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This is the single biggest challenge I hear from my clients.
If you don’t take the time to market your consulting business, you won’t have a business to market.
Google is our new boss. The first ‘meeting’ today is online. The disadvantage: everybody can compete with you. The advantage: you can compete with everybody.
In a world where buyers of consultancy services expect an ‘easy to find’, Amazon-like 5-star rated expert profile, how are you going to climb to the top of those search results?
If you don’t invest a substantial amount of time in positioning yourself as a visible authority NOW, then in 3-5 years, nobody will come across your expertise on the internet.
Based on my own experience and my numerous interviews & discussions with my clients over the past decade, I’ve developed the following list of the six most common reasons consultants don’t believe they have time to develop their business.
I’m going to go over each of them in detail and explain to you my own approach to move past them so that you can free up time to establish yourself as a visible authority.
This generally comes down to a case of FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out (see this blog post).
Consultants are afraid that if they niche down and say ‘No’ to potential clients, they are going to lose business and miss out on new opportunities.
As a result, rather than being laser sharp in their positioning, they are trying to show expertise in many areas and take on any remotely related opportunity that comes their way.
This not only leaves you spread thin and disorganized, it also totally confuses your clients.
If you keep saying ‘Yes’ to everything because you’re either scared of losing opportunities or you just want to be nice to your existing clients, you’ll never have time to re-engineer your business.
That’s what I’ve learned the hard way in the past years: in the land of opportunity, every opportunity felt like an attractive business challenge that I wanted to crush. Saying ‘no’ always felt like surrender or gutlessness.
If you need to say ‘Yes’ to pay the bills or to secure your bonus payment (or, more likely, to ease your anxieties about paying the bills or achieving the targets), I can understand the stress you are faced with. I experienced the same anxieties in my early consulting years.
At least 95% of the consultants I work with know that saying yes to everything (basically selling time for money) is not the best way to become proud of their work, and it’s burning them out in the long run.
That’s why I kept challenging myself to say ‘NO’ to anything that fell outside of my narrowly positioned area of expertise.
I stopped chasing the next client, I accepted that I might earn less now and then to be able to free up time to grow the business. What are you waiting for?
I wrote more about the details and lessons learned on the FOMO challenge in this blog post (make sure you subscribe to the blog to get notified).
Many consultants are extremely busy (client work comes first, no?) and don’t have (or make) the time to study marketing automation, so they have very little knowledge about what’s possible in this realm.
Almost every consultant I meet has some kind of (big or small) ambition to become considered an expert, but most of them also consider business development as ‘something they will do in between two projects’ (or something to ‘delegate’ to marketing in larger consultancy firms).
I know a lot of consultants who consider marketing as ‘beneath them’, an annoying distraction on top of the ‘real work’.
Unfortunately, if you want to be serious about growing your consulting business and starting to attract your ideal clients in a more consistent and predictable way, you will have to get comfortable with online marketing. There’s no escape!
After all, we are all consulting entrepreneurs. And entrepreneurs love to grow their business!
Most of my clients are thoroughly surprised when I explain what I’m doing with online marketing automation. There are so many products that can help automate social media, email, CRM, or content marketing, to name a few.
Marketing automation can free up valuable time and energy.
If you’re like most of my clients, you’re either spending WAY too much time with useless (manual) marketing (e.g. going crazy about posting on all the social media channels) - or, conversely, none at all.
It’s my deepest conviction that if you don’t install efficient, repeatable, and consistent marketing systems, you’ll get swept away by the many others who are starting to master online marketing.
Without online automation, you will never achieve the same results, and you will waste a ton of time.
As an example: having to share content in a consistent way is a task that is much easier to create in fully automated, pre-scheduled batches instead of starting from scratch every single day.
Automation is saving me a lot of time in my business. Yes, it took a lot of time to learn the ins and outs and to set it up. But once it was done, I was able to pour back the time into my business development and my personal life (e.g. I am a die-hard mountain biker and train >10 hours weekly).
But even with my thorough online marketing automation passion and studies, I still hired someone to help me to run that technology. I know that I can’t do or know it all.
My current marketing knowhow helps me to:
On top of that, I have outsourced the following activities to gain as much time as possible:
In a future blog post, I will be sharing more details about my online marketing automation and these outsourcing experiences so that you can learn from it (and there’s a lot to learn from).
In my Accelerator training program, I provide students with a ‘backstage pass’ to share the setup, analytics, and outcomes of my online marketing automation. I give them exclusive behind-the-scenes views of my systems and the way in which they help me save time to run my business.
Many consultants are still providing highly customized services rather than standardized packages (and are afraid to move to highly standardized approaches).
Even if they focus on a single expertise domain, they may still have a hard time packaging that expertise into an easy-to-sell system.
As a result of not having a packaged system, they risk moving “downstream” quickly (highly customized, difficult to scale operational/implementation work) in their consulting activity rather than “staying upstream” (standardized, strategic, diagnostic higher paid work – process and value driven, much easier to scale).
Offering highly customized services is the biggest draw on your time I could think of. It has really burned me out in the past, and it was also immensely difficult to reverse that downward spiral.
Plus, it may confuse your clients - most businesses would like to be shown what you can offer them, and packaging your services is a better visual than developing customized options from the get-go.
If you want to grow and scale your business, you will need to stop selling your time. Think twice (or 10x) before you continue down the customized route and focus on staying upstream. Don’t talk about implementation - focus on your strategic or diagnostic expertise instead.
By packaging your services in a smart way, you can multiply the number of times you’re selling without adding more people to your team, thus increasing your income and margins.
One main reason to package your services is that it’s easier to explain and sell packaged and/or productized services because they have higher perceived value.
Wrapping your services up into clever packages makes it easier for your client to understand what you’re offering. As a result, your expertise and authority become much more visible.
Here are a few more time-saving benefits of packaging a service that I learned over the years:
Creating standard packages for consulting services has helped me to hop off the deadly time-for-money cycle and regain valuable hours to work on growing my business.
One more important lesson: publicly declaring your expertise in your packaging also helps with positioning, focus, saying no to other work, developing the right marketing messaging & content, pricing, and financial planning, to name a few.
I am always surprised by how many consultants claim to be an expert but consciously avoid publicly declaring that – the ultimate acid test – on their website. The horrible FOMO syndrome?
Packaging/productizing consulting services is a key component I teach in the Visible Authority Accelerator program (take a look at the program here), and given the importance of this topic, I will also continue to write about it on my blog.
Google has constructed the concept of relevance. If you run a Google search to find a solution (e.g. where to find the best Salesforce experts in London), Google gives you the most relevant answers to that search request. As a consultant, you will only appear in Google’s top hits if Google considers you to be relevant.
In fact, Google is constantly encouraging experts to get more and more specialized and does this by emphasising the importance of Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) in its search algorithm.
How are you going to raise your game to become more relevant for Google? By consistently producing high-value content about your work, your approach, your packaged processes, your case studies (successes and failures), your research findings, etc.
Whether you like it or not, content management is a top priority to avoid becoming irrelevant. If you are a ‘commodity consultant’, you risk jeopardizing your future business development! Have a look at this blog post, explaining the results I was able to achieve with a consistent focus on sharing high value content.
You won’t get solid website traffic or enough new conversations, and your proposal requests will start fading out bit by bit. A scary thought.
You must stand out, and you must be seen as an authority! So the question is: are you devoting consistent time toward planning out your future content?
If you’re like most of the consultants I know, the answer is probably ‘No.’
If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail (Benjamin Franklin)
Am I devoting a considerable amount of time to develop and plan my content? Yes! Big time! It’s my #1 priority. It has always been my #1 priority. It made me stand out in the past. It was a key driver of trust and credibility building and, as a result of course, of business growth.
There are many common misconceptions about how much time it actually takes to develop content, and the bottom line is: it takes FAR less time than you think.
If you plan out the next 6-12 months of content, you are better able to know where your business is going to go from a content perspective and can manage that content accordingly. Planning out your calendar also helps you achieve Step 2 above, automating your marketing.
In my early consulting days, I used to have a 3-6 month content calendar. My core content was based on my experiences in the trenches of consulting: case studies, lessons learned, how-to articles, interviews with key stakeholders/clients, etc. I did the writing myself and outsourced the publishing and social sharing tasks.
For my current activity on TheVisibleAuthority.com, I am using a 12 month content calendar. All content topics for the next 12 months have been outlined and commissioned to outside writers who are helping me with the core content development. In this article, you can find excellent content calendar templates on Hubspot, including an instruction to import such a content calendar in a google calendar.
I am still outsourcing the sharing and repurposing (writing shorter versions of the original ‘evergreen article’) of my articles, which is an integral part of my content calendar.
My future content will be based on ‘key pain points’ of my current/potential clients and will be written to help them solve specific challenges in becoming visible authorities in their domain.
I will write more in future articles about my content strategy, my content calendar, and my approach to developing and sharing content in the most efficient and effective way.
In any case, a well-designed content calendar has ultimately freed up a substantial amount of time for myself that I was in turn able to devote to my business development.
When you don’t have a time strategy, it’s like you’re running on a treadmill all day but going nowhere. This also plays into the ‘failure to plan means planning to fail’ shtick.
Without properly outlining your work time, you will be at the mercy of your inbox, your phone calls, your To-Do List - and you won’t have the design backbone your day needs to be as productive as possible and to be able to work AT your business instead of getting drowned IN your business.
People are always surprised when I tell them about ‘having a time strategy’.
It seems to be a bizarre thing for most of them. Strange. Reflecting on a time strategy is a cornerstone of my life. Not always easy (to say the least), I admit. But essential enough to perpetually immerse myself into it.
I’ll be very honest with you: I have a pretty restless brain, and my unstoppable dreams and ambitions are kicking me from left to right all the time.
My mental challenges aren’t that strongly driven by the typical daily distractions (such as email & phone) but way more by my nervous creativity and time-diluting desire to permanently develop new things.
When I reflect on my time strategy (keep those two words - ‘time strategy’ - in the back of your head all the time!) I set for myself the target of creating actions that will lead to at least a 20-30% increase in free time to devote to my content marketing and business development. By design.
Here are some specific actions I took and resources I implemented into my day to improve my time strategy:
Many consultants have the mindset of “there’s not enough time to develop my business.”
Is that really true, though?
Can you instead see the problem as a fixable issue? Can you shift it towards one of, “how do I create more time so that I can work on, for instance, content marketing for my business?”
If you firmly believe there is not enough time in your day, then that will be your reality. If, instead, you begin to look at the problem creatively and find pockets of time in your day, you’ll be more motivated to do a complete overhaul of your mindset.
You need that. Becoming a visible authority is not complex. It’s a matter of disciplined business re-engineering. By design.
A while ago, I worked with a top consultant to improve his visible authority in his expertise domain. There were a lot of great new developments in his area of expertise and many promising windows of opportunity.
But his fantastic expertise wasn’t well known and his growth, relative to the market opportunity, was way too slow.
As a result, he got stuck in the vicious mindset of ‘I don’t have time to develop those new business opportunities’.
Does that resonate with you? I would guess so.
My first question to him was (this is always my first question!): What is your goal/ambition and your 3 to 5 year outlook?
His ambitions were big. Very big.
If his goal would have been to stay where he was or to slightly increase his revenue, his mindset shift would have been easy.
But my client’s goal was to 3x his business in three years. Bold targets in his case! And becoming more visible was a core component of his go-to market.
With these bold goals in mind and with the urgent need to significantly re-engineer his business to get a much higher visibility and new lead generation, I advised him to get off the treadmill and close his shop for three months. This would help him to get rid of that far-reaching mindset of not having the time to grow his new business.
Without going into all the details in this article (I’ll be back with a case study), he 'closed' his consulting activities! He spent full three months re-engineering his plans and processes.
His visibility is now growing. His new plan for business development is on track. I love it. What a brave man! What a courageous mindset shift! And what a radical improvement to his future business!
Mindset shifts are difficult. That’s why understanding your overarching consulting business goals will help you determine if you need a significant mindset shift in order to accomplish them.
I’ve experienced it myself.
When I first began with iNostix, I was a little fish in a big pond. Through dedicated content creation and visibility improvement, I was able to firmly establish myself as a leader in my industry. And the growth followed.
I know the importance of carving out time to work ON the business, not just IN the business. I am damned serious when I say that 50% of my past success was my state of mind to make it work: 20-30% of my time is spent on business development. Always. And yes, I am extremely passionate about ‘mindset improvement’.
Working ‘in’ your business is spending time managing your business as it is today. Working ‘on’ your business is investing time so your business can be better tomorrow. (Roy Imogen)
Here’s what I (also) do to improve my mindset (or to keep it under control) these days:
The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. (Greg McKeown in his book 'The Essentialist)
Between alerts on your phone, a never-ending onslaught of emails, the dog needing to be walked, and any number of other things, it’s easy to get distracted in today’s world.
If you really want to develop your business, you will have to get rid of the vicious mindset that tells you ‘I don’t have time to win more clients’ (because the client work comes first).
My recommendation to everybody is to free-up 20-30% of your time to dedicate toward working on new business development practices. I have done it before, and I am doing it again.
Without prioritizing your growth and visibility, your consulting work might be at risk in 3-5 years. Others are investing the time to become visible authorities and thus more relevant for our new boss, Google.
With my simple approaches outlined above, you can already start changing the trajectory of your business and the mindset shift you need.
Recommended reading: You Will Always Have a Time Problem as a Consultant Until You Do This
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If you have questions, reach out to me today and let’s find out together where you can carve out more time in your day to build your dream company.
Hello, I’m Luk Smeyers and I’m guiding consultants through the journey of growing their business by helping them transform into visible authorities. I have been in consulting businesses for almost 20 years, in very different roles: as European CHRO in a global consultancy, as a startup founder in an analytics consultancy, and as a leader in a 'Big 4' consultancy, post-acquisition of the startup. I had the privilege of achieving global visibility as a consultant and I never had to sell, persuade, or negotiate as a result. I have now bundled all those experiences, expertise, know-how, research, reading, successes, struggles, and failures from managing and growing that visibility in the past years.
The Visible Authority is a brand of:
Luk Smeyers BVBA
Offices in Leuven (BE) and Munich (DE)