For Consultants, Marketing Is Unbelievably Easy

Contrary to popular belief, marketing is not merely about selling stuff. Marketing in consulting is all about building long-term visibility and trust.

Many consultants are uncomfortable talking about themselves and instead, focus their marketing on other aspects of their business - if they dedicate any time/resources to marketing at all.

My goal with this article is to show you that, not only is marketing critical for your success, it can also be easy and authentic.

Marketing In Consulting Is About 2 Things: Visibility & Trust 

Customers don’t buy from people or brands that they don’t know, don’t like, or don’t trust. So how do you get your clients to know you, then like you, then trust you?

1. Visibility

Becoming visible is something most consultants really battle with. The truth though is that visibility is the only thing that is going to make you stand out in a crowded and very competitive consulting world. 

The biggest blunder consultants can make is to imagine that somehow potential clients will find them e.g. by sharing a few posts on Linkedin. Nothing could be further from reality.

Clients have more options today than ever before - there are more consultants and experts and advisors now than there ever have been in the past. 

In a world where professional services buyers act like consumers and can find anything in seconds, whether searching for a new pair of shoes or for an expert to solve their business problem, how the heck will we stand out and get on the first page of Google for that buyer? 

If you want to stand out, you need to show your expertise (James Altucher)

2. Trust

According to How Clients Buy by Tom McMakin & Doug Fletcher, one of my favorite books, professional services are credence goods.

Credence goods are sold very differently. Clients do not buy credence goods based on features or attributes. Unlike other products, credence goods are sold on trust.

Selling consulting and professional services is hard because: 

  • Clients have to trust us before they buy from us. 
  • Clients must believe the expert will diagnose their problem correctly. 
  • Clients must believe the expert will prescribe an effective solution. 
  • Clients must believe the expert can and will do the work in a way that will achieve the outcome they want. 
  • Clients have to believe the expert will fairly price the service based on work actually done. 

One of my cornerstone books during my entire consulting career has been ‘The Trusted Advisor’ from good old friend Charles Green. The book is from 2000 but is still very alive and kicking! I’ve always kept his 4 principles in my mind in my aspiration to establish myself as a trusted advisor.

  • First, you need to focus on the other person, your client, for the client’s sake - they are not just a means to your own ends. 
  • Second, you need to have a collaborative approach to relationships
  • Third, look at your relationships as if they are going to last a medium to long time rather than a short-term turnaround that has more of a transactional focus. 
  • Finally, you need to build the habit of being transparent in all of your dealings.

The Challenge: Consultants Don’t Like Marketing And Sales

When it comes to sales and marketing, there are a number of beliefs that consultants seem to have that prevent them from building solid systems. Two of the most popular misconceptions are that ‘selling is sleazy’ and ‘marketing is beneath consultants.’

Neither of these is true, and I want to detail why you need to reframe your thinking if either of these is prevalent in your mind.

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1. Consultants believe that selling is a sleazy thing

When you think of a salesperson, does the image of a used-car lot with a guy in an ill-fitting suit and greased back hair pop into your mind? 

This is a common reaction to sales, and it’s no wonder this mental image makes us feel like sales is a sleazy and untrustworthy venture. The best marketing endeavors are not the ones that come into our minds - the times when we found what we were looking for and got the solution to our problem.

According to a great article from Roy Imogen: ‘We tend to get overwhelmed and nervous when we think about marketing because we imagine ourselves shouting on a soapbox or coming across like a sleazy salesman. We tend to associate the word “marketing” with the worst types of marketing we’ve seen, and forget all the times we discovered a great product, service or person who added a heap of value to our lives.’

This is part of the reason why I say that marketing isn’t about sales. Marketing isn’t about pushing a product or service on a customer who doesn’t need it. Instead, marketing is about sharing your knowledge and providing something of authentic value to your clients.

When you switch this framework in your mind, marketing and sales become much easier.

2. Consultants believe that marketing is beneath them

This type of thinking is just plain wrong. Marketing is not separate from you, as a consultant. Whether you like it or not, you are marketing yourself all of the time. A good consultant is a good marketer of his or her expertise.

Consulting is a wonderful profession, but it’s no longer adequate to simply be a superb consultant. You also have to be at least a decent marketer. There is plenty of work for everyone. It’s about marketing, so you might as well get good at it. (Alan Weiss)

According to the previously mentioned book by McMakin & Fletcher, there's a strong, long-held view among the professional services that selling ourselves is unseemly. Promoting ourselves is too crass. Too commercial. Too hucksterish. Many, if not most, of us in professional services have felt this way at some point. We believe there is a strong need for a better understanding of how to promote ourselves in a way that is effective and professional.

As I’ve seen time and time again, consultants don’t like marketing and sales. 

While there are a number of reasons behind this fact, the important thing is that you move past these beliefs and embrace marketing as a trust-building, visibility-improving activity.

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My Approach To Marketing: I Completely Reframed My Thoughts Around Marketing And Sales

Marketing for consultants is actually really easy!

1. I showed who I am, what I do, and how I solve clients’ problems. 

Through your marketing, you can show what you’ve learned and therefore what clients can learn from your experiences as well. If you haven’t experienced something and learned it for yourself, you won’t be able to offer the highest value to your clients.

What’s your unique story and what aspect of that story can a reader hear, implement and yield similar results? (Nicolas Cole)

That’s why selling an offering of something you haven’t executed yourself is so damn wrong (and, in fact, impossible)! And, unfortunately, I’ve seen many consultants doing it and being proud of it.

Early in my career and inspired by Kawasaki, I made a drastic decision: to openly share all my experiences and learnings.

Kawasaki had just started his own blog in 2006 and instantly became one of the very first global Internet superstars. 

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Photo: Guy Kawasaki, my early inspirator

A revolutionary at heart – I love that – he coined the term ‘Evangelist’ and preached sharing know-how to showcase expertise and build trust and relevance. 

Kawasaki inspired me to become a baker instead of an eater. Eaters want a bigger slice of an existing pie, he pointed out. Bakers want to make a bigger pie and share it with others.  

Ever since then, this concept (explained in this 2014 article) has been my guiding principle.  

The Bottom Line: pour yourself into your service!

Several years ago, I had been searching for collaboration software. I finally chose Basecamp, an amazing startup with two great founders, Jason Fried and David Hansson

I became intrigued with these guys through their fantastic first book, Rework. I will never forget this quote from the book, which became one of my core mental models:

Make YOU part of your product or service. Inject what’s unique about the way YOU think into what YOU sell. Pour YOURSELF into your product and everything around your product too: 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 product.

The plain truth is that your consulting expertise is not unique. Many competitors are doing exactly the same thing and, who knows, they may be more successful than you. However, there is one vital distinction: there is only one YOU.

Your consulting expertise is probably not truly exceptional but YOU certainly are. Be yourself. It’s really that simple!

2. I replaced the word ‘Selling’ with ‘Helping’.

In my early days of consulting, the book Integrity Selling taught me to replace the word ‘selling’ with ‘helping’. It might sound simple at first, but anyone who cannot get into this ‘helping mindset’ probably isn’t a good consultant at all! 

To be a better consultant and a better marketer, you need to see the bigger picture. Instead of creating short-term content telling people how great you are, you need to create long-term, educational, evergreen content that actually helps your audience.

Being transparent with your clients and helping them learn what they want to learn by sharing how you’ve solved similar problems is key. 

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.

If you reframe ‘selling’ to ‘helping’, it gives you a better guiding principle to create your marketing strategy around. Not only does this result in better content, but it also makes it easier for most consultants to embrace the marketing aspect of running a business.

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3. I consistently developed the best possible educational content.

A few years ago, I met with an HR Director at a conference.

I had been giving the opening keynote speech (as always, with a ‘lessons learned’ angle) at the conference, and apparently the learnings I’d presented had intrigued her. She asked me for my contact information and promised to call me to discuss a collaboration. 

Months went by, without a single call from her. However, in the background, she kept receiving my new case studies as she was subscribed to our email list. About six months later, her assistant called for a meeting in her office. 

It was one of those many meetings where I sat in front of the ‘buyer’ with a printed stack of my case studies on the desk.

She apologized for the delay in getting back to me. She had to study and research to be able to present a business case for consultancy investment to her boss, and that took her a while. 

“Your case studies and articles had been my single source of information,” she admitted to me with a big smile. 

The HR Director finally got the approval from her boss, and at the end of our meeting, she gave me the go-ahead for one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever done. Amazing! 

The easiest way to summarize the learnings from this story is with a quote from my fellow content coaches Sharon Tanton and Sonja Jefferson from their fantastic book ‘Valuable Content Marketing’ (a must-read!). They point out: 

Educate your buyers, show them best practice, tell them what to look out for, give them valuable tips on how to achieve success, demonstrate how you’ve helped others in their shoes.

4. I never settled for the short-term gain, I chose fulfillment over achievement.

This project with the HR Director was born out of having openly shared all my learnings. That’s what the client told me, at least. 

The collaboration ‘pitch’ (the meeting in her office) was nothing more than a friendly handshake to get started right away. No need to explain, persuade, sell, or negotiate. That’s the reward of openly (and massively) sharing valuable content! 

For more than 10 years, I was consistent and persistent in building my digital presence. I wrote close to 150 case studies (some even won awards), articles, and columns. My ultimate writing focus: ‘What knowledge did I acquire that would be valuable to share?’

Putting in the rigorous effort toward creating valuable content all those years gave me the privilege of becoming a solid ‘visible authority’ globally. It didn’t happen overnight, though. It took a lot of discipline, hard work, a structured approach, and a laser-sharp focus. 

Don’t settle for the short-term vanity. It’s the people who stick with it the longest, that reap the largest rewards (Nicolas Cole)

5. I’ve never been afraid of openly sharing all my expertise.

People often ask me: ‘Why the heck are you openly sharing all your expertise and learnings? Aren’t you afraid that, by sharing your ‘secrets’, your clients won’t need you anymore?

The more you open up, the more people will relate to you! (Tim Denning)

My easy and relaxed answer to this is that clients have to know, like, and trust us before they buy. It’s the essence of good content marketing. 

I am not afraid at all of sharing because: 

  • Expertise tops content. Clients are looking for the bigger picture: your qualifications and years of experience that you bring to the table. Content can never replace that! Our clients pay us to help them to apply our expertise to their specific situation. 
  • Implementation is complex. Even with profound reading about experiences and learnings from other projects, most non-experts will always struggle with executing a complex implementation, even with a step-by-step instruction ‘the IKEA-way’. 
  • Content builds trust. Sharing content is the best possible way to build up 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.

  • Content builds visibility. If you are reluctant to embrace content-driven marketing, nobody will ever find you on the internet. In a world where professional services buyers act like consumers and can find anything in seconds, how on earth will you be found? 

  • Content builds mental connection. The more you write about how YOU have solved the problems of your clients, the more clients will relate to you and build a mental connection with you over time. Important though: your writing should be 'pain-resolution content'. Clients should immediately recognize their pains in your stories (that's what I did: storytelling from the problem-solving project trenches).

  • Writing & sharing content deepens your expertise. Last but not least, there's no better way to deepen your expertise than writing about it and sharing it. In the spirit of one of my great 'masters', Nobel Price winner Feynman (known for his ability to clearly explain difficult topics such as quantum physics for virtually everybody): 'The ultimate test of your knowledge is your capacity to transfer it to another'. 

And if you are struggling to start developing your content, start with telling the authentic story of your project struggles, your suffering in the trenches, your dealing with bottlenecks, the way you’ve solved critical client problems, and what others can learn from it. 

Even if all of this could be profoundly personal, potential clients will quickly recognize their own problems in your story and can truly connect with you. 

Content marketing is not a sales tool. It’s designed to build visibility, trust & authority. It has enabled me to create consulting opportunities that I would not have had otherwise.

Summary: 8 reasons why marketing for consultants is unbelievably easy

  1. Visibility & Trust: Consultancy marketing is about building visibility and developing trust in your expertise. Clients need to know (read: find), like, and trust us before they buy.
  2. Visibility: still wanna be in business in 5 years? Competition is harder than ever before. Make sure you stand out so those prospective clients, your network (you are always top of mind), and Google can always find you! 
  3. Trust: consultancy is a ‘credence product’, you only get contracted when you get trusted.
  4. Consulting IS marketing: marketing is not separate from you, as a consultant. A good consultant is a good marketer of his or her expertise. 
  5. Pour yourself into your service: show them who you are, what you do, how you solve client problems, what clients can learn from your experience, your struggles, and failures.
  6. From ‘selling’ to ‘helping’: reframe your mindset, it gives you a much better guiding principle to create your marketing strategy around. 
  7. Educational content: consistently develop the best possible educational content, don’t be afraid of openly sharing all your available expertise. Content marketing is designed to build visibility, trust, and authority (and Google rewards you for that).
  8. Be 'a baker': Never settle for the short-term gain, consider fulfillment over short-term financials. Be a baker instead of an eater (Kawasaki).

If you need help reframing the way you look at marketing or developing an effective marketing strategy, reach out today, and let’s talk.

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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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