Why You Should Share Your Expertise To Grow Your Consulting Business
Business Development in Consulting, Educating the Target Audience
This article was last updated on 30 September 2022.
Putting in the rigorous effort toward creating valuable content that was focused on educating my audience 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 short-term content vanity. It’s the people who stick with it the longest, that reap the largest rewards (Nicolas Cole)
I’ve never been afraid of educating my audience by 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?
My easy and relaxed answer to this is that clients must know, like, and trust us before they buy. It’s the essence of good content marketing. Consulting is a credence business, and sharing your expertise through educative content is the only thing that can build this trust (and visibility).
Let me provide you with a personal example. I gave the opening keynote speech at an international conference a few years ago. The learnings I’d presented had intrigued this HRD. 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, she kept receiving my new case studies in the background as she was subscribed to our email list. Six months later, her assistant called for a meeting.
It was one of those many meetings where I sat in front of the ‘buyer’ with a printed stack of my case studies and articles on the desk. She apologized for the delay in getting back to me. She had to prepare a business case for consultancy investment, which took her a while.
“Your case studies and articles had been my best source of information to prepare the business case for your support,” she admitted to me with a big smile.
The HR Director finally got the approval from her boss (just before we met), and at the end of our meeting, she gave me the go-ahead for one of the most rewarding consulting projects I’ve ever done. Amazing!
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 60' meeting in her office) was nothing more than a friendly handshake to get started right away.
No need to explain, persuade, sell, or negotiate.
10 Reasons why consultancies shouldn't be afraid of sharing their expertise
1. Expertise tops content.
Clients are looking for the bigger picture: the qualifications and years of experience that a consultancy brings to the table. Content can never replace that! Clients pay to help them to apply a consultancy's expertise to their specific situation.
By openly sharing expertise, a consultancy sends a message that its consultants are not afraid to reveal their expertise because they are that confident in their own skills and knowledge. It sends a powerful message that the consulting firm has much more to offer because of how freely its consultants share their knowledge.
2. Content doesn't replace implementation.
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’. If prospects need support, the educational content provided by a consultancy will never be THE solution to them. But THE CONSULTANCY is!
3. Content builds trust.
Educating the target audience is the best possible way to build a strong and credible reputation as a consultancy. Without trust in their expertise, consulting firms won’t get that call to meet. And if prospects don’t call, consultancies 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.'
Recommended reading: Shaping Your Consultancy’s Thought Leadership To Accelerate Growth
"Show your prospects who you are, what you do, how you solve client problems, what clients can learn from your experience, your struggles and failures.
4. Content builds visibility.
If a consultancy is reluctant to embrace content-driven marketing, nobody will ever find it on the internet. In a world where professional services buyers act like consumers and can find anything in seconds, how on earth will this firm be found? As Google’s SEO Starter Guide puts it, “Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here.”
Did you know that 90% of professional service buyers check out a consultant’s expertise online before making a decision whether or not to get in touch with them? And did you know that a striking 80% of potential consultants and consultancies put themselves out of the picture straight away because of their poor online profile and/or the lack of visible expertise? (Data from Hinge Research Institute)
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5. Audience education builds a mental connection.
The more a consultancy writes about how THEY have solved the problems of their clients, the more clients will relate to them and build a mental connection with them over time. Important though: the writing should be pain-resolution educational content. Clients should immediately recognize their pains in the stories shared by consultancies (that's what I did: storytelling from the problem-solving project trenches).
The more you open up, the more people will relate to you! (Tim Denning)
6. Writing & sharing content deepens a consultancy's expertise.
There's no better way for consulting firms to deepen their expertise than writing about it and sharing it. In the words 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'.
7. Sharing content provides consultancies with data.
I am obsessed with studying and researching what my prospects and existing clients are reading from me, how much time they invest in reading my stuff, what exactly they focus on when going through my content, how often they come back to read, how long they stay on my blog, what their click-thru behaviors are, etc.
It's the most important research database to understand the interests & behaviors of a consultancy's prospects and clients. I couldn't have been successful in the past without these data, you bet.
8. Content sharing is a pre-qualification tool.
In the early years of my consulting work, I received quite a big volume of inquiry calls from 'non-ideal' clients. However, the more I wrote about the work I was doing, the more 'ideal clients' calls I got. Step by step, my writing (and speaking) became my most important client pre-qualification tool.
The prospects who contacted me knew exactly what I was doing, which problems I was solving, what kind of projects I was involved in. In fact, once my content-driven visibility got established, I almost never got non-ideal inquiries anymore.
Recommended reading: The Best Way To Grow A Consulting Firm? Educate Your Audience!
9. Educating the audience propels conversion.
Regularly publishing authoritative, educational, unique content is not a feel-good strategy that can’t really be measured. It’s a data-driven approach to maximize the return on investment - the investment of a consultancy's time, effort, and other resources dedicated to creating thoughtful content pieces.
Here’s the stat to prove that: Website conversion rate is nearly 6x higher for content marketing adopters than non-adopters (2.9% vs 0.5%)!
Whether consultancies like it or not but their content is the key driver of the TLC process: from Traffic to Leads to Clients. About 80% of the traffic to my website originates from the content that I am sharing. My content has always been like 'my assets': the more I wrote, the more traffic and ultimately the more clients I got. Consultancies' content should be organized in such a way it drives leads to their business. Sounds like a no-brainer, or?
And, of course, the ROI of educating the audience and sharing expertise in the form of thought leadership content is in the growth of subscribers. Growing a subscriber's list empowers consultancies to communicated directly to their target audience and is one of the best ways to share their content. It's a growth loop – the more valuable content they share, the more subscribers they will accumulate, the more opportunities they get to share their content.
10. Content is an alternative hiring tool.
For about a decade, I received an almost infinite number of spontaneous applications of top experts who wanted to work with me/us. They had been reading my content and became keen to join what we were doing. Just like with prospects, content allows consultancies to build trust with candidates. If they can't find anything 'trust-building' about a consultancy, this firm will struggle much more to attract top talent (or contractors to support growth).
Related Content: The Single Biggest Mistake Consultancies Make: Talking About Themselves
Consultancies should not worry about competitors. They should be leaders!
“But Luk, aren’t we just revealing all our secrets to our competitors?” I get a variation of this question pretty often. To be frank, the thought of competitors trying to “steal my thunder” never really crossed my mind when I was developing my authority and market recognition.
Sure, consultancies' competitors will get a better understanding of what they do and how they do it. So what? Competitors can’t replicate what these firms know and how they deliver value. The ultimate value comes from the knowledge and the ability to translate that knowledge into problem-solving work consulting companies deliver for their clients. Content is a way to make the target audience aware of the expertise, to develop trust, and gain visibility. It’s never going to replace what consultancies can deliver to their clients.
So any attempts by competition to replicate a consultancy's content will come off as inauthentic. And buyers, when given a choice, will always pick the original, not a copycat.
Clients prefer to work with leaders - with winners
As a subject matter expert, a consultancy should see its role as that of a leader. Leaders proactively raise questions that other consulting businesses hesitate to ask. Leaders discover patterns and trends. Leaders educate. Leaders do not offer superficial solutions. When addressing problems, they go to the very heart of the issue. Leaders are generous with their knowledge because they are confident in the value of their offering.
And here’s the thing – the market knows. Prospects know which consultancies are considered to be leaders.
- They know because they came across their insightful content;
- They know because their colleagues and peers mentioned the names of these firms;
- They know because these consultancies' employees are sought-after speakers at relevant industry events.
The potential damage of not sharing is far greater
According to Grist’s research findings, 91% of senior executives see thought leadership as critical or important to who they choose as advisor. So consultancies should think about all the potential clients they are guaranteed to miss out on without a thought-leadership-based educational content strategy.
I urge consultancies to adopt a leader’s mindset and not worry about their competitors. Firms that are able to do that will be looking at their competitors in the rearview mirror anyway.
Marketing in consulting isn’t about pushing a product or service on a customer who doesn’t need it.
Instead, marketing is about educating the audience and providing something of authentic value to followers, prospects or clients.
A consulting company's expertise is probably not truly exceptional but THE COMPANY AND ITS CONSULTANTS certainly are. Consultancies struggling to start developing content can start by telling the authentic story of their project struggles, suffering in the trenches, dealing with bottlenecks, the way they'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 these story and can truly connect with the consulting businesses.
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.
Recommended reading: Consulting Leaders, Stop Outsourcing Your Thought Leadership Responsibility to Marketing!
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Hello, I’m Luk Smeyers, and I’m helping mid-sized consultancies become high-performing consulting firms. I have been in the consulting businesses for more than 20 years, in very different roles: as European CHRO in a global consultancy, as a founder of a mid-sized analytics consultancy, and as a leader in a 'Big 4' consultancy, post-acquisition of my consultancy. I had the privilege of achieving global visibility as a consulting leader, 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 advising consultancies in the past years.