Sell Your Consulting Services Online By Mastering Six Areas: What It Takes, Your Credentials, Your Role, Consulting Processes, Types Of Consulting And Pricing
Consultancy services are the easiest to start … but it takes a lot to satisfy a customer.
According to the Harvard Business Review: “Each year management consultants receive more than $2 billion for their services. Much of this money pays for impractical data and poorly implemented recommendations. Clients need to ask more from such advisers, who in turn must learn to satisfy expanded expectations.” This is a client’s point of view.
Another description I’ve read is this one: “If you’re not part of the solution there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem”. This could be a mischievous consultant’s point of view. This second explanation sums up to me why people get suspicious before hiring a consultant. It’s tough to quantify what attitude you’ll get for what you pay.
At Solohacks Academy, we believe consulting, mentoring or coaching can be a brilliant revenue earner – provided you have what it takes. That includes being a patient teacher with the right ethics and professionalism. It also includes having a grip on your area of expertise and client psychology.
1. What It Takes To Be A Top Grade Consultant
Starting out of the gate as a consultant in Knowledge Commerce, you should know if your chosen expertise niche is unique, differentiated from competition, and has enough demand to become a lucrative business. You should know who your potential clients could be, what their needs are, and how best to reach their ears. And you should also see if you have all that it takes to be successful, to make hay while the sun shines and to weather stormy times without breaking. So let’s begin the journey.
a. Seeing If Your Unique Expertise Is Marketable
If you have identified an area of unique expertise that you have, you can see how to convert it into a consulting service – provided you can also confirm if it is a marketable service, with good demand. There are some smart ways to check this. Read on.
With consulting services, your “expertise” is one demand-starter – but the more important one is “experience”
You cannot be an expert in a field in which you haven’t worked. In the world of top-of-the-pile consultants, it is often held that you must have at least 10,000 hours of experience in your chosen field, to be called an expert. I don’t subscribe to this kind of illogical measurement.
You must have the ability and desire to sharpen your own knowledge. Your area of expertise is unique and valuable to potential clients. Beyond that, the exact hours you have spent in this field are irrelevant. Your work and the end results you get for clients is what really matters more. I would think that experience without a competitive advantage is meaningless. The important thing is that your knowledge and experience gained must be capable of giving you an edge over the competition – and you should be able to prove this is so.
Begin by understanding your unique expertise that can make you differentiated from competition
The first step to starting your consulting services is to know what knowledge you can offer. This needn’t only be an area where you have had a previous job. It could be a side-passion or hobby you have delved in for longish time – or a talent at which you found you are exceptionally good, but which never got utilized in your job.
It goes without saying that wherever rouses your passion and eagerness to teach is good to start with, and you have to then ensure you gain enough knowledge on the topic, and experience you can showcase. Knowledge about a topic is abundantly available online for you to acquire. But what about getting enough experience to back your case? Here is an idea you can follow.
Try to offer your consulting services for free initially, if you don’t already have provable experience
Commit your time to work for at least 3-5 businesses for free at first. Some consultants even do this for up to 10-20 early clients. When you offer free work, you can pick and choose who will get your work free – and you can thus build a portfolio of varied case studies demonstrating your multi-faceted experience.
Not only is this good to showcase to future paying clients, but this will also give you a good sense of your consulting strengths and weaknesses, and result-achievement ability. It will further give you an idea of the marketability and demand for your chosen field of expertise.
If you do this, you get an instant advantage when you start working with paying clients. Instead of just being able to say, “I can help you increase your sales”, you can say, “I’ve already helped three entrepreneurs quadruple their sales in under 6 months”. What a difference that makes!
Potential clients invariably like to hear about clients you’ve worked for in the past. So be careful not only about the projects you pick to work on for free, but be choosy about the entrepreneurs you choose to work for. The better-known your clientele list is, the better-accepted you will be by future client prospects.
Will big clients let you work free on their projects? Why not? Tell them openly that you are doing this to grow a great portfolio, and need their help to do a terrific job you can showcase. That will reassure them that you’ll give their project your best, even if you’re doing it for free.
Where will you find clients to work for – either for free or later for money? That’s what we discuss in the next section.
b. Identifying Your Potential Clients And Their Needs
Who are those people who will be ideal clients for your consulting services? And how will you reach out to them, once you identify them? There are three clues to finding your client prospects, and three great ways to connect with them.
Three clues to identifying your ideal client prospects by what they need
- Find people who have pain-points that your consulting services can help solve:
The low-hanging fruit – the client prospects who may be most ready to buy your consulting services – are those who have difficult pain-points to surmount, and are actively looking for help in these areas. You needn’t try to educate them on the fact that they have a problem. They would know this themselves, and they may be the kinds of people searching Google for help on their topic.
They could be using search terms like “improving site speed for more traffic”, or be asking questions on Quora of a very specific nature like, “How to get more traffic for my site? I have been in business for six months but the traffic is measly …?”
People who have pain-points, and also know they have these specific pains, are easy to net – simply because they have analyzed their condition themselves and are now looking for solution providers. There can also be those who have more general pains like “poor traffic” or “site speed slow” who are looking for more information before they are seeking actual help to solve the issue. So these two categories of pain-point sufferers are the ones most ready to become your clients.
- Find people who want to learn how to do a set of tasks and whom you can help with this:
Another set of people who are likely to be good client prospects for you are the “how-to-do” ponderers in your niche. They are not people looking for the theory behind anything. They just want action steps.
For example, they may be asking around on social media or on forums, “How does one do the performance tracking for online courses? I don’t want the standard metrics on my courseware plugin, I want to set up my own analysis system …”.
There may also be people asking general how-to questions on Google search, social media, forums, and Groups – such as “How to create some basic marketing automation for small businesses?”
- Find people who want to understand certain new concepts and you can teach them to implement these:
The third group of potential clients you may be interested in getting are those who want someone to explain some newly emerging concepts to them, and teach them how to incorporate those into their businesses.
For example, a query I got recently was, “What is this Voice Search? Should my site be made ready for accommodating this, and how should I do it?”. Another query I frequently get is “What does this new Google algorithm mean for my site? Should I do something to protect against traffic drop on my site?”
People who ask such questions are those wading into new territory (with the evolution of technology) and not knowing what it may or may not do to their online businesses. They need someone who can help them work out the ramifications, and to assess risks to their businesses – to be able to take the right actions for safety or for gains.
Three great ways to make your expertise visible and attract potential clients towards you
- Listen to the conversations on social media to identify prospects with vexations:
“Social listening” is defined by Swetha Amaresan in the Hubspot blog as follows: “Social listening is the monitoring of your brand’s social media channels for any customer feedback and direct mentions of your brand or discussions regarding specific keywords, topics, competitors, or industries, followed by an analysis to gain insights and act on those opportunities.”
She further goes on to say that, “By performing social listening, you can create the kind of content your followers actually want, come up with new ideas based on industry trends, improve your customer experience by interacting directly with customers, and continuously shift your customer strategy to fit the current need.”
Hearig what your client prospects are talking about on social media, forums, or social groups is key to knowing what problems they have currently. Their problem-set may evolve as times, trends and technology evolve. So a consultant can never get away from spending some time every day “listening”. One great new tool for audience insights gained from listening to what people talk about is Sparktoro. Check out the Sparktoro site. You need nothing else to know where your audience hangs out most, and what they are airing as their topics of interest.
- Do inbound content marketing with blogging, social media, and email:
People online don’t come to buy consulting services right away. They like to evaluate before buying. They like to hear the reviews of their friends and peers about any consultant they are thinking of hiring. They want to use their own judgment, so they don’t buy on the say-so of the consultant himself.
Given this climate of “self-and-peer-driven evaluation” that happens online all the time, sales of consulting services are a result of information-gathering. Sales become a by-product of the quality of promotional information you put out. After reading many of your articles and posts around a topic of interest, your readers grow to trust your word – and then when you make a purchase recommendation, and have the consulting services to offer, they become predisposed to accepting your word as an authority on that topic. They do as you say.
This method of consistent marketing – called “inbound content marketing” – is a direct antithesis to pushy hard-sell advertising or cold-calling. Content marketing is THE ONLY WAY anything can be sold online, because that is the nature of the online marketing beast. There is no other way people online will buy anything.
That’s why blogging is so important. Repeated and regular publishing of blog posts from you, on your niche topic, gradually builds market trust in you as a subject authority – and then you can sell what you want to, when sufficient trust is built. In fact, as more and more trust builds up, you can sell your services at higher prices. It all begins and grows with your blogging.
Once you start blogging, all you need to do is to open accounts with the big social media channels like Twitter, Facebook Pages, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram. Make several excerpts of your blog posts, and post them regularly.
You also don’t want one-time site visitors. You need to capture the emails of those who visit your site (with an optin form and a free downloadable ebook or attractive resources), so you can keep in touch with subscribers frequently by email, and get them returning to your site often. Experts say that it takes anywhere between 10-12 “touches” before a prospect may become a buy-ready client.
- Form reciprocal client-sharing deals by networking with other types of consultants:
This method I am about to share with you has paid the greatest dividends in my consulting life. Here your aim should be to network with all the types of other consultants who may service clients that you covet – attorneys, chartered accountants, venture capitalists and so on.
They may have built highly-trusted-relationships with their clients. If they were to add a word in your favor when a client is looking for someone like you to help in your niche, it would count a lot to the client.
Network with such consultants who are not your direct competitors. Reciprocal arrangements work best with them. For example, you could work out a deal with other consultants like this: “If you pass on one of your clients to me, when he needs my kind of help, I’ll give you a 15% referral fee. And I’ll do the same for you.”
This method works really fast for client-prospecting, because the client doesn’t need anything more to convince him than the word of a consultant whom he already fully trusts. Try it. It works like the blazes.
It also works beautifully when you are a fledgling consultant, and need the help of other consultants to give your brand name a shout out among their circles of clients.
c. Checking If You Have All That It Takes
There are lots of skills a consultant needs – at the top of the heap is, of course, domain expertise in your niche, and the credentials and experience to back your claim. But let us for a moment, look at what else you need to have.
The ability to handle and manage clients, and knowing how to build relationships without letting them sour
Although “handling and managing clients” makes it sound like you are going to have to walk on egg-shells constantly, it’s far easier than you think. The one-word answer to the whole rigmarole is to put the word “respect” above all else in the relationship.
You need to have healthy self-respect. Your client needs to be non-verbally told that you appreciate it when he too has self-respect. Then you both need to have mutual respect. That’s it. Everything will fall into place, and you will both know what you need to do if “respect” is the operative emotion.
What is self-respect? It’s the ability to see the logic and facts of a situation objectively, without in any way taking anything personally or subjectively. If a client was to say, “That headline seems to need some tweaking …” the consultant should have enough self-esteem to know that he is not being personally discredited as “useless with headlines”. If the consultant was to say, “We need more information from your side …” to the client, then the client must have enough self-esteem to know that the consultant is not belittling his business and its information-poorness.
90% of all the speed-breakers in client-consultant relationships happen when either one party has poor self-respect and begins to take things personally instead of professionally.
Mutual respect happens automatically when both parties know how to respect themselves first. It’s only when you are comfortable and familiar with respecting yourself, that you know what respect is, and how to create the right conditions for give-and-take of respect.
The thing about building relationships is that you have to be like a “defensive driver”. It’s better to assume that things may go wrong and be on the alert. It’s better to be pro-active in preventing things from sliding south, than to be caught off-guard and then reacting to any growing sourness in a relationship. Be wary, but also don’t show that inner watchfulness to the client, as if you suspect his every move. It’s about cautious optimism that all will be well.
The ability to multi-task when you have work, and to have loads of patience when you don’t
Every consultant’s life is up and down at the best of times. There will be periods of extreme busy-work, just as there will be times of no work. How will you handle both these extremes with aplomb?
At times when the workload is heavy, you have to streamline and calendarize and bring systems into play, to see that all your clients’ projects are going through like well-oiled mechanisms. You need robust time and productivity management systems, and also strong communication systems, to keep clients from feeling as if their projects are getting step-motherly treatment.
At fallow times, when there’s no work on your table, you have to manage your finances and use your time creatively, instead of getting into a depression. Use the alone-time to build new muscles of patience and creativity.
Build new products you can sell to clients, or beef up your workflows and processes to make them work even better than they normally do. Read up a lot, to keep yourself abreast of emerging technologies. Use the time to grow yourself, rather than get stunted by the extended periods when money and work are not to be found. And, don’t spend money irrationally, out of frustration.
Some of the best days of your life are hidden in these times of “growth” – provided you see fallow periods as “growth periods” in your life.
Three things to always have one eye on – finance, legalities and ethics
Any business, including consulting services, is done for earning money. You earn when you spend less than you make. You earn when you are able to command your worth without diffidence. You earn by knowing the basics of finance management.
You can get help on financial and legal matters, and you often may need such external help before you quote on a project or ask clients to sign consulting service agreements or contracts. But you also need your own basic knowledge of finance and legalities, without total dependence on outside help.
It’s never too smart to be an ignoramus about financial and legal matters. If you want to cut costs, speak to two or three finance and legal experts before framing a quotation-cum-contract template, so you can then re-use it for every client.
Coming to the issue of ethics, it’s a really important but tricky subject. All consultants are expected to have basic ethics. For instance, all professional apex bodies for consultants stress on ethical standards as the very basics of the consulting trade.
What do we commonly understand to be ethical practices? Keeping client confidentiality is one ethic. Not taking on competitive clients, without letting your current clients know, is another ethic. Not misleading the client for your own gain is the third ethic. You get the gist. You have to be an honest, upright consultant. When in doubt, clear the matter of ethics with your client so both of you have the same expectations on ethics.
Beyond what is commonly expected best-practice, each industry has its own ethics. See if your expertise niche requires some mandated forms of ethics to demonstrate. For example, do you need some compulsory certifications? Do you need some transparency badges or accreditations? What redressal mechanisms are considered ethical in your niche, if issues need support, arbitration, or settlement?
Remember this axiom: the more you know about these things, the less you need to worry about them. Knowledge will automatically make you aware and watchful of your practice methods.
2. Credentials Every Consultant Needs To Showcase
If there’s one thing consultants need most in their lives, it’s credentials. Your credentials are the ways you can show proof of quality and authority on your topic. Credentials can include all of these things: proof of differentiated knowledge, certifications and affiliations, social proof, case studies, testimonials, topical authority, thought-leadership, and branding. Review your credentials from time to time, to see if they need updating, upgrading or just a bit more of spit and polish.
a. Differentiated Knowledge, Certification And Affiliations
Doubtless you’ve seen many consultants hanging their framed credentials on walls behind their heads, when they speak on videos or Skype calls with clients. If you have great credentials, why not flaunt them, is the popular opinion. But just having credentials isn’t enough. Are you differentiated from the competition? What certifications matter to clients? How can affiliations to apex organizations in your niche help? Let’s study these, one by one.
How can you ensure your unique expertise is truly differentiated from competition?
Ask yourself in an unscientific way what your difference from competition is. You’d have many ideas to list. But the important point here is this. It’s not what you see as your difference that matters. It’s what your target audience sees as your difference, that will make you cut the grade. Now, how do you find out how your target market may see your difference?
Your first step: survey your target audience before you survey your competitors. Discover the top two criteria they hold above all others in selecting a teaching expert on a topic. Let’s take an example. Let’s say you are a knowledge expert in “Content Marketing & Blogging”. Don’t rush to check out other marketers also teaching Internet Marketing. Survey your potential target audiences.
Let’s say, you cater to people who have already tried out Content Marketing, but have been unsuccessful. In your audience survey, you may discover their two biggest challenges:
- They are not getting enough ideas for content marketing and writing blog posts.
- Their content marketing is not attracting enough traffic to their websites.
Such audiences are likely to judge you against the competition on these two criteria. They have said they hold these two criteria as the most important ones. Armed with his knowledge let’s go the next step …
Plot Your Competitors On A Classic 2 X 2 Map. The diagram below is an example of a 2 x 2 Map. Use it to plot your competitors’ market positioning against your audiences’ top criteria.
Now you have four quadrants as follows:
- Quadrant A is for competitors who give least ideas for blog posts, and least ideas for traffic-generation content marketing.
- Quadrant B is for competitors who give least ideas for blog posts, and most ideas for traffic-generation content marketing.
- Quadrant C is for competitors who give most ideas for blog posts, and most ideas for traffic-generation content marketing.
- Quadrant D is for competitors who give most ideas for blog posts, and least ideas for traffic-generation content marketing.
Now, take your top four or five competitors and plot where they may exist on the map. Take into consideration what they offer on the two important criteria for customers.
After you’ve plotted competitors on the map, see if there’s a concentration of them in any quadrant. Is there still room for you there? Or, can you fit into one of the quadrants with the least competition?
In this example, let’s say you want to steer clear of the competition. So you want to be in Quadrant B. That means your positioning should be this. “I offer more traffic generating ideas but less blog post ideas.”
Offering more ideas for traffic-generating content is a clear plus-point. But offering fewer ideas for blog posts seems like a disadvantage, doesn’t it? But you can smartly spin this as an advantage by saying:
“Get more traffic out of fewer blog posts. I’ll show you how.”
That’s the savvy you need to make any positioning sound like a plus point. Turn the negatives also into positives.
What certifications do you need to put up on the virtual wall behind you?
Certifications are critically important in some niches, and not so much in others. For example, Chartered Accountants and Legal Advisors need strong certifications, as do Medical Professionals. Whereas, if you are great at content marketing, and it’s your forte that you are converting into consulting services, a certificate of your education in this field isn’t so critical as your experience and visibility. So the short answer here is, don’t try to put on a wall behind you some dubious certificates for niches that don’t require them. If you try to show certifications in areas where they are unnecessary, it will only be counter-productive. It will say about you to clients: “This chap is trying too hard to prove he has what it takes. What the hell does that certificate mean to me anyway?”
Instead of certifications of your training and education, you can instead show off any awards you have received for your grip on your subject, and your sterling work in your field of expertise … provided again that the award is from a renowned organization. Having an award from an unknown organization with a flaky website and just three to five members, is not the way to showcase your achievements.
What memberships and affiliations will mark you out as belonging to a blue-chip crowd?
Shwing off your affiliations will be great if you are a member of the apex bodies and organizations in your niche. For instance, if you are a great expert in healthy foods for fitness, you could be a member of a highly valued “organic foods” body. Similarly, if you are a user-experience designer for websites, you could get certificates of participation from the Virtual UX Conference of the Nielsen Norman Group, who are the last word on user-experience design.
If you are into ecommerce – as most Knowledge Commerce entrepreneurs are – the badges of your top-grade payment gateways such as PayPal or Stripe would be excellent to showcase on your site.
Another great badge of value would be to get a D-U-N-S Number. This is a number given to you by Dun & Bradstreet after you fill their form and they are able to do a check on whether you exist as a business and have a clean record. It helps you get international business from clients who have no way to physically check you out if you’re from another country, and therefore rely on Dun & Bradstreet with their global offices to authenticate your existence and record. As Dun & Bradstreet state: “The D‑U‑N‑S Number is used in dozens of countries around the world, and confers numerous benefits on businesses that participate. The business credit file associated with your business’s D‑U‑N‑S Number can help potential partners learn about your business and make informed decisions about whether or not to work with you as a client, supplier, or partner.”
b. Social Proof, Case Studies And Testimonials
The tricky parts of using social proof, case studies, and testimonials are, first, how to get them – and, second, how best to display them. You need a fine balance in your endorsement-collection. Every type of endorsement of your consulting services should sound authentic and appreciative, without being too offbeat or over-the-top.
What does the online client-world see as social proof, and how do you accumulate it and showcase it?
“Social proof” is nothing but “the good words different classes of people (who matter) say about you”. Since your clients are online people, who cannot evaluate you in person, they would naturally rely on the good words said about you by others whom they value.
As a consultant, it would help you immensely if you are formally or informally endorsed by these four kinds of people who will matter to your clients.
- Experts related to your niche mention you positively: A good example of this would be an Instagram mention by an influencer in one of his more important or interesting updates. You could embed this Instagram update into your own website.
- Customers of yours endorse your brand: Clientele-delivered social proof is powerful when unsolicited … your current clientele may spontaneously rate and recommend your consulting services on review sites, based on their experiences with your brand. Look for such instances that you can link to or display on your website.
- The crowds online chat about you using flattering descriptions: When a large group of people (for example, on a Twitter chat oe Facebook Group) discuss your services in an appreciative tone, you could quote salient parts of this chat on your website.
- You receive invites to speak or be interviewed on a podcast, webinar, video, or blog: You should promote such events as much as the interviewers or webinar-producers do. Nothing gilds your social proof as much as this kind of invite that shows you off as an “expert” chosen for your opinions.
How can you build your case studies portfolio – and what if clients are averse to your airing their stories?
Case studies are much loved by brand marketers and their target audiences. There are two reasons for this, and both are very important. One reason why case studies are so compelling is that they are a form of storytelling, and usually stories with happy triumphant endings are satisfying emotionally to read and get inspired by. The second reason is that when readers read these case studies they get the feeling of “vicarious product trial”. That means, even if they are not able to try out the product on offer themselves, or are not ready to do so, they have the satisfaction that someone did try it out and had good results.
What to do if a client doesn’t want his name or business revealed in case study
The argument that works in such cases is that, while belief does get strained by “name-suppressed” case studies, on the other hand, the question arises as to what is more vital to the potential reader – the name of the customer and his credentials, or the thinking process and conceptual and strategic strengths of the consultant?
And again, even if the consultant has included the names and email contacts of his past clients as proof, what is to say it is not a “fake case study” from his own cooperative brother-in-law?
If the reader were to use the case study more as an example of the way the marketer thinks and strategizes (and what the marketer values as “success” criteria in his work), then regardless of whoever validates the brand or service, the reader would at least get a judgment of the marketer’s success measures and processes.
How to present a case study for maximum impact, without boring readers with too much detail
You need to show the challenge you faced, and show the way you handled the case innovatively. But do this with some succinct copy. Here’s an example of the format I follow.
How can you get testimonials that best promote your brand, and how should you use them?
Testimonials are very important, indeed, as brand-endorsement … but there are many ways you can display testimonials. Most people use it on their consulting services landing pages or in emails. But, how about having a page dedicated to testimonials on your site?
The smartest way to ask for a testimonial is immediately after a client project is over. That’s when the details of the project are fresh in the minds of your customers. Further, asking for a good testimonial at the end of a project makes the customer bring to mind your plus points, and think positively of you going into the future.
When you have a bunch of testimonials to use, you have to pick the right ones to display. Here is one thing to do: remove any testimonials that duplicate the same points about your services. Pick testimonials, so that each one highlights a different aspect of your services, and then display them in order of your brand’s priority of benefits to customers.
Desist from trying to tweak or standardize the language of the varied testimonials you get. Let the natural language of each client show through. And do remember to link back to the clients’ websites, if they are okay with your using their real names and business names in your testimonials.
c. Topical Authority, Thought-Leadership And Branding
Unlike endorsements from past clientele, and social proof from other intelligentsia online, topical authority, thought-leadership, and branding are about the cues you display by the kind of messages you put out. Your blog, social media updates, and email marketing are the places where you must pay most attention to how your knowledge and expertise comes across to potential clients.
What is topical authority? What do clients value as topical authority?
Topical authority refers to the breadth and depth of your knowledge in your chosen niche for offering consulting services. You can usually display your topical authority by blogging on a variety of related topics that show how far your range of knowledge on your topic extends, and how deep you can drill down into your topic.
Clients may come to you with diverse problems in your area of expertise. No two clients you get will have the same kind of problems or pain-points, so there is usually no “one-size-fits-all” answer you can give. Consulting by nature is about “customized help”. If you are not aware of every inch of your topic, you may not be able to help as many clients as you wish to. It’s the depth and breadth of your knowledge that makes you a good fit for various types of clients in your niche with an assortment of problems.
Your topical authority will grow as you read more and more on your topic of expertise, and especially when you read works from topline authors and consultants in and around your niche. You can also get truckloads of topical authority if you stay apace with the evolution of thought, technology, and trends in your niche.
What is thought-leadership and why does it matter? How does one become a thought-leader online?
Thought leadership differs from topical authority quite substantially. While topical authority is about the range of knowledge you have in your expertise area, thought-leadership is about “innovative analytical ability you have” in your niche.
For example, let’s say, you come across some latest research in your field. Topical authority would demand that you are aware of this research and its findings, are able to explain it to your clients. Whereas, thought-leadership is about how innovatively you read this research to find insights in it that escape most other experts.
People can rely on you not just to know about this research, but because you have a way of analyzing it all in a way that is more useful to clients. You are full of ideas on how this research can be practically applied to improve your clients’ businesses and projects. You judge the pros and cons, and have an unusual point of view on the research.
In short, you display thought-leadership, because you are probably the first person to think of things this way. If you are constantly exhibiting your thought-leadership it instantly magnetizes clients towards you, because they know you’ll show them angles that other people don’t.
What kind of personal and business branding does a consultant selling his services need?
Personal business branding is about the values and standards you promise to clients. It doesn’t make much of a difference whether you are presenting yourself as the brand, or you have a different branding than your personal name. Ultimately you are what counts. People will judge your business branding as your personal branding, and vice versa.
Your branding differentiates you from the competition when your values appear to stand apart from what competition promises. But how do you differentiate your brand in a market that’s choc-a-bloc with competitive consultants, who are all trying to be different from each other? Simple, you identify your “maverick factor” …
Your maverick factor is the psychological aspect of yourself that makes you think and act in an independent way, often behaving differently from the expected or usual way. Contrary to popular thinking, it’s not that some people are born more maverick than others. The truth is everyone has a “maverick streak” in them, and it’s only that some people give expression to it regularly, whereas others do everything to hide it from themselves and others, because they have an inherent need to belong to the crowds.
Remember this: there is no better brand-differential enhancer than the naturally unique mind of the brand owner.
3. Understanding Your Role As A Consultant
Many consultants don’t fully understand what role to play in a client’s life. This is because you may need to use a bit of psychology to see exactly what a client needs of you, before you begin to launch yourself at him with your “I can do all this for you” spiel. Every client has differing needs – some explicitly stated, and some remaining unstated.
When you know clearly what role you will and will not play for clients, you can focus better on what clients want of you – to see your mutual fit. There are also different challenges through the three phases of the consulting process – client acquisition, retention and relationship building.
a. What Role Should A Consultant Play For A Client
Of all the Knowledge Commerce products you can sell, professional consultancy must be the easiest. Technically, you need nothing beyond a landing page on your site. But you may need to understand what role you should play, and what you shouldn’t, in a customer’s life.
A consultant needs the mindset of an empathetic doctor
The best and smartest approach to coming across as an ideal consultant is to be exactly like a doctor. A patient usually comes to a doctor complaining of the symptoms. It’s the doctor’s job to diagnose the underlying problem if he wants to cure the patient.
A doctor who is only worried about the cure but not the symptoms will not satisfy a patient. Neither will a doctor who merely palliates the symptoms but doesn’t have a cure for the underlying disease. A consultant has to help a customer with both: his immediate symptoms or problems as well as the underlying causes of it which will require a permanent cure.
You need sharp diagnostic and problem-solving skills
Very few customers will know exactly what problem they have. They only know how to explain what bottlenecks they suffer from, or what pain-points make them uncomfortable enough to seek paid help. That’s why every consultant needs one skill above all else – the skill to elicit from the client the layers of the problem, until he comes to the root cause.
And then he needs the skills to help solve the problem. Solutions can never be of the cookie-cutter type. A consultant needs creativity, emotional intelligence, intuitive resourcefulness and the ability to teach a solution in clear simple steps that a customer can follow.
Your goal should be to clarify, solve, fortify and systematize
What a consultant should never agree to do is “the dirty work” for a customer. People are often tempted to call a low-cost consultant than a Virtual Assistant for managerial help. As a consultant, you should only be hired for your brains and nothing else.
You have four roles to effectively play in a customer’s life. First, help the customer clarify his problem. Then show him some solutions to implement. After that, help him fortify his business against similar problems in the future. Finally, help him systematize the solution and absorb it into his daily workflow.
b. Understanding Why Clients May Hire You
It’s easy to explain in general terms that a consultant is usually hired for his unique expertise. But customers have demands that go beyond the general. There are three specific reasons that customers may actually pay good money to a consultant for. It helps to know which of a consultant’s services are of most help to clients who are in a tangle.
Customers in a dilemma need someone with objectivity
Most customers come to a consultant after they’ve done a lot of thinking on their own, but their thinking has fallen into a rut. They find themselves incapable of objective judgment because they are too close to the problem. They seem to be getting the same ideas when they think of the problem.
Getting in a consultant brings a fresh view to their issues. A fresh pair of eyes may be able to see what they can’t see. The consultant may be able to tell the customer what the rest of the industry does in such a situation and how he can do the same or even be different. The consultant can also broaden the customer’s mind away from his rutted thinking style. Objectivity and mind-widening are key benefits of hiring a consultant.
Consultants are often people customers can brainstorm with
No matter how creative a customer is, there are times when he may feel like “two heads are better than one”. Especially if the customer is a solo entrepreneur or small businessperson, there may not be a team he can rely on to tell it like it is – or to open a new set of ideas.
Because consultants often work with many different businesses and customers, they come with wide-ranging experience of handling tricky issues, apart from their domain expertise. Given this experience, they can often bring new and innovative ideas to the table, or help highlight potential problems that customers may not even have thought of.
Consultants may bring in specialized skills the customer needs
Sometimes in a customer’s life, some specialized skills may be needed from time to time, which are not necessary to hire for long periods. There may be certain specific issues to deal with and finish with. For example, a customer may want his site restructured to match the new SEO rules.
A consultant in such cases, is a person who can step in and out of a customer’s life doing just what’s needed. He can also help set up rules and guidelines that the customer can maintain on his own in the future. Most consulting assignments tend to begin with such specific needs. Some later evolve into long-term relationships.
c. The 3 Big Challenges Of A Consulting Service
Three areas where entrepreneur-consultants require constant focus are in new customer acquisition, old customer retention and repeat business generation. Let’s look at these three areas in a bit of detail.
Creating a system for new client acquisition
Many consultants may be experts in their field, but few are as good at marketing. A consultant in Knowledge Commerce, however, needs to be both – a domain expert plus a marketing expert.
Not having adequate marketing skills will actually reduce you to doing more marketing and less consulting. Consultants, who don’t want to be pressured to search for clients between consulting assignments, need to ensure they do their marketing daily. Don’t do marketing only when you need to. You should be marketing even when you don’t need to – and when you have clients on hand. That keeps prospects all the time in your pipeline.
Creating a system for client retention
Customers who come for consulting help prepare themselves to pay high. But they are also overloaded with expectations that are very hard to deliver on. To enjoy long-lasting relationships in consulting, you need to keep showing value. Throughout the consulting project customers must feel they are continuing to get the value that outweighs the costs.
Also, the consultant-customer relationship is one of delicate trust. It requires almost daily maintenance. Good marketing can win you new customers. But your relationship-and-trust-building skills are what can keep old ones loyal.
Finding reasons to continue consulting relationships
Unless you create reasons for customers to continue the connection with you, you may find they begin all over again with another consultant for the next project. This happens so often that consultants are left wondering why clients leave when they have done nothing wrong.
What you need to do is to include in your projects some periodic reviews after project completion. Offer these free of charge as extras. Give yourself the opportunity to elongate the connections with customers to pre-empt them from looking for greener pastures.
4. Mastering The Consulting Process And Workflows
Do you know how exactly good consultants work? There is a system already in place for how consultants must process the assignments they get, from beginning to end. You not only have to show your clients that you know this process, but that you also maintain high professionalism all through, and set some red lines for yourself and clients to never cross.
Being professional and consistent from beginning to end of a project is good for your brand. It also ensures you deliver your best – and don’t allow the client to game you. A consultant-client relationship should be one of mutual respect, where standards of conduct are high from both sides. Personal friendships may develop, but they cannot be allowed to enable any one of the parties to take the other for granted.
a. Succeeding With The Client Acquisition Process
If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know who your ideal clients are and what unique value proposition you have as an expert and specialist-consultant to offer them. The best way to get clients online, though isn’t one of random cold calling people you don’t know. Instead, you have to do a lot of marketing to build an audience for your expertise, so that a few of them can spontaneously turn to you as a go-to expert when they need help.
Your consulting has only one purpose: it’s to acquire and serve your perfect clientele
Experts believe that every target audience segment has some 0.5-2% of the market of top-end clients. These are the clients who ask for your help when they first notice issues in their businesses to be immediately solved. They are pro-active. Mediocre clients then make up about 78% of the market. These clients are the ones who ask for help after getting mired in issues. They usually are already in a pickle and have to get out. They are reactive. At the very bottom of the market are some 20% of the clients. They are usually already sunken in troubles, and often don’t know how they even got there. They have been negligent or ignorant.
Your perfect clients are the ones occupying the top 0.5-2% of your target market. It’s far easier to match your services with those who are pro-active, because you know they understand the value of “prevention being better than cure”. You can help them the most and they will value both your symptomatic relief and preventive insurance against future such issues.
Further, if you steadily gun for these perfect clients, the more money you will make – and then the better the services you can offer your future clientele, and so on. It’s a virtuous cycle.
What most consultants fail to do is to politely eliminate clientele that looks promising but isn’t a perfect fit for their businesses. Fear of losing business should never let you take on less-than-perfect clients, because the time-eating that less-than-perfect clients do is money lost and wear-and-tear on you.
Every now and again some mediocre clients too may get caught in your net your marketing throws out, but once you recognize how time-and-money-eroding these clients are for you, you will jettison them. The polite and non-abrasive way you can do this is to say you’re already full up with work and when you have some time slots you will let them know.
Get a lot of potential clients, put them in a queue and then pick the ones ready to pay premium rates
The more your potential clients show eagerness to do business with you, the higher the margin you can set on your involvement. There’s one mistake most consultants make, though, when a lot of business comes their way.
They are instantly tempted to hire more hands to keep those extra few clients they can’t handle themselves. Instead of doing this, you should only serve as many clients you can personally handle, and raise your prices – so that the ones that can’t pay will weed themselves out of your calendar.
Why this strategy? Because, as a solopreneur consultant your aim should be to get more for every hour on the job from fewer clients, instead of aiming for lower rates from more clients. The market sees consultants as topnotch by how much they charge, and not by how many clients they have. You too have to start measuring your success by your rates rather than by the number of clients.
While you still need to steadily increase the number of clients in your waiting queue, eventually you must pick only a few of the highest paying ones. If you do this, you will grow your brand, your visibility, and your rank against competition.
Remember: you are not a consulting firm with many hands, to be counting on the number of clients you have, all of whom pay low. You are a soloist who is separated in the market by your ability to command premium prices. So you must grow your demand, and then take on only those clients willing to pay your premium pricing.
This strategy has two benefits: one, you earn more for your time from clients with generous wallets; and two, having a long queue of clients hoping to find a place in your calendar is in itself a huge brand-rank-multiplier.
b. Professionalizing The Proposal And Contracting Process
Let’s say, your marketing efforts have paid off and some potential clients have asked for a proposal-cum quote from from you. Here’s what should happen from that point.
Every consulting project will involves a mix of information gathering, analysis of the problem, delivery mechanisms for the solution, and workflow sequences that combine to achieve the client’s desired outcome.
The smartness in offering consulting “packages” rather than open-ended services
It would be a great idea if instead of offering totally open-ended consulting, you offer some “modular packages” instead – for example, you can have a problem-audit package, and a set of “duration-limited” consulting such as a “2-week package”, a “4-week package”, “a 12-week package” etc. The advantage of offering packages is that the scope of what you will do becomes immediately apparent to customers. It also enables you to have pre-created systems – workflows, invoices, pre-written emails, contracts – in place and ready-to-go for these packages.
It’s also a great idea to offer a “Free Discovery Call” when you can judge if the client is right for you, and what his wallet size is and what his project is all about. Then you’ll be able to recommend one of your ideal consulting packages and durations, according to the client’s situation, challenge, and budget.
What your initial proposal and follow up Quote-Cum-Contract should contain
Here is an insight into the 6-step proposal and process we use for delivering our Solohacks Consulting Services.
1. Free Discovery Call: On this preliminary call, of between 20-30 minutes, we discuss the client’s problems and goals and determine whether or not there is a good fit between our approaches and the client’s desired outcomes. We also guarantee confidentiality to our clients. We aim to define a scope for the consulting project – the key dates, deliverables, pricing, and expected outcomes. We recommend the right consulting package of the right duration for the client. We set start and end dates, and milestones along the way.
2. Scoping/Package Recommendation/Scheduling: Once the client has agreed on one of our Paid Consulting Packages, we follow up with a detailed Quote-Cum-Contract. This document helps firm up the economics, duration, and schedule for the consulting assignment. For longer duration consulting assignments, it may also list the materials needed from either side, and detail the week-by-week project steps – the milestone dates, and deliverables from either side, as well as the outcomes for each milestone completion. We explicitly mention that clients would need to sign their approval of this Quote-Cum-Contract for the go-ahead, and then make the payment for the chosen package, for us to begin work.
3. Depending on the details of each project we may cover some or all of these 3 areas:
- Project Strategy: This could entail strategy development or problem-solution. During strategy development, we work in collaboration with the client to determine the most appropriate ideas that the client can implement, within his resources and constraints.
- Implementation Support & Training: We aim to ensure that the solutions or strategies we zero in on, are built into the workflow of clients – so that they become part of the business process the client follows. Training, if needed, is included. We also suggest ways the client can sustain the tempo of action on the solutions and strategies.
- Fixes For Problematic Issues: Every strategy or solution takes a bit of trial-and-error and time to get perfectly right. We understand that each client has his adoption curve. We hand-hold the client until he feels he is okay to proceed on his own. Many consultants tune-off from clients too early. Our aim is to see that clients are cruising smoothly before we get out of their speed-path.
c. Assignment Handling And Relationship Building
Consultants often speak of the 6R Strategy to manage assignments and clients with a great deal of aplomb. These 6R’s are simple tenets to follow, but you have to be completely focused on these as your critical personal mandates that you will always adhere to, and develop a reputation for. So what are the 6R’s?
- 1. Reliability: No matter what, you have to be as good as your word. When you make a promise to deliver something, you absolutely have to follow through, despite all manner of challenges. If external circumstances make it difficult to follow through, you have to let the client know well ahead that things are still moving, albeit a bit slowly, but you are on the job and he needn’t worry because you will deliver. In consulting, your trustworthiness is everything.
- 2. Responsibility: When you take up an assignment, you should see yourself as a “steward” for the client’s brand. Your recommendations and implementations should all be geared for the betterment of the client’s brand, as if it were your own. A client doesn’t lightly give you the reins to his project. He expects you to become a loyal member of his team, thinking of his best interests and upholding his brand values. Your every action has to say to him: “Your brand and its values are as precious to me as to you, from here on. I will take responsibility to ensure your brand is cared for, protected, and grown.”
- 3. Receptiveness: Listening to a client is a fine art. A consultant must be willing to listen a lot, because in listening he hears not only what the clients says explicitly, but also his feelings and desires. Although the client has come to you as the “expert” in your field, remember the client knows about his own business better than you do. You cannot push him to do things he feels intuitively to be wrong for his business. Your role is to be receptive to his understanding of his business and then give your recommendations based on what he is telling you via words or body language. Your expertise must be used to reinforce his business acumen, not to suppress or railroad him.
- 4. Responsiveness: Responsiveness is different from responsibility. Responsiveness is about “responding to issues with promptness”. Remember, as a consultant, you should never let any issues fester. You have to react immediately to issues that crop up from time to time, on the project, or in the client relationship. You don’t always have to have a ready solution, but you should give the client the assurance that you have noted the issue for accelerated action, and will attend to it on priority, and revert when it’s resolved … or if it will take some time to resolve, you will keep the client in the loop till it’s all handled.
- 5. Resourcefulness: When clients pay you for a project, they expect to see some resourcefulness – some innovative, ingenious, cost-effective, and competitive ideas. What extra edge can you bring to the table, that exceeds the words on your contract? How can you not just satisfy, but actually delight, the client? How can you surpass expectations, and be seen to deliver “more bang for the buck”? That is what resourcefulness is all about.
- 6. Relationship-building: This is a big one. Relationship-building is not one more task to be ticked on your list. It is a constant watchfulness that enables you to always do the right thing to keep a relationship at its healthiest best, hour after hour, day after day, and even long after the consulting project is over. Too much of anything destroys a relationship. For instance, too much familiarity breeds contempt. Too much negligence breeds a waning interest in the client. Starting a relationship is easier than sustaining a relationship. Rebuilding a relationship that gets broken is hardest of all. With relationship-building, prevention of attrition is always better than cure. So don’t let things slide. Maintain connect, but don’t badger with an over-connect, or lose the loyalty of the client through an under-connect. It isn’t easy, but you’ll get better and better at relationship-management with practice.
5. Types Of Consulting Services You Can Offer
Within the consulting services framework, there are many ways you can offer your services, depending on what is best for you and your target clientele. For instance, you can offer one-to-one consulting or one-to-many consulting. You can offer services in the name of “mentoring”, “coaching” or “consulting”, with fine differences between these different nomenclatures. Or you can prefer to “productize” your consulting rather than offering it as a service.
a. One-To-One Or One-To-Many Consulting Services
What is the difference between one-to-one consulting versus one-to-many consulting? Here’s how they differ.
One-to-one consulting happens when you take up one client at a time and devote full attention to the specific needs of that client. Your services are completely customized for that one client.
It obviously will take up your time to deal with clients on a one-to-one basis, and your ability to earn off several clients with small budgets gets limited. The projects you get had better be lucrative enough to warrant such time dedication to clients on an individual basis.
That said, one-to-one consulting can be ideal for consultants who prefer being paid by hourly rates, or monthly retainer, or by projects.
Here, one consultant can, for instance, teach a “class or group of students together” – provided the subject is less customized and more generally valuable to a group of people with common problems. Usually, webinar-style sessions, masterminds, brainstorms, and workshop sessions can exemplify the one-to-many types of consulting.
Remember, this too takes up your time, plus it may cost a bit more to stage a session with the right tools. But the payoff is that having many students per session can allow you to earn more too. So, this model has its own economics. The number of students per session has to cover both your time and costs, and still leave you with a profit.
One-to-many consulting is best used when you feel that students will enroll not only to get your knowledge, but also because they will like being part of a class or group of students they can bond with.
Choosing between one-to-one consulting versus one-to-many consulting
Choosing between one model or the other depends a lot on what knowledge you’re selling. If you’re a legal consultant, the confidentiality of client assignments reigns supreme, so one-to-one is the only way you can go. If you’re a wellness expert, on the other hand, you could undertake group-attended cooking sessions for healthy food preparation techniques.
b. Mentoring Services For Guided DIY Projects
Many consultants use words like “mentoring”, “coaching” or “consulting” interchangeably. But clients may see nuances of differences between all these three types of functions. So don’t use these words to describe yourself, until you’re sure what you mean. And see that the clients you handle also get the gist of exactly where and how you can help them.
Mentoring vs Coaching vs Consulting: what’s the difference?
- “Mentoring” is usually involved when you are focused less on the task a client is trying to achieve, and more on the mindset of the client and its improvement. You are the motivator of the client and the goal you want to achieve for the client is to improve his attitude, his orientation to his issues and motivation level.
- “Coaching” is usually involved when you are teaching the steps to take for an action to be completed by the client. You show him the roadmap to achieve what he wants, and you guide him through the steps of the task. There is less focus on the personality of the client and more focus on the task at hand.
- “Consulting” is about the improvement of performance and results. Your goal and that of the client is about getting end results by the most cost-and-time effective and innovative methods, and you help clients achieve performance parameters by showing them the many options to get to where they want, and helping them choose the most ideal route. You help them stay focused on “results” as opposed the way a task is done or the mindset with which it is done.
Obviously, between these three methods of mentoring, coaching, or consulting, there are many areas of overlap. In general, though, the market perception usually sees a hierarchy – they see coaching as a lower form of service, then comes mentoring, and then comes consulting. When people see tiers of services with this point of view, it naturally affects your pricing too. If you called yourself a coach, small businesses with small budgets may find it more reassuring and attractive. Mentoring would make mid-sized entrepreneurs’ eyes gleam. And consulting becomes a top-of-the-pile kind of service with higher price tags attached.
Cover all 3 bases by offering “Guided DIY Projects”
Some consultants, who dislike limiting themselves to labels like “coaches”, “mentors” or “consultants”, opt to call their services “Guided DIY Projects”. This way of naming their services instantly implies two things: one, that the client is going to be engaged in doing the project himself in a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mode – and the consultant is not going to do things for the client like a Virtual Assistant; and two, the consultant becomes the guide for the project, doing whatever is needed to keep the client progressing and succeeding – on his mindset, steps of action and results.
c. Productizing Your Consulting Services
Productized consulting is a way to package your expertise into something people can buy off the shelf without asking for a custom quote. Most often, consultants try to make their consulting services a “passive earning item”, rather than one where they trade their time for money, by offering pre-set consulting packages. These packages may state what services they can offer as part of the package and what the price will be. Clients can buy such packages knowing exactly what they will be getting for their money.
An example of a packaged consulting service from our own site
In one of the mentoring/consulting services we offer, we help clients’ set up and run businesses for Knowledge Commerce for the first three months, and thereafter we train the clients to run their businesses themselves. We thought of this idea because we found a lot of clients coming to us wanting to start Knowledge Commerce businesses, but balking at getting into unfamiliar waters. They appreciated the idea that we would help set up their businesses and mentor them for three months, helping create templates that they could then continue with after a bit of training.
What we could have added to our productized package if we wished
We decided upfront to custom quote for people who opted for this menotoring service, rather than set fixed pricing. This is because we wanted to make it affordable to a variety of budgets. We could also have chosen to create pre-set prices for different plans – for example, lower-cost plans would include service 1-5, the next plans would include service 1-7, and the full plans would include all 10 services. These are just different ways we could have devised our productized services.
How you productive your services, and how you offer pricing plans, depends a lot on the business goals you set for yourself. The overall idea of productizing consulting services though is to give as much clarity to the client upfront on what services he will get and at what price. It saves hours on customized paperwork for the consultants too. You can have ready-to-use templates for your quotes and contracts.
6. Pricing Your Consulting Services
Of all the Knowledge Commerce products you can sell, professional consultancy is the hardest to price. As we have mentioned earlier, you may need to showcase enough social proof to validate your price. This could include domain knowledge certifications, affiliations, client testimonials, good reviews, guest posts by you in high places, and online social chatter that mentions your name positively.
To cut time and costs, some consultants have templates of all administrative tasks to hand – like contracts, client questionnaires, research worksheets and project planning schedules. A lot of such templates are also available off-the-shelf on good consultant-support sites. They can then tweak these for individual customers.
Here are some pricing models that work for consultants. Choose the ones that best fit customer-expectations.
a. Charging Prices By Hourly Rate Calculations
One method consultants use to charge customers is hourly rates. Check competitive consultants to see how they quote on likely hours and costs for projects. Price slightly on the premium side if you want to raise your brand profile. No matter what you charge, though, you’ll never know if it’s good enough for the client before you. Some degree of intuition and some last-minute flexibility will help you clinch the deal.
A formula to calculate your hourly rate
If you don’t have an hourly rates benchmark for your industry or niche, or can’t quite know how your competitors are charging, you can use this approach instead: Check out the likely salary of a person employed full-time by a company to do the kind of job you are planning to do. Take the annual salary of such a person, divide it by 2000 hours, and then multiply the result by 2 or 3 times. You should get the kind of hourly rate you could aim for.
For example: let’s say a person in a full-time job with the same credentials that you have, doing the kind of job you will be doing, has an annual salary of about $100,000. Divided that by 2000 hours and you get the result of $50 per hour. Based on these results, you should charge anywhere between $100 to $150 per hour for your consulting services.
How to calculate effort hours
To calculate the hours of work involved in the consulting assignment, you first need an estimate of the actual hours you’d need to spend to do the job. To this, you have to add the hours that any specialty resources you need would spend on the job. Specialty resources could include freelance people, training specialists, legal, administrative, and so on.
Consider rework time (if you are allowing for, say, two or three iterations of rework of the project). Then add project management time. Usually, consultants add about 15% of the effort hours for project management. Next, add contingency hours (if there are likely to be any risks related to estimation). After adding up all this, review and adjust according to the likely competition for the assignment
b. Charging Prices By Projects Or Phasing
Some consultants prefer charging by projects (or project phases, if the work is large), without going into the nitty-gritty of hours of work involved. There are distinct differences in the way smalll consultants and big-ticket consultants handle project-based pricing.
How small consultants typically work out their pricing
One way is to add up your costs, add your desired profit margin, and give the customer the quote. This is how smaller consultants work.
Most often the “costs of the project” would either be some amount that the consultant sees as his or her value in the competitive market. Or it could be an idea of a possible budget the client has. The consultant may ask the client, “Roughly what is your budget for this work?” … or he may try to guesstimate the size of the client’s budget. Then he would tack on a desirable percentage of profit to that “cost” and give a quote.
The basic idea here is to not miss out on a client because of pricing – hence the need to size up the client’s budgetary constraints, and quote based on his declared budget or his body language.
How big-ticket consultants work out their pricing by betting on “results”
Big-ticket consultants have a riskier but far more lucrative method of charging. They typically check what additional revenue or cost-savings they can bring to their customers as a result of their handling the assignment. They then declare that they have a base consulting rate (which could be based on their hourly calculation method), but they will also take 20% or so of the revenues or cost gains the customer derives – as an additional fee for achieving or exceeding targets.
They show they are ready to risk a part of their fees to deliver results. Clients tend to find this very attractive because of the self-confidence shown by the consultants. This is also a smart ploy because the client invariably doesn’t see the base rate as being over-priced, when he compares that to the expectation of the results that the consultant has set before his shining eyes.
c. Charging Prices By A Retainer-Based System
Consulting on a retainer basis will give you a fixed monthly fee for which you agree to be available for a fixed number of hours per week or month. This kind of consulting arrangement is usual when the customer and the consultant are both in favor of fixing the money involved.
The pros and cons of retainer-based consulting
Most consultants, when starting to out in consultancy work, like to have one or two regular paying clients on a retainer basis. They figure these clients would at least cover their own business running costs, despite not giving them any profits. The prospect of some regular income is always attractive to newbie knowledge entrepreneurs. It gives you the feeling your business won’t sink even if it cannot yet be called a success.
But retainer arrangements also have their downsides. Some customers may preclude you from working for competitors. See that your contract is well-drafted using strong legal help because there can be many a slip between the cup and the lip.
A lot of retainer-based projects are also the ones that get sour later … because, with time, the adherence to the contract tends to slide from both sides. Those who charge by the hour or by projects, on the other hand, can walk away before things go south.
How to decide on the quantum of monthly retainer
You can calculate your retainer fee in the same way you’d calculate your project rates, or hourly rates, including a small percentage to cover contingencies.
If you plan on providing ongoing services on a retainer-based system, you can tell the client you will have a trial monthly retainer for the first three months to gauge if the work involved matches the retainer paid, and after review, you can both nail down and lock in the retainer-fee structure for the remaining period of the assignment.
Some consultants offer discounts if retainer fees are paid by quarter or bi-annually or annually. See if the client bites this idea of a bigger payment upfront in return for a discount of one or two month’s retainer fees.
In Summary …
- Starting out as a Knowledge Commerce consultant, you should know if your chosen expertise niche is unique, who your potential clients could be, and if you have all that it takes.
- Your credentials are ways to show proof of quality and authority. Include certifications, affiliations, social proof, case studies, testimonials, topical authority, and thought-leadership.
- When you know clearly what role you will and will not play for clients, you can focus better on mutual fit, client acquisition, retention and relationship building.
- Being professional and consistent from beginning to end of a project is good for your brand. It ensures you deliver your best – and doesn’t allow the client to game you.
- You can offer one-to-one consulting or one-to-many consulting. You can offer services as “mentoring”, “coaching” or “consulting”. Or you can “productize” your consulting.
- One method consultants use to charge customers is hourly rates. Some prefer charging by projects. Some others charge a fixed monthly retainer for finite hours of work per month.
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
This post is part of a series that elaborates on “How To Sell Consulting Services Online Via Knowledge Commerce“.
Other related posts you may like to read are these:
- How To Build Your Personal Brand For Consulting … 10 Keys
- How To Approach The Consulting Process … 10 Pro Steps
- How To Differentiate Your Consulting Strategy … 10 Routes
- How To Draft A Consulting Services Agreement … 10 Includes