Don't Expect Clients To Find You: 6 Principles Consultants Need To Know

For more than a decade now, I’ve been consistent and persistent in building my very own visibility. I wrote more than 200 case studies, articles, and columns. It was the foundation of my business success, it was the reason why Deloitte acquired my company, it was the driver of my global thought leadership status. 

My ultimate writing focus: ‘What knowledge did I acquire that would be valuable to share?'

That's why I keep repeating to all consultants: think about your learnings, always. And write them down, all the time, consistently.

I am writing down ‘lessons learned’ multiple times a day, every day, 365 days! With the objective to share.

No matter how much you think you know about your audience, there is always more to uncover. Never stop fanatically researching their needs, habits, and challenges.

As a consultant, you are interacting with your clients on a daily basis. Use these interactions to better understand your audience and produce content that’s relevant, authentic, insightful, and timely.

Never stop trying to uncover new insights about your audience, obsessively. And share it. Always! 

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’ve learned to achieve similar results. That's what I did all those years.

6 Simple principles to establishing yourself as the ultimate subject authority

These principles outline the starting point (what your content strategy should be based on), the type of content you should aim to develop as a consultant, what image you should strive to transition towards, what qualities make a consultant stand out as a thought leader, what your targets should be, and, of course, what you are doing all of this for (the end goal).

These 6 principles are: (you can click on each principle to go directly to that part of the article)

  1. The starting point
  2. The content you will develop
  3. The 4 pillars of thought leadership success
  4. The 4 traits of a thought leader
  5. The 3 objectives of thought leadership
  6. The ultimate goal

I love sketching, so today you get a chance to fall in love with my Notability App in my iPad Pro :-). Here’s an overview of what I consider the components and the objectives of thought leadership.

Thought leadership objectives

My Sketch: Thought Leadership Objectives For Consultants

I guess the sketch is self-explanatory. But anyway, here are a few clarifications.

1. Your starting point

The starting point of your thought leadership is ALWAYS: the pains, the problems, the bottlenecks, the challenges, and risks of your audience. 

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2. The content you will develop (based on the client pains)

  • Advice: your content is straightforward ‘pain-resolution’ advice

  • The Promised Land: you picture them ‘The Promised Land’ and you explain how your audience can be successful with all your lessons learned from the past

  • Benefits: you explain the possible benefits, gains and impact of your problem-resolution approach

3. The 4 pillars of thought leadership success

  • Reputation: you are known for what you know, for your subject matter expertise in general

  • Subject Matter Expert: you have deep vertical expertise, you have discovered all the patterns of the prototypical client problem

  • Trusted Advisor: you get trusted for solving ‘their problem’, for bringing the your clients from point A (problem status) to point B (problem solved status)
  • Influencer: you shift people’s thinking and ultimately you inspire behavioral changes (to get the problems solved)

4. The 4 traits of a thought leader

  • Stand-out: you have a one-of-a-kind positioning in a crowded, competitive consulting market
  • T-shaped: you have deep subject matter expertise (the vertical bar, see above in #3) but you combine it with broad contextual understanding (the horizontal bar) 
  • Upstream: you provide strategic, diagnostic advice and can create unique roadmaps and scenarios to create a transformation ‘home run’
  • New archetype: you have a helping instead of a selling mindset, you openly share your expertise, you are a giver instead of a taker (says Adam Grant), a baker instead of an eater (says Guy Kawasaki). As I always say: ordinary consultants sell, thought leaders share.

5. The 3 objectives of thought leadership

  • Visibility: content-driven visibility is the only thing that is going to make you stand out in a crowded and competitive consulting world. More than ever before! The more you open up, the more your clients and prospects can relate to you as a consultant.

  • Trust building: Sharing content is the best possible way to build a strong and credible reputation as a consultant. Without trust in your expertise, you won’t get that call to meet. And if they don’t call you, you will never know, unfortunately. I learned this from Seth Godin: 'Give people an abundance of confidence in your expertise by creating an abundance of value and share it again and again.'

  • T.L.C.: from Traffic (to your thought leadership content) to Leads to Clients. As I always say: the ROI of investing in thought leadership is in the ‘subscribed audience’, prospects and clients who are inspired by your expertise.

6. The ultimate goal

Thought leadership is not the end goal. You are not creating content for the sake of being known as a trusted authority. The goal is to monetize on this status and use it to grow your business.

Thought leadership is a future-proof way of business development. It's about transitioning your sales approach from primarily outbound to mainly inbound.

It's about being able to offer a very specific set of services that go to the heart of your target market's pains, and, as a result, be able to charge premium rates.

It's about having the luxury to be picky about your clients. It's about maximizing the value you provide to each of your clients.

So, revenue is the bottom line. Having your revenue growth based on the market's awareness of and respect for your skills and your knowledge is a strategically smart way to go about it. It's how I grew my business in the past decade. 

Recommended reading: Why You Should Share Your Expertise To Grow Your Consulting Business


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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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