out themselves.