Most consultants I know struggle with business development, and it’s a top concern among those thinking about going independent. “I don’t know how to build a pipeline of leads” or “I’m not good at sales” are common refrains.
Most of us never had sales training so this concern is understandable, but reframing how we think about business development can turn concern into action. Read any definition of business development and you won’t find the word sales.
A shift in perspective can make a significant difference in how you approach something. For example, before you go parasailing the first time you might think, “I’m excited to try this!” or “Oh my god, I’m going to die!” You’ll have a lot more fun if you approach it with an “I’m excited” attitude instead of “I’m scared.”
If you shift your perspective about finding more work, business development will be a lot easier.
Consultants aren’t salespeople. We are problem solvers who like to help people, so approach business development with this in mind. The first step is to know what you are really good at, what value you bring, and how you make a difference to your clients. My blog post about knowing your niche can help with this.
Next, think of yourself as the perfect solution in search of the right problem. You know what you’re really good at, now all you need to do is find the client, company, or project that could benefit from what you do. In other words:
- You’re an expert in search of the next problem that needs to be solved.
- You’re a project management wizard looking for a project in need of help.
- You’re an executive coach who needs to find those people who want to up their game.
The next step is to let people (friends, colleagues, former clients, former coworkers) know you’re ready, willing, and able to help when this type of problem or situation comes along. You also may need to shift your perspective about this step. It’s not cold-calling or spamming, it’s outreach to build awareness. You are doing them a favor by letting them know what you are particularly good at, so the next time that situation arises they will know who to call or who to refer to their boss or colleague. I wouldn’t phrase it this way in your email, brochure, or voicemail, but it’s helpful for you to think of it like this.
Here is some sample language to use for your outreach via email or LinkedIn messaging:
It’s been a while since we’ve been in touch. I hope you are doing well.
Hey, I wanted to let you know that I’m about to finish a project where I am responsible for getting clarity and cross-functional buy-in on a major enterprise software decision. It turns out I really like this kind of work and am quite good at it. For example, I was able to use one of my decision tools to streamline the process, eliminate a half-day offsite, and get agreement on the decision faster than they expected. Please keep me in mind if you or someone you know has a similar situation. I’d love to help.
I’m reaching out to you now to let you know that about 18 months ago I left ABC Firm and started consulting on my own. Over the years I have become quite good at creating custom implementation strategies and practical plans to drive user adoption of new systems, tools, processes, and software. Clients tell me that as a result of my work, they’re able to cut back on help desk support and reach their ROI faster. If you hear of any projects that could use my help, I’d appreciate it if you’d pass along my name. I’m happy to chat with anyone about how a customized change plan can really make a difference.
Be sure to mention how your clients benefit from what you do. The more specific, the better. If you want to list more than one example, use bullet points so it’s easier to skim. I also recommend including a link to your website or LinkedIn profile.
Remember, you are not trying to sell them something. You are simply letting them know how you make a difference and asking them to keep you in mind.
This is true business development: cultivating a relationship. Like any good consultant, you’re here to help.
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For more business development tips, see my article, “For Independent Consultants, Business Development = Relationship Development.”