9 Things My Highly Successful Consulting Clients Started Doing

“Luk, I need your help. I’ve been a consultant for 12 years and I’m still struggling to build a consistent pipeline of clients. I feel exhausted!” 

Most of the clients that come to me are generalist consultants and, upon auditing them, I discover that they struggle with one or more of the following challenges:

  • Poor market visibility
  • Low traffic to their website (if at all) or profile page (in consultancy firms)
  • No systematic lead generation (no T-L-C approach, Traffic to Leads to Clients)
  • Inefficient social media use
  • No/low trust-building content and probably needing to say yes to everything to make money (the Jack of all trades).

My training sessions with them are, of course, addressing their unique situations. However, all of my client work is based on a set of core principles and approaches that have allowed me to be successful and were tested by a decade of my personal consulting experience.

When my work with a client comes to an end, I evaluate the progress we’ve made. Here are the nine things that I am proud to see my clients change about their behavior and start doing.

1. They use the 'credence principle' – they build trust

Consulting is a credence business. First your prospects need to find you – hello, Google! – and, once they do, you, as a subject matter expert, need to get these prospects to like and trust you. Only then will your prospect be ready to buy.

I keep repeating to my clients: marketing in consultancy is NOT about sales (not the traditional way we think about sales, anyway). It isn’t about obnoxiously pushing a product or service. Rather, marketing for consultants is about generously sharing knowledge and providing authentic value to clients. This is what I refer to as ‘trust-building’.

This is often one of the first things I get my clients to understand when we start on their Visible Authority journey. In this hyper-competitive consulting market, trust-building in combination with content-driven visibility is the only thing that is going to make you stand out. To win new clients, you have to do a lot of work and there’s no guarantee at all. You don’t get rewarded for ‘trying’, ‘failing’ or ‘working hard’. 

The more you open up, the more your clients and prospects can relate to you as a consultant. 

Give people an abundance of confidence in your expertise by creating an abundance of value and share it. (Seth Godin)

2. They focus, focus, focus 

I could write pages about the topic of focus but here's the essence: 

In order to better connect with your clients (both off- and online), you have to narrow down your focus and demonstrate that you’re an expert in a single niche area. 

This is a common problem. Generalists are everywhere. They settle for clients as opposed to pursuing and getting to work with their ideal clients. 

So when I start working with a new client, I always make sure that the client has/develops a narrow scope within which they can develop the reputation for being the ultimate master, the ultimate authority, the ultimate voice. 

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Consultancy clients have rather specific problems and they are looking to hire consultants that are experts in that specific field, not the ones with a general understanding of it. 

You cannot be successful if you keep focusing on multiple domains as a consultant. There’s too much saturation, too many competitors doing the same thing. It’s a losing battle in both visibility (search engines/online traffic) and trust-building with prospects . Consulting is based on trust, and you must make potential clients fully trust you’re the #1 person for the job. (Luk Smeyers)

Say your washing machine broke down. Who would you trust more to fix it? A mechanic who has been specializing in fixing washing machines with glowing reviews for that specific work or a generalist handyman?

Clients have more options today than ever before - there are more consultants and experts and advisors than there ever have been in the past. Add to that the fact that buyers can find anything in seconds. Remember, your competitor is only 1 click away! 

Thriving consultants — men and women like you and I and from every walk of life — got successful in their narrow, higher-risk fields because they put all their eggs in one basket.

If you can’t immediately introduce your specific problem-resolution expertise with all the ins and outs, you will always lose against your competitor who owns the narrow space and has a clear problem solution.

Better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in an endless ocean of near competitors. If you can't say you are the largest or best in a category, make your market definition smaller. Shrink the pond until you dominate your niche. (Tom McMakin)

Related content: Want To Be a Furiously Successful Consultant? Put All Your Eggs in One Basket.

3. They say NO to all non-ideal clients

I teach my clients the power and importance of saying ‘No’ to protect and maintain their narrow positioning. It is interesting to observe how many are uncomfortable with the notion at first. 

“But Luk, I’m missing out on work and money!” True. But this opportunity cost is nothing compared to how much you are giving up by saying ‘Yes’ to every incoming request, including:

  • You are unable to build the type of authority that makes you stand out as an expert
  • You fail to develop high-value content
  • As far as Google is concerned, you don’t exist (well, you do, somewhere on page 15, which, for all intents and purposes, means the same thing)
  • Your prospects are unable to get a clear picture of your expertise when they Google your name or look up your profile
  • You are racing to the bottom, gradually reducing your prices to stay competitive
  • You fail at establishing a genuine connection with your prospects’ pain points

So sure, you may have missed out on a €10,000 contract now, but, by protecting your narrow focus and expertise, you have invested ten-fold in your business – its longevity, growth, and sustainability. 

Related content: Why You Should Learn To Say 'No' To Grow Your Consultancy Business

4. Their unique story is their starting point

If you cannot get across your expert background as a compelling and engaging story, no matter how much expertise you have, your voice will get lost in the sea of noise. 

Developing a compelling and authentic story about who you are, is a skill. One that I spend much time coaching my consultants on. 

So, together with my clients, we work on developing a trust-building expert story. Keep in mind that you can’t just invent one out of thin air. It has to reflect your genuine experiences. The market will see right through your lies and embellishments, and you will lose any credibility you were able to accumulate. 

Your story has to be honest about the lessons learned along the way, and how those lessons made you a better consultant and expert. 

The fact is that your consulting expertise is probably not truly exceptional but YOU certainly are. Keep your audience at the forefront of your mind and your goals, and use your unique story to show them how they can implement what YOU have learned to achieve similar results. That's what I did all those years.

Make YOU part of your service. Inject what’s unique about the way YOU think, what YOU sell, how YOU sell it, how YOU support it, how YOU explain it, and how YOU deliver it. Competitors can never copy the YOU in your service! (Ali Mese)

5. They have a crystal clear Positioning Statement 

Imagine you are at a conference and a prospect asks you what you do. I bet that 98% of all consultants would give a lengthy, foggy answer. This is such a big mistake!

In 30 seconds (or less), you should be able to give a crystal clear pitch about who you are, who your clients are, what your problem-solution expertise is, and how you solve those pain points. If you can't, you will dramatically dilute your reputation and business opportunity. 

Here are a couple of examples of Positioning Statements – one from my past and one from my current business:

  • We help CHRO’s move to data-driven decision making by building people analytics capabilities in the HR team
  • I teach consultants the strategies to grow their revenue by transforming them into visible authorities

Both of these statements clearly identify the target audience, the pain points, and the solution. Both of them take about 10 seconds to present.

If you don't know what to say, you aren't an expert. If you don't know how to say it, you haven't practiced enough. If you find too many audiences when directing your writing, you haven't focused enough. (David C. Baker)

Identifying all the elements of a Positioning Statement and creating one that’s concise and action-driven is always a must when I work with my clients. 

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6. They have written a compelling Point of View

An elevator pitch (positioning statement) is important but, on its own, is not enough. 

Prospects also want to understand your point of view – how you perceive current trends and how they might be causing the challenges your clients will be facing tomorrow. You are stepping into the role of an advisor. Your clients want to know that they can trust your point of view. Here are a couple of examples from my own professional life.

1. My people analytics consultancy, iNostix, which was later acquired by Deloitte presented its work from the following point of view (starting with a bold or triggering sentence):

Data about people at work have become more important than ever! Formerly a reporting activity - mostly within the HRIS function - people analytics has now become a business discipline, supporting everything from operations and management to talent acquisition and financial performance. The readiness to capitalize on people analytics remains a challenge, however. Only 8% of organizations report they have useable data, while only 9% believe they have a good understanding of talent factors that drive financial performance.

2. The Point of View for my current business – The Visible Authority – is:

As Consultants, we need to stand out! As consultants, we need to constantly win profitable clients that value our expertise. Referrals work but the pipeline doesn’t feel reliable as it once did. The consulting market has shifted. In a world where professional buyers act like consumers and can find anything in seconds, how the heck will we stand out in a very competitive, over-crowded consulting market? Your competitor is only one click away!

Everything I do, everything I write, everything I preach goes to reflect and reinforce this point of view. When I start working with my clients, they are not blindsided by a different message. They know exactly where I stand, and in all my training with them, I equip them to build up their authority that follows this foundational belief. 

7. They can explain their 'Driver of Transformation'

The Driver of Transformation approach is an important way of thinking about a consulting offering as a catalyst for change or transformation. 

The Driver of transformation approach focuses on moving the client from point A (problem state) to point B (problem solved state) and explains your specific Driver/Vehicle (your 'secret sauce') of transformation. 

Stripping down this approach to its basics, explaining your Driver of Transformation is convincing your client that you have an actual plan or approach that will allow you to achieve their goal/resolve their pain point.

In your Driver of Transformation statement, you will need to be able to explain the future state of your client, not your product, features, or service. With your Driver of Transformation statement, you tease, provoke or inspire what I always call 'The Promised Land'. 

I spend a lot of time with my clients zero in on their expertise, experience, implementation strategies, and a dozen other factors to identify and crystalize their Driver of Transformation statement. 

If you yourself do not know where you want your client to be after working with you, how could you possibly expect anyone to trust you as an expert!

8. They have excellent social proof

Every testimonial, every case study, every public speaking engagement that my clients have had throughout their career, we collect and analyze. 

We look at what worked, we evaluate every social proof from the standpoint of narrow expertise and whether they are reinforced by social proof. Then, I help my clients develop a systemic way of collecting and presenting social proof.

Social proof is your evidence that you can make the story come true. I always did this with a double approach:

1) Writing case studies (with successes, challenges, struggles, failures,...) about how I've helped other clients achieving 'The Promised Land', and/or

2) Pain resolution recommendations from clients, explaining how I have helped them to achieve 'The Promised Land' (and not just commenting: he/she is a nice person to work with).

Related content: Relying On Your Network Is A High-Risk Consulting Growth Strategy  

9. They save time as consultants to re-invest in building their visibility

I am obsessed with organizing my work to free up time for business development. 

I’ve always set myself the target of creating actions that will lead to at least a 20-30% in available time to devote to my content marketing and business development. I am damned serious when I say that 50% of my past success as a consultant was my state of mind to be able to free-up 20-30% of my time to grow my consulting business.

Related content: 6 Ways To Find More Time To Grow Your Consulting Business

One of my goals, as a consultant, is for my clients to walk away from our training sessions with a strong system for managing their time – one that will remain in place for years to come. I help my clients achieve that through a series of steps, but these are my 3 biggest time-saving approaches, tested and developed over decades:

  • Focus
    I already talked about focus earlier in this post. However, I have to once again emphasize the importance of narrowing down your expertise and drilling into that niche with everything you got.

    By doing that, you will reject opportunities that do not go in line with your narrow focus. That, on its own, will already save you a ton of time that you can allocate towards business development and marketing in your niche market.
  • Staying upstream
    I teach consultants to remain productive (and save lots of time) 'by staying upstream' as much as possible: packaging their expertise into a 'strategic system' and to price it as a premium diagnostic service (upstream being strategic versus downstream being operational/implementation support). (Credit to David C. Baker for teaching the ‘upstream principle’, see my book summary of David’s book: ‘The business of expertise’)

    As an authority, you should stay (far) away from implementation work. That’s how I ‘survived’ the past decade. Strategy, road mapping, diagnosing. That’s your new mindset to save time as a consultant (and authority).
  • Standardizing your consulting service(s) to the max
    Many consultants are still providing highly customized services rather than standardized packages (and are afraid to move to highly standardized approaches).

    Even if you focus on a single expertise domain, you may still have a hard time packaging that expertise into an easy-to-sell system. If you don’t have a packaged system, you risk moving 'downstream' quickly (highly customized, difficult to scale operational/implementation work) in your 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, and it is also immensely difficult to reverse that downward spiral. It will burn you out one day, watch out! 

Conclusion

While the problems that consultants experience vary, the majority of them come down to inefficient processes and mindsets that are not optimized for long-term success. 

I see consultants struggling to translate their expertise into an easy-to-understand, credible message. I see them take on whatever work comes their way. I see them ignore the reality that Google is THE boss. 

As a consultant, you have to be able to:

  • Narrow down your focus
  • Deliver a clear positioning statement
  • Explain your unique story
  • Present your point of view
  • Say ‘No’ to distractions, including work that doesn’t fit your niche focus
  • Show your clients how you will transform their current state and resolve their pain points
  • Back up your claims with social proof
  • Systematically allocate sufficient time to invest in business development
    • Strengthen your expertise
    • Make your expertise visible
    • Nurture your leads, as well as existing and past clients

There are so many consultants on the market that you can’t afford to NOT think of a way to differentiate yourself. Not if you want to be successful. Not if you want to have a reliable pipeline of work. Not if you want to excel at what you do. 

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Luk Smeyers

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. 

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