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Win More Consulting Projects on Catalant and Similar Platforms [Tips #1 and #2]

Consulting firms ranging from solo practitioners to $20m+ boutiques regularly secure engagements on Catalant, Umbrex, BTG and similar talent platforms. Those platforms can be an excellent source of projects for your consulting firm too… if you know how to win on them.

Otherwise they can be a distraction and source of frustration.

Fortunately, we recently conducted two sets of surveys in conjunction with Catalant—one among consultants and another among clients—to understand (among other things) how consulting firms can use the platform most successfully.

We learned a lot. We saw differences between consulting firms that win projects compared to consulting firms that don’t. We also learned directly from clients who post a project on a talent platform how and why they choose certain consultants/consulting firms.

This article highlights just two of the many tips we gleaned from our research.

For a consulting firm that is used to the “normal” way of winning business, talent networks or platforms can seem backwards. Instead of your consulting firm fishing for clients, you’re the fish. You’re one of, say, five fish swimming around a tank under the scrutiny of a prospective client, and you want to get hooked. Hooked means money for your consulting firm.

But let’s back up a step. There were actually a lot of fish vying for this worm client. Probably at least a dozen or maybe even a couple dozen or more. A big school o’ sardines. Why are there only five fish in the tank?

Because clients almost immediately winnow down the school to five or fewer contenders.

The first two tips to winning business on Catalant-type platforms ensure your consulting firm is one of the few fish in the tank.

Tip 1. Swim Fast

If you can’t apply quickly, don’t bother applying at all. Most consulting firms that could be considered—and might even be best for the project—never receive serious consideration because they were late to the party.

Olympic-level swimmers enhance their natural skills with excellent techniques, equipment and training to get off the blocks ahead of their competition. Your consulting firm can do the same.

If you’re serious about winning business on platforms, then create tools, systems and processes that make you aware of relevant projects and enable you to apply quickly. To make the consideration tank, you want to respond within minutes or hours, not days (or a week!) after a project has been posted.

Tip 2. Screen Yourself

On platforms, only apply for a project when your consulting firm deserves to win.

Carefully consider the reflection looking back at you from your fishbowl. What characteristics do you  notice about your consulting firm?

Are you the hungriest for business?

Do all your clients love you?

Are you the most intelligent?

A thought leader?

More innovative than other consultancies?

None of that matters. Clients don’t care if you’re hungry. Every consulting firm’s clients love them. Intelligence and thought leadership aren’t on your clients’ criteria list, nor is an innovative approach—even if your field is innovation.

The fish looking back at you should be a dead-on match for the experience the prospect has said they are looking for, particularly related to the industry and the specific problem specified in the job specifications.

For instance, if the client is looking for a QSR strategist and you have general retail expertise, that’s not close enough. Luxury dining might not be close enough. General strategy? Forget about it.

You have to have experience solving your prospect’s particular problem in their particular industry.

As mentioned above, those two tips will only get you in the tank. Also, some platforms are so tired of the wrong fish flopping around and making a mess, that they’re restricting who can apply or eliminating open applications entirely.

Nevertheless, if your consulting firm wants to derive some of your revenue from talent platforms, the tips above are the place to start.

What about your firm? How are you ensuring you apply quickly and only when you’re qualified?

  1. Will Bachman
    October 12, 2022 at 9:18 am Reply

    Good tips. In addition to being very clear on the type of work you want to do, it’s important to decide what firms you want to work with, to create marketing collateral, build long-term relationships and handle the interview process well. (At Umbrex, we also published a set of tips on how to work with staffing firms, which readers can find in the resources section of our site.)

    [Ed. Note: Will’s comment was revised somewhat, with his approval, because it contained offsite links.]

    • David A. Fields
      October 12, 2022 at 10:20 am Reply

      You’re absolutely right, Will, and your perspective as the leader of a talent platform is invaluable. Many of the additional lessons we learned revolved around how experts show up when they do make it into the tank with the handful of fish being considered for the project.

      Thank you for adding your voice to the conversation, Will.

  2. Evan Lenhardt
    October 12, 2022 at 10:55 am Reply

    Valuable topic, David. I’ve been “pitching” on Catalant, BTG and PWC for a while. The right “pitch” input remains a mystery and frankly the whole process a black hole. I’ve met with a Catalant resource to help with suggestions on “how to write a pitch” while devoting minimal time and I’ve also gone through their tutorials. I still have no clue as to the secrets, though I appreciate the timing issue and “exact” experience match comments. On the latter item, I’ve never had an exact experience match to anything in business unless we’re talking about something so straightforward a basic freelancer could take it on. A good consultant’s value is flexibility and adaptability which now appears unimportant in this context.

    • David A. Fields
      October 12, 2022 at 11:46 am Reply

      Great feedback, Evan. As you can imagine, we heard input from hundreds of consultants who have tried unsuccessfully to win business on those platforms. The frustration around the “exact match” issue is palpable. However, as we all know, consulting isn’t about us (the consultants), it’s about them (the clients). Clients want–and usually find–a very good match to their specific industry and project.

      Don’t give up on the platforms, though. And stay tuned–we’re working on a program designed specifically to help folks who want to win business on talent platforms.

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Evan–it’s helpful to me and to other readers.

    • Jeffrey Jones
      October 19, 2022 at 1:27 pm Reply

      We too scan all of the technical recruiter websites (this is a numbers game so why not). Occasionally, they reach out to us about a specific opportunity. I’ve even tried to develop relationships with the recruiters too. But I agree 100% that there is no rhyme or reason to which pitches work and which don’t? (I guess that’s why Baskin-Robbins has 31-flavors). To be honest, the hourly consults are a pain and a low ROI, but sometimes can lead to longer engagements. Whereas the opportunities on Catalant or BTG are longer and thus provide us with a better margin. However, all of these technical recruiting opportunities combined still represent just one revenue stream (it’s a small percentage of our firm’s overall revenues). As such, our main focus remains on leveraging our more traditional revenue streams.

      • David A. Fields
        October 19, 2022 at 2:42 pm Reply

        Interesting experience, Jeffrey. I’d gently push back on the idea that this is a numbers game–it is to some extent, but winning projects mostly is not about numbers. Also, there are definitely rhymes and reasons why clients choose certain consultants–at least on platforms like Catalant. I can’t speak to purely technical platforms. Finally, while some talent platforms are very old school in how they approach projects and fee structures (A-connect, for instance), others are much more progressive and open to value-based project structures.

        Thank you for contributing a bit of your journey for others to ponder!

  3. Rachel
    October 12, 2022 at 11:16 am Reply

    Hey David thanks for the tips. Been using the platforms (well afew only) and learned of Catalant recently. There wasn’t options in my field, but again I know we need to keep checking in.
    Thanks for the tips and you are right, acting fast seems to be the way to go.

    • David A. Fields
      October 12, 2022 at 11:49 am Reply

      Good on you for continuing to expand your Business Development channels, Rachel. Even better than “checking in” are: 1) creating some sort of alert system; 2) creating a relationship and presence with the folks inside the platform who help clients staff projects.

      You’re right that acting fast is a big key. Responsiveness rules!

      I appreciate you joining the conversation, Rachel.

  4. Rachel
    October 12, 2022 at 12:55 pm Reply

    @David – Oh?!!
    Yes I like the alert system – need to find out more about that on Catalant. I like these suggestions actually thanks so much.
    Didn’t know we can have access to the inside folks here, I need to check that out too.

    Upwork has the notifications and they send in my area/specialty recent projects, though still need to check there.
    Thanks again for the tips!

    • David A. Fields
      October 14, 2022 at 8:43 am Reply

      You betcha, Rachel. Not only can you have access to inside folks, you should prioritize that. Treat the talent platforms like clients–with all the attention, diligence, love and respect you’d shower on a direct client.

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