It's easy to become complacent about marketing your consultancy — especially if you have plenty of work. All that can change without warning. During the dot com bust of 1999, I lost every single client in two months. I acquired several new clients from the experience and, eventually, most of the old ones returned, so I'm better off now than I was before. However, circumstances forced me to look for new work. As a result of that experience, I now spend a little time every week recruiting new clients.
Many IT consultants receive a lot of personal recommendations and rely solely on word of mouth and their reputations. Regardless of how successful you are, you can benefit from cold calls (unsolicited e-mail and phone calls). Some of my best clients are the result of cold calls. The topic makes a lot of people uncomfortable, so my advice is to put on a different hat.
Remove yourself from the situation and approach these calls as if you were the company's marketing or sales personnel. This initial contact might be your only chance to introduce your expertise and your leadership abilities. Consider it an opportunity to share how your consultancy can help a prospect achieve their current goals.
Personalize each cold call to the best of your ability. Sending a list of credentials isn't enough; you must make a personal connection. Show the prospective client that you're familiar with their business. Tell them what you can do for them, whether you're pitching a service they don't have or offering to help them cut costs.
Most of the time, you won't receive a response, but don't mistake that as disinterest. Oftentimes, you will pique someone's interest, but he or she just hasn't taken the time to pursue the matter. A follow-up from you not only reminds them, they usually see it as a sincere commitment on your part. For prospects who are genuinely interested, your follow-up is usually the action that gets things rolling.
The good news is that cold calls don't have to be time consuming. If you're astute, you will find plenty of prospective clients throughout your workdays. Make note of them, do a bit of research, and contact at least a few of them every month.
Many IT consultants tell me that networking is more successful than cold calls. You probably already belong to a few IT-specific user groups and organizations, but you can do more. Attend technical conferences to meet new people. Keep an eye open locally for opportunities as well; join the Jaycees, the Chamber of Commerce, and other business and civic-minded organizations. You never know when a short five-minute conversation might turn into a lucrative contract. Keep an open mind, talk to as many people as you can, and be generous when handing out your business cards. Follow up on your best leads with a friendly e-mail or phone call.
Job Web sites aren't just for traditional employment; many cater to consultants and contract employees. Post your credentials on job Web sites such as Dice, Sologig.com, and CareerBuilder.com. Update your profile often (but don't pay for an upgrade). When you contact a potential client, tell them why you are qualified and how you can help them in a succinct cover letter. Personally, I haven't found this route to be helpful, but many consultants tell me that they get a number of contracts this way.
Create an amicable relationship with other IT consultants and specialists. Share industry news and recommend them for projects when you can't take on the added work, or you're just not right for the project. They often return the kindness. At least once a month, I have the pleasure of referring an IT professional to a prospective client. I don't lose business; if I could do those jobs myself, I would. I'm creating good will and, frankly, it's the right thing to do. You're not going to get a lot of new clients this way, but you will build a network of reliable consultants, and the good will you generate will come back to you in ways you might not expect.Get weekly consulting tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Consultant newsletter, delivered each Monday, offers tips on how to attract customers, build your business, and increase your technical skills in order to get the job done. Automatically sign up today!
Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.