The headline and subheader tells us what you're offering, and the form header closes the deal. Over here you can explain why your offer is so great it's worth filling out a form for.
This summer, I launched a new channel of communication with my audience – a newsletter. Called ‘The Authority’, it is a bi-weekly newsletter that shares intriguing educational stories to reflect on what really matters in your consulting work.
Every edition of the newsletter features tips, advice, and learnings, split into the following categories:
‘The Big Question’ section has been wildly successful among my subscribers. After the first couple of editions, I started receiving dozens of questions per week.
I do my best to provide in-depth answers. Sometimes I manage to do so within the scope of the newsletters, while other times I write an entire article on my blog to make sure that I address the question in full.
Since I was able to share much valuable content with my subscribers through the ‘The Big Question’ section of my newsletter, I thought I’d present a summary of it here. I believe the questions I’m asked are relevant to a much larger audience of consultants, and I hope the answers I provide will help them grow their consulting business.
I recommend going through my answers to all of them as you will find a ton of useful information. However, if you are pressed for time, click on the question you are most interested in and it'll take you directly to that answer.
I got that question during a webinar. The answer is actually quite easy: Start sharing!
Share your unique stories and experiences in an authentic and passionate way and you will organically create a strong and loyal follower/client base! Here's what I have been sharing all those years:
When I talk about this, I always immediately get the following comment: Aren’t you afraid that, by sharing all your ‘secrets’, your clients won’t need you anymore? The answer is a big NO, I am not afraid at all! I wrote an article about this question, here's the link.
Leveraging Linkedin as a consultant is extremely important (from a business growth standpoint)!
But most consultants have:
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 Linkedin, the T-L-C-way.
With a (highly automated) smart approach, 60% of my website traffic comes from Linkedin. On top, Linkedin is my main source of email list building.
The drivers of that success:
I know it's very tempting to cover multiple domains as a consultant, especially in difficult Corona-times. You are trying to keep all the options open, I get that (I've been there, got the T-shirt). Moving to a narrow focus is a scary exercise and requires guts and courage (and a certain financial buffer is helpful).
However, it's almost impossible these days to be successful if you keep focusing on multiple domains as a consultant.
There’s too much saturation in the very crowded consulting market, too many competitors doing the same thing. It’s a losing battle in both visibility (search engines/online traffic) and trust-building with prospects . Your (focused) competitor is only 1 click away.
My short advice if you are covering multiple expertise domains: move to a more narrow focus step-by-step.
It's less scary and you don't have to abandon everything at once. You can create special focus (e.g. cases, content, visibility, social proof, website, social profile, etc.) on your strongest expertise domain (your sweet spot) in small doses.
I am helping a few consultants as we speak with their migration to a narrow niche and they are leaving 'the old domains' behind in a (careful, but well outlined) fade-out approach, gradually growing their single-domain visible authority. You can easily copy such a progressive, iterative approach.
I am working with a few other consultants and they are merging some of their key expertise areas in a smart and unique (narrow) 'blend'.
Every problem has a solution. There are no rules here, just clever approaches. But I am 100% sure: you will never regret having narrowed your consulting focus!
Becoming visible is something most consultants really battle with. The truth is that visibility is the only thing that will make you stand out in a crowded and very competitive consulting world. As I always say: your competitor is only 1 click away!
I've been thinking quite a bit about this question during the past weeks. I wrote down several 'ideal circumstances' I've experienced as a go-to expert in my markets. Here's my list of 'alternative indicators' of consulting performance.
I hope you can learn from these 'success measures'. I see many 'indicators' in consulting, but these hardly ever appear on lists, which I always find very strange.
I could write pages and pages about this, but let me try to keep it crisp and clear.
But before diving into this, I'd like to say that I've learned to be extremely efficient with social media. I see a lot of people struggling and getting overwhelmed. I am sharing content every day (yes!) and never get overwhelmed at all. I am totally relaxed about it. The success drivers: focus, efficiency, automation. Here are my 3 key messages:
I hope I was able to answer the question of the reader. One final comment: please don't get overwhelmed. You don't need to be active everywhere. I would never do that. There are many common misconceptions about how much time it takes to develop and share content, and the bottom line is: it takes FAR less time than you think. Focus, efficient repurposing, automation!
The 8 main mistakes I see consultants make all the time.
Consulting is a credence business: prospects need to find (Google!), like, and trust us before buying.
I keep repeating: marketing in consultancy is NOT about sales. Marketing isn’t about pushing a product or service. Instead, marketing is about sharing your knowledge and providing authentic value to your clients (trust-building).
That's why content-driven visibility is the only thing that is going to make you stand out in a crowded and very competitive consulting world. The more you open up, the more your clients and prospects can relate to you as a consultant.
Related content: Doing 'Sales' in consulting is not always easy (my LinkedIn post)
2. Focus, focus, focus
I could write pages about the topic of focus but here's the essence: to better connect with your clients (both off- and online), you have to niche down and demonstrate that you’re an expert in a single, narrow area.
Consulting clients are searching for subject matter experts and trusted advisors to help solve their problems. Clients have more options today than ever before - there are more consultants and experts and advisors than ever in the past and buyers can find anything in seconds. Your competitor is only 1 click away!
The world's biggest authorities relentlessly say ‘No’ to protect and maintain their narrow positioning.
Related content: Why you should learn to say NO to grow your consulting business
3. Your unique story is your starting point
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.
Related content: Consultants, unlock the teacher in you (my LinkedIn post)4. You need a crystal clear elevator pitch (EP)
Imagine you are at a conference and a prospect asks you what you do. I bet that 98% of all consultants would give a poor and foggy answer. In 30 seconds, you should be able to provide a crystal clear pitch about who you are, who your clients are, what your problem-solving expertise is, and how you solve those client problems. If you can't, you will dramatically dilute your reputation.
Here's my own EP: How good is your public profile as a consultant?5. You need a compelling point of view (POV)
It's not enough to have an elevator pitch, prospects also want to understand how you perceive current trends and how they might be causing the challenges clients will be facing tomorrow.
Here's my current POV (on my home page): "As consultants, we need to stand out! We need to consistently win profitable clients that value our expertise. Referrals work, but the pipeline doesn’t feel as reliable as it once did. The market has shifted.
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 in a very competitive, crowded consulting market? Your competitor is only 1 click away!"
6. Explain your 'Driver of Transformation' (DOT)
The DOT approach is an important way of thinking about your consulting offering as a catalyst for change or transformation. The DOT approach focuses on moving the client from point A (problem state) to point B (problem solved) and explains your specific Driver/Vehicle (your 'secret sauce') of transformation. In your DOT, you need to explain the future state of your client, not your product or service. With your DOT, you provoke or inspire 'The Promised Land' in a credible way.
7. Your social proof
Last but not least you present evidence that you can make the story come true. I always did this with a double approach:
1) writing case studies (success stories) about how I've helped other clients (similar to the prospect) achieving 'The Promised Land', and/or...
2) pain resolution recommendations from clients, explaining how I had helped them to achieve 'The Promised Land' (and not just commenting: he/she is a nice person to work with).
Many consultants struggle to translate their expertise into an easy-to-understand, credible message. Unfortunately, without a clear message, a consultant can never get the right connection with their target clients, leading to poor relevance and visibility in Google on top.
Clients are searching for subject matter experts and trusted advisors to help solve their problems. And those clients have more options today than ever before - there are more consultants and experts and advisors than there ever have been in the past and buyers can find anything in seconds.
David C. Baker (see my book summary): "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".
For those who know me a little bit, I am obsessed with organizing my work to free up time for business development, and I am on a ruthless search for productivity gains, systems, and processes. People are always surprised when I tell them about ‘having a time strategy’.
Here are my 3 biggest time-saving approaches, time tested a decade long:1. Focus
I already talked about focus earlier in this post, but more from a marketing perspective.
And here’s the focus rationale from a time-saving perspective. Earlier, I’ve explained the development of the critical components of an expert positioning:
Can you imagine doing all that work for multiple expertise domains and still finding the time to deliver your client work (and remain credible)? Impossible! 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 structurally grow your business.
As a consultant, you need to fully grasp the details, the background, the context, the relationships, the trend(s), the characteristics, the frequency, the volume, the typical stakeholders involved, etc. of the critical pains of your target clients (in your narrow market). If you cover multiple expertise areas, that’s totally impossible to accomplish.
The world's biggest authorities relentlessly say ‘No’ to protect their time and maintain their narrow positioning. Focus!2. Staying upstream
In their striving for visible authority, 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).
As authority you'd stay (far) away from implementation work, that’s how I ‘survived’ the past decade. Strategy, roadmapping, diagnosing. That’s your new mindset to save time as a consultant (and authority).3. Standardising 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 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 and it is also immensely difficult to reverse that downward spiral. It will burn you out one day, watch out!
Here are a few more time-saving benefits of packaging a service that I learned over the years:
CONCLUSION: Not having (making) enough time is a mindset!
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.
If you really want to develop your consulting business, you will have to get rid of the vicious mindset that tells you ‘I don’t have time to win more clients’ or ‘I don’t have time to nurture my existing clients’.
Contrary to popular belief, marketing is not merely about selling stuff. Marketing in consulting is all about building long-term visibility and trust.
As I’ve seen time and time again, consultants don’t like marketing and sales. Many of the consultants I’ve met in the past believe that marketing is somehow ‘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 the time. A good consultant is a good marketer of his/her expertise.
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 critical trust-building, visibility-improving activity.
Unfortunately, many of the marketing departments in larger consulting firms are not really focused a lot on supporting the senior people with structurally developing and maintaining their external visibility and to help them with building trust in their markets/industry.
I am doing quite a bit of workshops with consultancy firms and in this article, I’ve summarized how senior consultants and marketing can best collaborate to improve the consultant’s visible authority in the market. Make sure to check it out in full, but here’s the gist:As a consultant, you should do the following:
Consistency is one of the key elements of getting measurable results from your content. Your content machine should be well-oiled and diligently maintained. I see fellow consultants post a LinkedIn article every few months and then fail to get any meaningful traction and leads. That’s because one-off pieces that are published outside of a larger strategy will never deliver the type of returns that a robust content machine can.
That’s where a content machine comes in, so let’s dive into it.
I have set up a process that allows me to generate a large volume of content and distribute it with a high level of efficiency. This question prompted me to write a blog post, so do check out my detailed response here.
Here's a quick recap.
Step 1: Identify your content inspiration sources. As a consultant, you have plenty. These are my content sources:
Step 2: Create a content hub that will centralize all your content efforts
There are many ways to create a system that will allow you to publish your content, send out newsletters, schedule social media posts, and track all of the efforts. Hubspot is the system of my choice.
Step 3: Set up a system for promoting your content – the machine.
Almost 100% of my content – blog articles, social media posts, newsletter – is published and promoted according to a schedule. While I, of course, engage with my network on social media often spontaneously, my own content goes through my content machine.
This is not the first time I come across a question like this. “Network until you drop” is how we, as consultants, are basically taught to go about business development. While building relationships and expanding your network certainly can help, my argument has always been that such reliance is dangerous.
I was never reliant on my network to grow my consulting business. Building relationships was never my ultimate goal but rather the result of my subject expertise, my visibility, and my reputation on the market.
I’ve been making an effort to provide in-depth answers to the questions coming from you, my subscribers. That’s why I once again put together an entire blog article dedicated to this subject.
In it, I outline not only the dangers and the limitations posed by a relationship-first approach, but also offer an alternative – and, in my view, a significantly more reliable and scalable – model for growing your consulting business.
The dangers of relying on your network to grow your business include:
The strategy I propose – a far more reliable one – allows you to create a four-pillar foundation for your business growth:
Here are some of the most common mistakes I’ve witnessed (and many of them, I’ve committed myself when I was starting out).
Big mistake #1: your content doesn’t serve these 4 core principles
Developing content as a consultant serves these 4 main objectives (I’ll keep it short) and if you cannot tick these boxes without hesitation, you are undermining your consulting business!
Big mistake #2: your content doesn't answer the problems your target audience is struggling with
When I develop my content, I always keep the pain points and challenges of my audience at the forefront of my mind and my goals, and I use all my learnings to show them how they can implement what I’ve learned to achieve similar results. That's what I did all those years.
Your main objective? Educating your buyers/clients, share best practices with them, 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. Value, value, value! And share that value. Share. And share again.
And here’s why you shouldn’t be afraid of sharing your expertise: Why You Should Share Your Expertise To Grow Your Consulting Business
Big mistake #3: your content development and distribution process is suboptimal
I hope you found these answers useful. At the bare minimum, I want you to use these questions to take a step back and evaluate how you market your consulting business. I will continue answering the questions that come from my readers – both solo consultants and those working for larger firms – and will periodically update this article with the answers.
Do you have any questions you’d like me to address in one of the editions of the newsletter or on my blog? I’d love to hear from you. Submit your question here.
We’ll be catching up in 2021 with another Big Question in the next edition of my newsletter. Make sure to sign up and you’ll get access to the knowledge I’m sharing with my subscribers. No BS. Pure learning.
Till soon again in 'The Authority' newsletter!
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)