I’m going to assume you’re a darn good consultant. Not much of an assumption, really. I trust you. As a darn good consultant, you know that the path to new business is offering the Right Solution to the Right Target with the Right Chocolate Bribe at the Right Time. But when is that time?
Well, of course you know the right time is when your prospect is aware of a big issue you can address and considers it a top priority. That’s what I call Fishing Where the Fish Are. But when, exactly is that time?
I have no idea. In most cases you’ll have no idea either.
Most consultants don’t know when a prospect’s need or desire to solve a problem will arise. That’s part of what makes consulting a lumpy business. (That and forgetting to use a whisk.)
A couple of weeks ago, a consultant I mentor signed two major clients on the same day. He had been pursuing each of them for over six months. One year, I closed over $750,000 in business in three weeks… then didn’t sign another project for three months. That’s a big lump for any independent consultant, no matter how long you’ve been doing this.
Solving for unpredictable timing is extremely important to your financial and emotional health. The financial anxiety that accompanies roller-coaster performance can knock you out of business or into the hospital.
Below are three approaches to smoothing your flow of projects:
Spread the Risk
One benefit of a partnership with other consultants is that when one of you is slumping another might be thumping. As you add more and more rainmakers to your group, the lumpiness of the revenue declines.
To be clear, I am not recommending you enter a partnership if you’re a solo consultant or bring on more partners if you’re already a boutique. There are good arguments for and against adding partners to your consultancy, no matter what size practice you have.
I’m merely pointing out that one way to reduce revenue swings is to share the load. But keep in mind, that only works if you truly share the ups and downs. An “eat what you kill” partnership won’t get you off the roller coaster.
Create Need and Desire
The easiest way to win business is to fish where the fish are. But what if you’re fishing where the fish ain’t? Plenty of the prospects you talk with either won’t know they need your services or know it but don’t have the urgent desire that drives a project.
Walking away from prospects who aren’t eager to hire you is often the best solution. But it may be possible to coax those fish into the upper right box where you can reel them in as clients.
Let’s say a prospect is aware of the need for your services but doesn’t feel a sense of urgency. Explore the consequences of inaction by comparing the client to benchmarks and competition, and address any concerns blocking their desire. (Related Q&A: How Do I Deal with the “Maybe Later” Syndrome?)
When faced with a credit union that wouldn’t pull the trigger on a branding project, I pointed out how every month of delay was leaving their customers more confused. I also brought in a project management expert to quell their worries about the complexity involved. Those actions broke the logjam and yielded a signed contract.
Or, let’s say a prospect needs you but for some reason they’re blind to that need. In that case use a diagnostic device to reveal the need. A well-constructed quiz, survey, or graphic can create that “Aha!” realization.
Stock Your Pipeline
Since every individual prospect’s need and desire is unpredictable, the best remedy is to keep pouring potential clients into the top of your funnel. At any given time a few of them will be in the right frame of mind to discuss a project with you.
Stock your pipeline by touching a lot of people, by reaching out often enough that you’ll be top-of-mind when you’re needed, and by being easily findable when someone is looking for a consultant to scratch their particular itch. (Related article: How to Attract Clients Without Trying.)
One more note on this topic: Don’t wait until you’ve hit a slump to get help with your business. The best time to stock your pipeline is when you’re full, not when you’re already starving and can’t afford to wait for the opportunities to mature.
How else have you smoothed the lumps in your consulting business?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.
“Fishing where the fish are” is an excellent strategy, and one my dad always espoused his many years as a sales engineer. There’s one piece missing, which his mother (my grandmother) loved to say to us little kids, which we always thought in fun, but in fact became a life lesson: “always go fishing with a hook!”
To which I can only add: remember to put your hook in the water.
Your grandmother was a wise woman, Tom! You’re absolutely right, of course. Right Target, Right Problem, Right Solution, Right Time. If you’re not bringing a solution they want, the fish won’t bite. And if you don’t get out there in the world, you’re not fishing to begin with. Thanks for contributing the pearls from your grandparents.
I just got done planning out my banking and credit union conference strategy for Q1 & 2…where the fish are.
David, I’d love to hear more about creating urgency and exposing need. Realistically, how much time should we be spending there is articles, newsletters, etc?
Scott, I’m not 100% sure what you’re asking for. Sending articles, newsletters and especially diagnostics will help spark a prospect’s realization that he has a need. If you’re talking with a prospect that doesn’t see the urgency or need to do a project with you, I’d recommend taking one solid run at increasing urgency. After that, I’d throw the prospect back in the pond and spend my efforts on fish that are biting. To make that strategy work, you have to constantly stock your pond. Let me know if I didn’t answer your question.
Dave, I like the example you gave about the credit union. It reveals the tangible impact of the client’s inaction. It’s a much more powerful incentive (urgency-booster) than “comparing the client to benchmarks and competition”. The old best-in-class and competitor-copying approaches don’t have the impact or staying power of waking the client up to their current, maybe unrealized, suffering.
For more and more companies you are totally right, Diana. The more concrete and alarming you can make the consequences of inaction, the more urgency will lift. Comparing clients to their internal benchmarks and goals is often powerful too. It’s different strokes for different folks. I’ve run into senior executives whose egos are totally tied to performance vs. the competition. For prospects like that, a powerful motivator is the risk of being leapfrogged by their peers. Thank you for contributing your perspective!
Excellent post David. I loved your point on the ‘diagonostic tool’ to expose the need. Do you have any examples or any specific posts about how to create and use that tool?
I’d truly appreciate that.
Gosh, Shahla, considering how powerful diagnostic tools are and how much I teach the construction of them in my programs, it should be easy to find an article devoted to diagnostics on my site. Turns out that’s a glaring hole. So, in the coming weeks I’ll put together a short article on building a killer diagnostic.
In the meantime, shoot me an email and I’ll give you some examples that you can build from.
Thanks David, I’m glad I could spot that glaring hole 🙂
I did email you with some other questions, looking forward to your response.