5 Keys to Building Your Consulting Business

Even after 20 years as a consultant I sometimes need to boost my business. When that happens, I go back to the basics. Remembering these 5 key points helps me find new clients or get more out of the relationships I have.

1. Think like a client
You know you have something that nonprofits need but you’re not getting enough business. Sound familiar? Try thinking like a client. Ask yourself how your dream client would define what she wants and needs. Could you position yourself to fill that need? Or maybe as an alternative to what she’s done in the past? Pay attention to the words organizations use to describe their needs; you may want to use the same words when you describe your services.

Next, think about where your future clients would look for help. Will they see you there? Are you listed in the right places, attending the right events, connected to people with influence? Break out of your routine and seek out new networking and promotional opportunities.

Thinking like a client is a great starting point for building your business.

2. Narrow focus, wide net
A narrow focus makes you a specialist. There are advantages to being unique including becoming known as the expert in your field. When you’re in a large market, like New York, there’s room for specialists. But the narrower the field the wider you have to cast your net.

It’s time for some creative thinking! Do you need to promote your services to a larger geographic area? Or larger organizations? You could reconsider your pricing structure or the types of services you offer. You may want to do more writing and speaking to further your reputation as the expert.

Whatever you decide, deliver a consistent message, be persistent and watch your business grow.

3. Be good at what you do
This may go without saying but here’s a gentle reminder: do your best. Keep up to date in your field, call on other consultants for advice or support and, in general, satisfy the customer. Your work will speak for itself. Leave your clients happy. You need them for future work and as valuable references. Enough said.

4. Start with a contract
A good contract sets the tone for the project. When both sides are crystal clear about their expectations you are set for success. Your agreement should include the scope of work, the client-focused objectives, the consultant-focused deliverables, the timeline and the budget.

Creating a contract forces you to think through the work you will do – and what you won’t do. It’s a work plan and an insurance policy; throughout the project you and/or the client can refer to it to settle differences or confirm choices.

A good contract is a win-win, learn to create a good one and increase your success for every project.

5. Yes to value-add, no to scope creep
What if a client asks for or expects work beyond the limits of your contract?

Over the course of a project you may have many opportunities to add value. When you can do that within the scope of your contract and without feeling “used” then it’s well worthwhile. But a client may ask for something beyond the scope of your contract.

Look for signs of scope creep including: work that has a separate and dedicated focus, tasks that require additional resources, anything involving a different set of stakeholders, sub-projects related to but not dependent on the main project and/or any goal that can be achieved faster as a separate project.

Scope creep is seldom malicious, be prepared to recognize it and state your position clearly. A simple “To serve the organization well I will have to create a new plan and proposal for the additional work” will often get you just what you want, more business!

“How to Build Your Consulting Business” is one of the topics covered in-depth at the Nonprofit Consultants Institute, an annual educational program for new and experienced consultants.

Posted in: Tools for Consultants

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