One of the biggest issues consultants have is getting new clients. We rush proposals in the fear that someone else will snap up that client we need. The stress of finding new clients keeps us up at night and takes much of the fun out of being your own boss.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. You can be booked for months just like me. All you need is a system.
Yup, I just said you need a system and the first thing I’m going to talk about is not a system. When you're starting out, this first step is actually a leap of faith (or fear). You need to specialize.
If you’re the best at ‘everything’ then really you’re not much good for anything and no one is going to know what to come to you for or what type of clients to refer to you. Given the choice of you who can do anything or a consultant who specializes in the work a prospect needs, most of the time the prospect is going to choose the specialist.
Start the work of specializing today. Look over your last year of work and think about what projects were the most fun. Where did you have the most impact on a client’s business? What type of project was that?
Now start the process of telling people you do that. Then tell them again and again and tell them another time. That’s how you’re going to get leads in the door. Now let's talk about converting them to paying customers.
For most of your prospects the first point of contact is going to be an email they send to you. They come in via a referral or have found your site and want to talk to you about their needs.
This is where many consultants send some haphazard email to a prospect that all but drips of desperation to land any work just so the bills get paid. While you may indeed be desperate -- you don’t currently have work and you need this job -- you need to start the relationship off better than that.
The best thing you can do is to write a standard email and just use it every time for every inquiry. I wrote a whole series on sending good email and I’ve even got a book on sending Effective Client Email so go grab some of that content and start sending the same email to everyone.
Using the same standard email means that you can test what works and what doesn’t. I store all my email templates in TextExpander which makes it super easy to get the text into my email client. It really doesn’t matter what you use to store them as long as it’s easy and you use it to save you time when sending your email.
Could you write this email out of your head every time? Of course you could, but there are two problems with that. First off you have much better things to do with your time than to type out the same bunch of questions. Second, you’re going to forget a question at some point and then you’re going to have to send a second email to ask it. That’s another waste of time for you and for your prospect and it makes you look unprofessional.
Once you get some good answers to your questions (and yes you should require the questions to be answered) it’s time to get on the phone with the prospect. No it’s not time to send them a proposal even if they ask. It’s time to make sure you’re a good fit and to make sure that you both are on the same page about the project and the desired outcomes and deliverables. By the end of the 20-minute call you should have the deliverables, outcomes, metrics, and values for the project defined.
The main goal of the call is to build trust. You want to make sure that you trust the client is telling you the truth about the needs of the project and the value it brings to their organization. They need to develop trust that you’re telling them good information about their needs. A solid, well-priced project is all about trust so if you don’t have it then expect the project to go sour.
After the first call you may or may not be ready to send a proposal. You may need another call to talk about the project or you may need to do a discovery phase to really dig into what’s needed to fulfill the client's goals for the project.
I never do more than two 20- to 30-minute calls with a prospect without getting paid. More than that, you need to consider adding a discovery or planning phase to the project. That planning (or analysis of their needs and the possible solutions) is one of the most valuable assets you bring to the table and you need charge for that value.
If you’re ready for a proposal after those two calls you need to remember that a proposal is not a 20-page document including bios of your company and its history. A proposal is a 2- to 3-page sales letter to your client. It’s all about them and their problems and the solutions you offer.
Start with a description of their problem and use the words they used during your call. Then tell them about how awesome their business will be once the problems are solved. What does success look like? Next you show them the options for you to solve the problem and how much each option costs. Yes, always do three options. Now tell them the timeline and what each of you is responsible for.
That’s all you need to do if you’ve taken your time building trust before you send a proposal. If you’re writing multi-page proposals then you’re wasting your time and decreasing your win rate.
If you want to know more about Writing Proposals that Win Work check out the book I just released.
So you’ve taken your time getting to the proposal and won the work. Then you’ve delivered on it well. Good job -- but, the relationship isn’t done, so don’t just let your client walk away never to hear from you again.
Like I said above, just because the project is launched doesn’t mean that your relationship with the client is done. In fact, now is the time to double down on the client so that when they have more work they come right to you first. This second time they don’t need to do a bunch of vetting of you or building trust. You’ve done that for the first project then reinforced it when you launched the project well.
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This client that you want to work with needs to go into your CRM so you can follow up with them. I use Contactually but when you’re just getting started and your list is small use your task manager of choice.
For clients I’ve worked with before I follow up around once a quarter. All you need to do is send a simple email asking how business is going and add in a personal question regarding something you learned about them during the project. This is not a hard sell on your services, it’s just a quick email to be friendly and since almost no other consultant they’ve ever worked with has done this they’ll be impressed -- plus they’ll respond and just build a bit more trust in the relationship.
At least once a quarter I email a previous client like this and they either have more work right now or have a solid lead that they’ve been meaning to tell me about. A simple follow-up system built in Contactually has earned me many thousands of dollars a year in new work.
But previous great clients aren’t the only people I put in Contactually. I also put in any leads I think are qualified and I’d like to work with. This may be an eCommerce project where the lead had a fire just after we started talking and put the project on hold while they sorted out insurance, or it may be a lead that had legal stuff to wrangle before they could move forward with the project.
The first day I used Contactually it earned my $15K in a solid lead I had simply forgotten about. They had been waiting until budget renewal came around. Sending them one email because Contactually reminded me about them got a ‘yes’ and a deposit within a day.
If you don’t have a CRM then take a look at Contactually. I love it and it’s earned its cost many times over.
That’s it for my system to turn leads into clients. First, I’ve specialized so I get leads that see me as an expert in my field not just one of many possible people that could do the work. Second I’ve refined my emails over years and always ask the same questions. I start my prospect qualification process with my emails. Third, I take my time with my proposals building trust then writing short, to-the-point sales letter proposals. Fourth, I follow up, and follow up, and follow up because no one else does that and it brings in work.
If you don’t have a system then start with item one today. Figure out your specialty and start telling people about it. If you’re having trouble figuring that out get in touch I’d love to help.