Building an Email List Is Your Ultimate Trust Weapon as a Consultant

87% of clients feel that TRUST has become a more important part of their purchasing decisions due to COVID, reports Source Global Research.

The global pandemic has accelerated the focus on trust in professional services. That’s an amazing, albeit not surprising, evolution!

When we lose a pitch, we tend to look at the competition. That’s OK. We should be fully aware of our competitors and why they win pitches.

However, competition in consulting is not always what you think. What I’ve learned, more often than we assume, it’s about the buyer who’s not willing to change to another consultant.

Why? Because of a too low trust level and/or lack of transformative case studies from other clients in similar shoes.

It’s about you. It's not (always) about the competition. Think about that.

How I utilized the power of an email list

Authority-led business development in consulting is about building visibility and growing the trust in your expertise in your market(s).

To help me with that, the email list of my target audience has been my secret trust weapon for almost a decade (and still is today).

When I started The Visible Authority in early 2020, I was able to accumulate almost 1,000 subscribers within the first 16 months. This is a highly targeted audience that I regularly engage and share my learnings with. I barely get any unsubscribes and my newsletter – The Authority – has a steady open rate of 40-50%! To give you some context: 20.13% is the industry average.

When I first started utilizing it, during my people analytics years, I didn’t even use email software as my target audience was only approximately 100 CHROs in Benelux. I was connected with 95% of them via a simple outlook email list.

These were the 3 thought leadership principles I used for myself all those years:

  • Learnings: what did I learn in the project trenches about the biggest client pains that others could learn from?

  • Value for others: which experiences did I acquire that could be valuable for others?

  • Client stories: what were the unique client stories (with successes and struggles) that could inspire others to pursue better outcomes?


Here are just a few examples of what I shared via email:

  • Magazine column: I wrote a monthly column in 2 leading HR magazines in Belgium and the Netherlands. My network received a pdf-copy of those columns about 2 weeks after its publication;

  • Speaking: I presented a lot at international conferences. I always negotiated participation discounts from the organizers and emailed these discounts to my network, including a friendly invitation to join the conference and a short introduction of my presentation topic;

  • Case-based: I presented quite a bit of case studies at those international conferences. I’ve always emailed my network a summary after the conference. You would be surprised how much positive reaction I always received;

  • Sharing new learnings: At the end of new projects (with new learnings), I always informed my network about my most recent learnings from yet another project. Of course, everything was kept anonymous – no company names or other identifiable info;

  • Article curation: Each month I gathered interesting articles from around the world that I thought my audience would find of interest, and I emailed them to my network (also shared via social media);

  • Interview sharing: I was interviewed many times for several media outlets. I always forwarded those interviews to my network. Most interviews were in print magazines, so I emailed PDFs;

  • News sharing: And many more small things in between, such as events, new research, new experts in the team, etc.

Here’s the thing: through my (low profile) email activity, my (almost entire) target audience in the Benelux region (with very few exceptions) knew me quite well, learned to understand what I was doing as a consultant, and received lots of ‘trust stuff’ about the expertise of our consulting business. 

HR people from those days occasionally still talk to me about the educational emails they received from me.

Recommended reading: As A Consultant, You Always Attract What You Are, Not What You Want

My takeaways after a decade of sending emails to my target audience as a consultant

You can, of course, look at the statistics on the effectiveness of building and nurturing email lists. For example, one study found that for every $1 spent on email marketing, a business generated $42 in revenue. That’s 4,200% ROI!!

The success of building and utilizing an email list, however, varies from business to business. I learned that when you focus on quality, your email list generates superior results in the long run. 

By quality, I mean ‘never spamming your contacts’. Quality should be in the thought leadership pieces you deliver to them – authentic, with real insights, addressing key pain points of your target clients. Your engagement with your audience via email is about what you learned and what you know that your prospects could benefit from.

Spammy? Forget it! 

In my conversations with consultants, I noticed a pattern in the thought process and the view of email marketing: "It's a spammy promotional tool that makes me look salesy and desperate."

How you choose to use it is up to you. Sure, you can go ahead and spam your contacts, bragging about your expertise. You won't get far. Your open rates will be low and unsubscribe rates high. OR, you can use it as a tool to distribute your knowledge, to educate your audience, to offer them value. 

Here's the thing: people voluntarily subscribe to you. They WANT to hear what you have to say. This is a small token of their trust. Your job is to nurture and grow that trust by sharing your expertise and providing answers to their questions, addressing their pain points, and, thus, showing that you are indeed a subject matter authority. 

These are my main takeaways:

  • Crucial to long term success: building an active email list of your target audience is crucial to long term success in consulting;

  • Robust ROI: the ROI of authority-led thought leadership is (amongst other things) in the growth of your email list (with loyal subscribers/followers) to start sharing your expertise;

  • Systematize the network: your network and relationships as a consultant don’t mean anything if you haven’t ‘systemized’ it into an email list;

  • Building visibility: growing visibility in your market and building trust in your expertise is barely possible without building an email list and nurturing your audience with high-value learnings, experiences, content,...;

  • Lessons learned: nurturing your prospects and clients with YOUR latest learnings (as an expert) is an indispensable part of the authority-led business development mix in consulting (and incredibly underutilized).

Who said that thought leadership in consulting was difficult?

A great quote from author Jonathan Stark (he’s a big fan of building an email list):

All you have to do is be meaningfully different to your ideal buyers. If you can do that, they’ll pay a premium. Figure out how you are different, and lean into it hard.

What are you waiting for if you are not yet structurally sharing your expertise via email to your target audience?

Recommended reading: Relying On Your Network Is A High-Risk Consulting Growth Strategy

Interested in receiving all my learnings to become a better consultant? No spam, no BS. Pure teaching! Subscribe to my newsletter.


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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