I Never Had To Sell, Persuade Or Negotiate To Grow My Consulting Business
People keep asking me – often somewhat skeptically – if my hard content work has been paying off, has helped me to grow my consulting business in the past years.
I get those questions because becoming visible with valuable content is something most consultants really struggle 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 that consultants can make is to think that somehow potential clients will find them. Nothing could be further from reality.
Unlock the teacher in you!
It wasn’t always easy to produce valuable content. Not every swing was a hit. But it never felt like an uphill battle to me and sharing my expertise has enabled me to create opportunities that I would not have had otherwise.
Instead of developing short-lived content with the aim of telling potential clients how great we were (which would have been a darn uphill battle), I always focused on sharing deep experience and knowledge. The teacher in me kept asking:
- What did I learn in the project trenches about the biggest client pains that others could learn from?
- Which experiences did I acquire that could be valuable for others?
- What were the unique client stories (with successes and struggles) that could inspire others to pursue better outcomes?
Marketing yourself as a consultant is surprisingly easy! Share your unique stories and experiences in an authentic and passionate way and you will organically create a strong and loyal client base!
At the risk of sounding arrogant, I’ve always been surprised that by sharing my stories from the front line I was able to outperform the visibility of thousands of top consultants at Deloitte globally.
The more content I shared, the bigger the results, the easier to grow the consulting business.
It’s a little bit like a real estate developer: the bigger the assets, the bigger the results. I’ve always considered my content to be the assets of my library.
The more assets I had, the bigger my follower community became, the more traffic to the website I generated, the wider my reach and visibility got, the easier to grow the consulting business. Here’s an overview of the ‘secret weapon’ I was able to unlock for the business.
Result #1: Speaking invitations - the ‘content flywheel’
I call this the ‘content flywheel’: sharing valuable content leads to receiving speaking engagements, which, in turn, leads to more content opportunities and, as a result, to more speaking engagements, etc.
The ‘content fly wheel’ resulted in almost 100 conference and event invitations over the past decade. It was an incredible amplification of my visibility within my expertise domain.
Many consultants view ‘speaking’ as too narrow and are not leveraging something I’d call the ‘collateral visibility’.
For me, actually being on a stage and presenting has only been a very small part of the game. It’s the ‘collateral visibility’ that has always been a solid consulting business development engine for me, worth investing a lot of time.
Here are a few ‘collateral visibility’ effects:
- Client leads: encounters with potential consulting clients.
- Relationship building: inviting existing clients (socializing, lunches/drinks/dinners, …).
- Social media traffic: substantial visibility before, during, and after the conference/event, which I would often either initiate or amplify.
- Sharing new content: sending my conference presentation to participants (I always added a few ‘extras’ to it) as a way to build trust and strive for new contacts.
- Networking: general networking opportunities, a chance to listen to ‘the typical pains’ of participants (I've always been passioned about carefully listening to the pains and gains of potential clients).
- Flywheel maintenance: meetings with other conference producers (keeping the ‘flywheel’ going) and/or discuss renewed participation in the next year’s conference (I did sent conference participations - with my content - to the most important other conference producers to keep them in the loop of my activities).
- Competition check: listening to and better understanding speaking/exhibiting competitors (this is so so so so important!).
- Self-learning: personal development opportunities (listening to trends, speaking topics, and case studies). I often came back with 20-30 pages of notes that I took during the conference. Prospects and clients always expected me to understand the trends and the industry.
- New content sources: a birthplace of new content ideas (e.g. typical challenges of clients). I always came back home with at least 10 new content ideas.
Going to international conferences is often perceived as the ‘nice side of being a consultant’, but for me those were top opportunities for consultancy business development and I always tried to leverage every single minute, including the late night dinners and early morning breakfast encounters. I loved it!
Make sure your audience can see you. If you want to understand how the lion hunts, don’t go to the zoo. Go to the jungle. (Jim Stengel)
(Picture: Keynote presentation at the Bucharest Technology Week)
Result #2: A rock-solid online footprint and following
It has never been easier to get online visibility but at the same time, it has never been more difficult to convert this visibility into real business opportunities.
Success no longer comes from sharing a few articles or infrequently scattering ‘likes’ on LinkedIn (and I see a lot of consultants doing just that). The game has changed in the past years. Dramatically.
I know that many of you are struggling with the digital and social media jungle, but it’s actually not as difficult as it seems. ‘The game’ is not at all about social media as such, although it remains my most powerful tool to share my existing content.
As a consultant, I’ve always been a big believer in (and an active content contributor to) social media.
I invested (and still invest, of course) a lot of time in social media, but I fully outsourced the content distribution and curation preparation work to a social media expert. The distribution of the content as such has always been fully automated using the Buffer tool (in the past) and the Hubspot platform (today). A powerful combination: outsourcing and automation!
Here's a picture from the July 2020 automation on Hubspot. You can see that I am posting content every day (no exception) in a 100% automated way (every bar with the social medium logo is a post, in total >120 posts in July).
(Picture: my automated social media scheduling tool in my Hubspot platform)
A few outcomes of my visibility and online footprint:
- Website traffic: at the peak of the iNostix visibility, the website had unthinkable weekly traffic of around 10.000 clicks. This traffic was driven by the content on the blog. Experts were telling me that, given our relatively small company size and the narrow scope of my expertise, this was far beyond their imagination.
- Average time spent on the blog: readers were spending around 3 minutes on our blog, reading on average at least 2 articles. Content researchers report that the average time spent on blogs is about 20-35 seconds! (The iNostix blog got shut down in 2016 due to the Deloitte acquisition.)
- Accumulated sharing of the blogs: almost 1/3 of all articles were shared by the readers via social media - another amazing result!
- Google search 1st-page appearance: in the ‘golden years’ of iNostix’ visibility, my articles got us on the first page of Google search at least 2 or 3 times for keywords such as ‘HR Analytics’ or ‘People Analytics’. Pure organic traffic, content-driven.
- Twitter influencer of the month: measured by external source NodeXL, I remained in the top 5 ‘global Twitter influencers of the month’ for the hashtag #HRanalytics (until 2016) and in top 10 globally for the hashtag #peopleanalytics (until 2018, even after having closed the iNostix blog due to the Deloitte acquisition).
- A few other ‘events’:
- content awards (e.g. top 10 articles of the month, top 40 of the year, etc.),
- media coverage in my markets (e.g. interviews in HR magazines, monthly columns in leading HR magazines in 2 countries, etc.),
- invitations for jury participation (e.g. in start-up competitions, best people analytics case study competition),
- many teaching invitations at universities and business schools.
(Picture: Currently, almost 60% of traffic to my website TheVisibilityAuthority.com originates from my social media. It demonstrates how important social media are these days)
High-value content always finds its way to the right people!
In November 2017, I was a keynote speaker at the Tucana People Analytics Conference in London - in those days, the ‘mother of all people analytics conferences’. The conference moderator, fellow people analytics consultant Jonathan Ferrar, introduced the conference with an article that I had written a few months before.
The picture of my article (see below) was projected on a big screen (with the ‘iNostix by Deloitte’ logo in the bottom-left corner). The subject of the article became the leitmotif of the conference.
Wow! Of course, I was damn proud and took a picture quickly. It was the reward of hard and consistent content work for almost a decade. During the 2 days of the conference, about 30 to 40 participants talked to me about that article! Content impact!
(Picture: Moderator Jonathan Ferrar introduces the theme of the famous Tucana 2018 People Analytics conference in London with the help of my content)
Result #3: The business impact of visibility
And of course, the most relevant and most significant question: did my visibility in the market have an impact on the consulting business growth? Yes, it did. Big time!
- Revenue: the concept is very simple: valuable content = visibility + trust = consultancy growth. Although I never started developing content for monetization purposes as such, I could easily draw a correlation line between the content volume available, the improvement of my visibility, and growing the consulting business. Content definitely gave access to more clients and a more consistent flow of new client leads. I never had to chase new clients. Clients came to me/us instead of me/us having to convince and sell. Inbound instead of outbound. And, by the way, aggressive revenue growth targets (especially after the Deloitte acquisition) were always achieved, with zero marketing!
Visible Experts play a major role in driving growth and profit. (Hinge Research)
- Zero marketing investment: during all those years, apart from my travel costs to conferences, there was zero investment in marketing: no advertising, no campaigns, no marketing materials, no sponsorships, no conference investments (on invitation only), etc. The power of authority is an incredible (free) source of attraction, branding, and consultancy growth.
- Rates: due to my industry visibility as a people analytics expert, I was able to apply premium rates for myself and the team in consulting projects and, only with very few exceptions, they never got questioned. It’s clear from research from around the world that visible experts (no matter at what level: local, regional, or global players) are able to command premium rates.
- Client tenure: during all those years, due to the expert profile in the market, a substantial part of clients became long-lasting client relationships and/or projects. Visible expertise drives client retention and, as a result, overall engagement value!
- Ideal clients: it became clear to me quickly that clear (and sometimes bold) positioning of expertise (due to the content, the speaking engagements, the presence in social media, …) was causing a more organic pre-qualification of clients. People could easily understand what they could get from me and that has always been a big efficiency gain (not wasting time on irrelevant clients).
- Upstream work: due to my position in the market, the majority of the projects were much more high-ticket upstream work for me (strategically focused) instead of low-ticket downstream work (implementation focused).
- Hiring: it may be not on your radar screen immediately, but my strong external visibility has also helped me dramatically in finding the best people to grow the business. I had a constant flow of great profiles who were keen to join us because they had seen, read, and heard a lot about us, our expertise, and our clients. As a result, we had close to zero recruitment costs over a period of almost a decade. Hiring was an organic process on the back of being well-known in the industry.
- Acquisition: I discovered the tremendous power of confidence and peace of mind that prospective clients were looking for when inviting me as an expert. I participated in many proposal pitches and was competing against the big 4 consultancies on a regular basis. In 90% of the cases, the iNostix proposal seemed to be the best. The feedback: you guys are THE experts. In the years 2014-2015 I received calls from 3 of the big 4 consultancies to check out acquisition possibilities. They cited “a compelling expert profile in the market” as the reason. We proudly landed with Deloitte in 2016: a Gardner upper-quadrant analytics leader with a bunch of inspiring people. What a journey!
One of the main drivers behind the acquisition of iNostix was Luk’s status as a well-known global thought leader in the people analytics space. Luk has proven that amplifying visibility as a consultant is more than a feel-good marketing technique. He has clearly demonstrated that a deliberate and systematic approach to thought leadership and expert visibility is a compelling business development strategy. During more than a decade, he consistently and openly shared all his experiences and learnings in an authentic and passionate way leading to an incredibly strong and loyal client and follower base. (Yves van Durme, Partner at Deloitte and iNostix acquisition lead)
Clients don’t buy from consultants that they don’t know, don’t like, or don’t trust. So how do you get your target audience to know you, then like you, then trust you?
I hope I was able to demonstrate that investing in visibility and trust in a consistent and authentic (hard-working) way can ultimately deliver an incredible impact on the growth of your consulting business.
What are you waiting for?
If you have questions, reach out to me, and let's find out how you can get to similar results by improving your visible authority.
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Hello, I’m Luk Smeyers, and I’m guiding consulting firms through the journey of growing their business by helping them transform into go-to experts in their market. 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.