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How to build a successful coaching/consulting business?

Continuing to learn from Dorie Clark’s book “Entrepreneurial You”

Step 1 Develop your initial market.

Tell your family, friends, contacts about your decision to launch a consulting business. Ask them for introductions to folks who are able to hire and who you may be able to help. If time permits you should do this with a personal call or e-mail. And be specific about the type of client you want to attract. I would love to work with anyone in the aviation industry, or ask do you know anyone in Google, they would be my dream client. Of course, this assumes that you have a clear idea of what type of coaching/consulting business you want to build.  

If it is not obvious to you where your skill set lies, or maybe you are a generalist, complete an assessment of your areas of expertise.  Some pointers from Bozi Dar who runs an online business as a side gig,

  1. Understand what you are well qualified to share. In her book Dorie uses the phrase uniquely qualified, but as few of us are uniquely qualified, that is we are the only one in the whole world I have modified the term to well qualified. You can build a business based on the skills you have. What are you well qualified to share? Think about the questions people seek you out to ask. When would your work colleagues turn to you for advice?
  2. Do not quit your day job. Take the time to test your hypothesis of what type of work people are willing to pay you for. What’s the problem? Are people looking for a solution I can provide? Who and where are my potential customers? As you start to close deals and build a client base then you can take the plunge and become a full-time consultant. Check your employment contract with your current employer to ensure there are no clauses prohibiting you entering other part time employment. When I started my consulting work as a side business, I advised my company’s HR executive of my plans and obtained their approval. I felt that added a level of integrity to my business, I could tell clients that I was not working behind my employers back. And I avoided all conflicts of interest by only having clients in fields totally unrelated those of my full-time employer.
  3.    Build your competencies. If you are employed full time and even if you are highly talented, you may not have all the skills required to be an entrepreneur. If you are a marketing exec, possibly your financial skills need improving. Consider taking courses, hiring a business coach, join a group focused on entrepreneurship. Re-invest the income you are earning in rounding out your skills, so you are ready when you break ties with your employer and launch out on your own.

What if you do not have a network of friends, colleagues etc. who can help you. Dori recommends LinkedIn as way to build a network and I agree with her based on my experience. You can view your LinkedIn contacts to see who is in their network. If you see a person you want to connect with, ask for an introduction. Be prepared to be told that they do not know that person well, or even at all. I get connection requests almost every day, and if it is not from someone who is clearly out to sell me something I will accept the request. For many connections on my LinkedIn list this is the only interaction I ever have with them.

No network? Limited LinkedIn connections? What else can you do? Offer to speak for free, there are plenty of organizations looking for speakers for their monthly meetings, annual gatherings. And your price is right – free. You can decide to speak almost anywhere, you never know who may be in the audience. Make a list of non-profit, professional associations, local business groups, where you could speak and offer your services. If the audience does not match your potential clients consider how you can bridge the gap. Even a simple ask at the end of our talk that if they know of anyone who could use your services can bring results.

Or you can be more targeted, I chose to speak at CFO conferences. Although the audiences comprised of senior financial executives who were unlikely to need to hire a part time CFO, I could establish my credibility with them and if someone asked them if they knew a competent CFO possibly my name would come to mind.  I also speak to Executive Networks for similar reasons.

Speaking for free is not something you want to do forever, and in the next episode I will talk about how you can develop an income from paid speaking. But when you are starting out it is a great way to start. And if it lands you a contract early in your consulting career, it will be time well spent.

Find your voice.

When you land those first few consulting engagements make sure to make a substantial contribution that justifies your fee. Sometimes it can be hard to speak up, to deliver unwelcome news, but it is unlikely that your client has hired you just to be told everything is fine. You must achieve a balance of drawing out the facts from your client’s perspective by asking questions and sharing your opinion based on your knowledge and experience. By doing this you can make a genuine contribution and give them their money’s worth. This is best achieved by being you, telling things as you see it. If you can inject some humor into the situation giving bad news may not be too bad. Sometimes you will have a client who does not listen to you. I had a client where the owners were paying themselves way too much money and the business was heading for trouble. They did not change, and I ended the contract. A great thing of being a consultant is, as I said to a client over dinner last week, that I am fortunate I can afford to work only with clients I like.

Once you have established your credibility with your client, you should not hesitate to ask for referrals. For some reason consultants, myself included, do hesitate to ask for referrals or references. Somehow it seems akin to selling yourself. I am not sure why this is. Your client clearly sees you are bringing value to them, why should we be reluctant to ask them if they know anyone else to who we could deliver the same value. If you find it difficult to ask for referrals I recommend you listen to Steve Sweeny, The Referral Guy, who broadcasts each Wednesday on IBGR.network from Melbourne Australia. He also has a library of over 150 podcasts available.  If you are in North America consider checking out David Wilson’s show No Nonsense Market Domination.

For Steve Sweeny Ctrl+Click here

For David Wilson Ctrl+Click here

If you are interested in learning more from Dorie Clark’s excellent book please consider buying it through Amazon using my affiliate link. There will be no additional charge to you and I will earn a small commission that will help keep this blog going. Thank you.

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