In 1980, my Uncle Neil dove into a search for new solutions to the two most pressing problems facing many entrepreneurs: how do I get more customers, and how do I camouflage my rapidly receding hair line? The extraordinary, new product he adopted didn’t do much to hide his shiny pate, but it did invigorate sales at his retail store. Thirty-plus years later, you can use the same device to lift your consulting practice to a higher level of performance.
What was this amazing new tool? The spreadsheet.1 Uncle Neil, an early adopter of the personal computer, picked up a new program called VisiCalc and used it to start tracking everything from inventory to customer visits to sales. Information that was previously impossible or impracticable to obtain was suddenly at his fingertips. With information came enormous power. Power to understand his business. Power to see patterns. Power to easily track the results when he changed his business processes and habits.
Most independent consultants are lackadaisical (at best) about tracking. Yet, a simple spreadsheet (or an even simpler tool which I’ll mention in a moment) will bestow the power to significantly improve your fortunes. I recommend you regularly tally the following data:
- Size of Your Core Network – Your core consists of contacts who can steer business your way, and with whom you have a good relationship. If this number isn’t increasing, then your consultancy will careen off a revenue cliff at some point. The remedy for anemic, core growth is asking for referrals and using visibility-building approaches to become more connected.
- Prospect Outreach – How many prospective clients do you reach out to each week? A steady stream of high-quality outreach fills the pipeline. Easy as that. High-quality means telephone or in-person (not email) to a warm prospect. Not cold calls and not a mass email.
- One-on-One Conversations – Reaching out is one thing, but what if nobody calls you back? One-on-one conversations are the primordial soup of consulting projects. By tracking your conversion from outreach to conversations, you can judge the effectiveness and clarity of your outgoing messaging.
- Interest in Specific Projects – While most outreach conversations further the relationship, a subset end up with the prospect inquiring about whether you could help achieve a specific, concrete goal. For many consultants, converting from relationships to opportunities, which I call The Turn is challenging. How challenging is it for you? You’ll only know if you track the numbers.
- Context Discussions with Decision Makers – In some mythological world, every conversation about a specific project opportunity results in a signed gig. In the real world, priorities change and contacts aren’t always the decision maker. Therefore, keep tabs on how often interest turns into a Context Discussion with the person who can actually sign a contract with you.
- Projects Closed – Ultimately, of course, you want to track how many consulting assignments you win. Most consultants vastly overestimate their close rates. If Context Discussions aren’t turning into lucrative engagements then something is breaking down along the way: you’re either not talking to the right people, or not talking about the right problem, or not presenting your solution in clear and compelling terms.
The average, independent consultant is managing the practice on intuition and assumptions. Successful, wealthy consultants are tracking basic metrics—an easy task that relies on discipline, not brainpower.
Today, it’s even easier than in the Visicalc era of Uncle Neil to know how you’re performing. One of my favorite tools is an application called Pipedrive.com. Once you set up the pipeline correctly and apply the right filters, you don’t even need a spreadsheet. Merely click-and-drag your opportunities from column to column. That’s it. If you can click-and-drag, the built-in diagnostics in Pipedrive will deliver the power to transform your practice.
What data do you track about your business, and how have you used it to win more projects? I’d like to know – post in the comments section.
Text and images are © 2018 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.