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How to Attract Consulting Clients, Even if You Abhor the Limelight

“I just want to do the work. I don’t like marketing myself or selling.”

That’s a common sentiment among the leaders of very small consulting firms. It also pervades the “next generation” at almost every consulting firm trying to expand its leadership ranks.

Since leading a consulting firm generally requires you to excel in business development, visibility-aversion is a real problem.

Some consultants steadfastly do not like calling attention to themselves.

They resist every strategy designed to help their visibility efforts. Encouraging, supporting, inspiring, tracking, rewarding, cajoling, modeling, automating, templating, chocolate coating… all create as long-lasting an impact as a thumbprint on a sponge.

This could help.

Give marketing-resistant consultants exactly the activity they desire: project work. A very specific project, though: Project Helpful.

Project Helpful

Your Client

Your client on Project Helpful is a particularly large, scattered team. They’re not always in perfect alignment about their needs, and they’re terrible communicators, but they’re hungry for answers, ideas, and the good consulting work your firm provides.

Your Responsibilities

The work of Project Helpful is almost exactly the same as most of your consulting firm’s engagements.

However, Project Helfpul’s client is less interested in the typical outputs and a lot more interested in having you explain your approaches, outline the benefits, cover the nuances, and give answers to questions they ask. 

Because your client is scattered all over the place, they find it valuable if you write up your thoughts occasionally, record quick video or audio files, run some online meetings, and join other’s meetings where they could ask you questions.

Those activities are definitely not creating articles, podcasts, or webinars, or appearing on podcasts. Nope. Don’t worry, you’re just producing project deliverables, not marketing your consulting firm. (Wink, wink.)*

Also, since your client wants you to continue learning and improving the outcomes you produce for them, they expect you to meet and talk with people whose perspective might be enlightening. (Again, that’s definitely not just expanding your network. Nope. It’s part of a project.)

I recommend you ask someone other than the marketing-resistant consultant to map out Project Helpful. It needs timelines, work sessions, output requirements and clear accountabilities. It may also require additional resources, support from the team or snacks.

Once you design, assign or take on Project Helpful, don’t imagine for a moment that it isn’t a real project just because the client’s names are a bit fuzzy. It’s a high-impact project for which your consulting firm will be paid. (Eventually.)

And don’t deprioritize or delay Project Helpful when another client project comes along. Act with integrity and stick to your timelines.

So, come along all you marketing-shy consultants. I have exactly the project for you.

What would you include in Project Helpful at your consulting firm?

  1. Kenny
    October 26, 2022 at 7:47 am Reply

    I produce content so that almost every piece I publish is emailable to a current client or prospect. It changes the engagement on the posts themselves but also directly contributes current relationships.

    • David A. Fields
      October 26, 2022 at 8:44 am Reply

      Using the content you produce in projects for your current clients as marketing fodder is a great idea, Kenny. And since you start off with that thought in mind, when you’re developing deliverables and outputs, you naturally format and construct them in a way that’s easily adaptable to marketing.

      That’s outstanding guidance, Kenny, and I’m sure many other readers will follow your lead.

  2. Lilian Raji
    October 26, 2022 at 8:28 am Reply

    I’ve spoken to many agency advisors and you’re the only one who seems to get me. I swear, this article was written after speaking with me. I suffer from the shoe cobblers children have no shoes syndrome. As a communications advisor who helps luxury brands connect with their target customers, I struggle with making myself visible, preferring being the puppetmaster behind the shadows, making things happen for my clients and rarely for myself.

    I’ve grown my agency over 20 years 90% by referral. I focused on doing exceptional work for clients who I gave my commitment and that in turn made it easy for them to refer businessto me.

    The other 10% came by me doing some of the aforementioned tactics. My issue is consistency. I’ll spend a weekend creating one or two months worth of assets, schedule everything, then forget until I finally notice the posts have stopped. I get lost in client work and can rarely make a consistent schedule for self promotion, especially as well-paying client demands take priority. I write a monthly column in my industry trade and even that is at the mercy of my available time.

    Can you share how you manage consistency? How do you overcome the need to focus on doing great work — because that is what has helped you grow — to committing to time to promote yourself because although you know it’s what will make you grow further, you have a hard time staying consistent?

    • David A. Fields
      October 26, 2022 at 9:03 am Reply

      Great question, Lilian–good on you for asking and thank you for sharing your tribulations. You are definitely not alone in your struggles. (Probably half the readers of the article are looking at your comment and thinking, “Yep. Lilian is exactly like me.”)

      Consistency sounds a lot like having a habit, and I have found two strategies that seem to work in creating good marketing habits for consultants:

      1. Create rituals. Rituals take the thinking and choices away. No more asking, “Should I create articles this weekend?” Instead, you say, “It’s the first Monday of the month, so I’m writing articles today.” We have an exercise called the BD Ritualizer that our clients use to build effective rituals.
      2. Offload responsibility. Don’t depend on your willpower. Instead, hold someone else accountable for making you consistent. This is a concept I call Walking the Dog Backwards, and it’s very effective.

      I’ve also written about creating good habits in this article.
      Thanks again for being willing to share and for asking the question, Lilian.

      • Lauren T
        October 28, 2022 at 1:24 pm Reply

        David, loved your answer to Lilian’s question about creating consistency (i.e., good habits) in her consulting. Just a small suggestion on the self-talk that helps form good habits. Rather than “I am doing xyz today,” reframe as, “I get to do xyz today.” I heard this years ago in the Investment in Excellence program by Lou Tice, who said do a thing “because you want to, choose to, like it, love it,” and not because you have to. I read it again in a Suzanne Somers book, who said she got it from her friend Barry (who I think she meant Barry Manilow). So happy to find your blog, thanks for sharing your wisdom here.

        • David A. Fields
          October 30, 2022 at 8:43 pm

          Great tip, Lauren! Anything you can do to create a positive frame of mind is a step in the right direction. Thank you for sharing that nugget.

  3. Susan
    October 26, 2022 at 9:41 am Reply

    For several of the 31 years I’ve been in business, Lilian, I’ve stayed under the radar and got work from word of mouth. Now that I have more mouths to feed, I have needed to up my game. As small business owners, we think we need to do everything ourselves. We do not. I retained a business writer who knows my niche (managed care consulting) to write blogs, re-write content on my website, and conduct satisfaction surveys for clients with an additional marketing twist to request recommendations, new products and services, and have data for proposals. It is such a relief to have that on someone else’s shoulders! David, I started viewing all those contacts as soft marketing. I recently got a gig from someone who worked at a current client who knew my reputation from that other client and was in meetings that I held with them. If your business is like mine, Lilian, it’s a small world and delighting clients in one area will bleed over to other firms that those people move to.

    • David A. Fields
      October 26, 2022 at 9:54 am Reply

      Well said, Susan. Even solo consultants are not alone (or shouldn’t be). And, as you rightly point out, the heart of marketing for consulting firms is relationship-building. That’s why Networking is the one member of the Five Marketing Musts that’s not optional.

      I’m glad you contributed your experience, Susan. (And congrats on 31 years. You must be doing plenty right!)

  4. Dr. Shay
    October 26, 2022 at 12:04 pm Reply

    Great read, David!

    I have found out that my Capability Statement works wonders with outreach and building capacity! I consider it my silent seller. As I work with firms, others that run in their circles see my work or hear about my results and want to connect. Thanks as always for the golden nuggets!

    • David A. Fields
      October 26, 2022 at 12:13 pm Reply

      Outstanding, Shantana! You’re absolutely right that when you can communicate clearly and concisely what problem your firms solves and for whom, it’s much easier to win referral business. That’s why the (very) hard work of developing an excellent Fishing Line pays off. Not only does a great Fishing Line make you more attractive to prospects, it makes it easier for others to sell on your behalf.

      I’m glad you highlighted that aspect of marketing, Shantana. Very helpful!

  5. Jerry Fletcher
    October 26, 2022 at 2:19 pm Reply

    David, I’ve found that batching and DFY (Done For You) can help solve this problem. For one client I would sit him down in front of a video camera and have him dispel Leadership Myths. That raw footage was translated into a weekly publication with graphics and scheduling provided by my VA (Virtual Assistant). When he retired there were over 150 “in the can.”

    Another, an economist simply annotates the governments charts and graphs and sends that out as a newsletter. Another uses his prowess at explaining supply chain revenue potential with recorded talks at a white board.

    This approach solves the reticence problem while building a real brand differentiation.

    • David A. Fields
      October 26, 2022 at 3:08 pm Reply

      You’ve underscored a couple of excellent ideas that will help a number of readers, Jerry. First, as you’re working Project Helpful, remember that each output can turn into multiple marketing vehicles. Quite a few consulting firm leaders we work with sit down for an interview–ideally on video, but not always–and that interview turns into podcasts, whitepapers, articles, linkedin updates, tweets and more.

      Second, as pointed out by a couple of other folks too, no one should feel like they’re in this game alone. When you produce good work as part of Project Helpful, others can help you craft the messaging and tighten the marketing aspects. (Though, any outbound communication, whether finely-crafted or not, will make a huge difference for consultants who are reluctant to market.)

      I appreciate you joining the conversation, Jerry!

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