Leadership

How to market your IT consultancy

Google's listings, a company blog, client recommendations, and more are all good ways to market an IT service company.

Recently, I received an email from Shawntay Vaughn of Johnson Computer Technologies, which read in part:

I have a pressing question. I am the office manager for a very small IT company (less than 5 employees). I am also responsible for the sales and marketing for the company. Since I have been with the company, I have tried to create a marketable image for the company, however I am having difficulty selling the company. Mostly, because I am stuck behind a desk.

We don't have any other sales people and I am always needed at the office. I have tried to convince the president that he needs to be the first sales person, but he is the lead IT consultant and he also teaches at a university.

Do you have any suggestions for growing this company from 5 employees to 10 within the next 6 months to a year?

I responded:

Thanks for your email, Shawntay. Just because you're stuck behind a desk doesn't mean you can't do good marketing. One of the most important things you can do as an IT service company is to get yourself at the top of Google's listings for your locale. When someone searches for "IT consultant" you want to be the very first item, and you want the text that's shown under your link to say that you're the answer to their problems.

I assume you have a web site. Make sure that it has that key text close to the top, and that the site gets updated frequently. A blog is a good idea, not only for this, but also because if you talk about the kinds of things you do with authority, that also markets well. It's important, though paradoxical, to leave "marketing language" out of that -- talk about the subject matter (e.g., the kinds of problems customers run into and how you deal with them) instead of about how great you are.

Leave comments open on your blog, and respond to all of them. A little free advice can go a long way towards future business.

Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ can get your presence known. You have to be careful, because those can become a real time sink -- but if you stay on topic and link to the articles on your site, it can improve exposure.

Of course, the very best marketing is the opinion of your existing customers. See if you can get some of your customers to give you a recommendation you can publish on your site. Ask them if they know of anyone who could use your services -- perhaps offer a referral discount.

Teaching at the university is good marketing. So is contributing to open-source projects. Always do so in a highly visible manner, without appearing to pat yourself on the back.

Good luck, and let me know what progress you make.

What other advice would you give to Shawntay?

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

23 comments
jtcinasp
jtcinasp

There are three things you need to do and can start doing immediately. 1. Make sure there are multiple ways for visitors to your site to give you their email addresses. 2. Produce content that demonstrates your competence and share it with that audience regularly. 3. Have events and invite your growing list. At these events focus on teaching and throw in the sales pitch at the end. I know this sounds over simplified. I have been doing this for years. Here's an article I wrote on IT Consultant Marketing. There's more detail if you check out the article and you can always call or email me if you actually want a company to help with the marketing.

gechurch
gechurch

My advice is along the lines of the previous two comments - get out and meet actual people, face-to-face. I work in a small town so perhaps this advice won't apply to people in larger cities, but where I live there are groups that meet for business breakfasts, and similar business groups that meet to do charity work or community improvement type work. My former employer was heavily involved in these and it's amazing how much business it generated. I agree with Shawntay that it should be the boss going to these though. The pluses are that as a business owner he would genuinely fit in (and may find the content of these meetings useful) and that he will be dealing with other business owners - ie. the people that actually make decisions. My other comment would be to be careful about growing too quickly. Doubling in size in 6-12 months sounds too fast to me, particularly for a company of that size. With a company of 5 employees you can get by with minimal structure. By the time you get to ten though you seem to have the same organisational requirements of a company with 30-40 employees, but without the revenue to match. Getting the internal structures in place is no easy feat either; it takes a lot more time to define these things in the first place than it does to keep things running. You may even find you need to change PSA/RMM/finance tools which can be a massive expense. I work for a company of similar size, and we find it's difficult to put on more than one person every 3 months. It takes time to train people up (not just their time; it takes lots of yours). And in the field of small IT consultancies it's hard to find good people; those good at the tech work tend not to be good at the people side, and vice versa. It also takes careful management to get the client-employee ratio right. If you get too many clients too soon your current staff won't be able to handle the load while also training up the new staff. And if you don't have the clients already it's a risky move to start hiring new people.

apotheon
apotheon

If you're looking for local gigs, go to local meetings for various groups where people who might be in the market for your services tend to show up -- but only if you're able to get some value from the meetings other than marketing. For instance, if you're a programmer who happens to run a consultancy that does workflow process training for programmers, going to a Ruby Users Group meeting (for instance) to learn and meet people can potentially lead to people going back to their employers and talking about the need to get you into the office to train people -- especially if you give well-received presentations to the group from time to time. It's a bit like "blogging" face-to-face, reaching fewer people but doing so more forcefully and in a way that is much more locally valuable. When you give a presentation, make sure you post your presentation slides somewhere either on your consultancy website (maybe in that company blog) or where links back to the consultancy website reside. If you are on a community mailing list of some kind -- perhaps including something like the freebsd-questions list -- and you are an active, polite, helpful participant in discussion there, including a link to your consultancy website with a company slogan or something along those lines in your email signature block can help draw potential clients to you. Just make sure your email signature block is still not more than 80 characters wide and four lines deep, in total; it's just good online etiquette. Regarding the suggestion of contributing to open source software projects, there's also the option of simply writing some open source software from scratch and maintaining the project, or picking up maintenance of effectively abandoned open source projects that people still use (or might still use if they were brought up to date). This is particularly helpful if the software is something of special interests to that selection of people and businesses who fit into your preferred client demographic.

fahadwr
fahadwr

I will recommend Shawntay to spare some time on weekends and try to meet with some professionals of his domain as well as other domains. Try to meet up the consultants and discuss ideas, attend workshops and seminars as well as organize seminars and have chance of speaking with the professionals and people. A good way to start it is to organize a seminar or workshop at different universities and talk to students over there. Then once your feet are wet enough, you can also move to different institutions, community halls etc where you can not only market your company but also yourself. This has worked for me too and I am sure it will for Shawntay. All the best and Good Luck! Best Regards Fahad Ali Shaikh

higsontony
higsontony

What are you tips on making cold calls. ?

jamesgolding
jamesgolding

I agree that no one wants to be bothered if they don't have the requirement, but lead nurturing and relationship building over the phone is a sustainable way of maintaining contact with prospective customers. If you can find the right telesales guys (and they do exist, i work with 2), then ongoing contact every 1/3/6 months can help you offset the fact that IT consultancy sales cycles can be 6 months before you get your first invoice. It helps you understand your market better and informs your decision making. Greg's point on niche marketing is key, when one of our telesales team picks up the phone, its to talk to someone about a specific solution they know there is a requirement for, thanks to the relationship building that has gone on before. Thanks James Golding

Greg Miliates
Greg Miliates

Glen makes some good points. In addition, in my experience running my IT consultancy since 2007, I've found that automating my marketing has made it MUCH easier to get new clients and reduce the time I spend on marketing. I've automated my marketing to the point where I haven't had to make cold calls for over a year, since I have a steady stream of new clients finding me, in addition to new work from existing clients. For example, using SEO to make my website easy to find and ranking at or near the top for specific keyword searches does 2 things: (1) it brings prospects to me, and (2) makes me look like an expert since I show up multiple times on the first page of Google search results. Creating videos, posting them to YouTube, then linking to them from your website is an easy way to get quick & sustained SEO juice. E-mail marketing is definitely alive & well. An e-mail newsletter containing actionable info can promote you as a credible expert and keeps you in prospects' minds. Cold calling is also not dead, but it's time consuming, and most people hate to do it. Also, it can't be automated. Forum participation--not spamming--is also a solid way to become known as an expert. For any marketing though, you'll want to target a specific niche--and "IT consulting" is NOT a niche. Web-based ecommerce integration is a niche. Get more specific and you'll get found more easily by customers. Think like a customer: find out what they're searching for and target those keywords. It's MUCH easier to stand out in a specific niche. Greg Miliates StartMyConsultingBusiness dot com

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Couple of suggestions/comments ... Use Content Marketing (not just blog) that means Articles, Videos & Podcasts. Done wisely they feed off each other and don't represent a great deal more work. Use social marketing (Twitter, Facebook) and especially participate in forums (like Techrepublic). But really participate -- don't spam them. Start a newsletter ... this is a form of relationship building. Note that it needs to be content marketing rather than a copywriter's playground. WARNING -- the internet is not a local marketing tool. You will really be marketing to the world. Local marketing is a case of showing up when the lead searches for your key AND your location. So be prepared. Email marketing -- Chip you were too quick. Spamming doesn't work (i.e. sending out mass emails). However, email marketing is a key technique for developing relationships (the web equivalent of a regular customer). Note that this is always opt-in and needs to be mostly content. The focus needs to be on building a relationship and moving the individual through your sales funnel. Email newsletters work well if sent frequently. Glen Ford http://www.vproz.ca

bp1argosy
bp1argosy

Hi, Chip! Could you take the same question, and tell us what your response would be for someone who's just starting out in IT consultancy in 2012? Thanks!

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

We are hardwired to work with 7 +- 2 (the cognitive limit). One example of that is called the span of control (you need a manager for every 7 people). That's what you are experiencing at 10 people. You are now into two managers being required and a manager for the managers. The next plateau theoretically occurs at 49 workers or 56 total (actually it usually occurs earlier because not everyone will get to their maximum span of control). Glen Ford, PMP check my earlier message if you really want to find my websites :D

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I tend to get isolated in my online world, but whenever I do come out of my cave and attend a conference or other group (like coderetreat), I'm always amazed at how much more people are interested.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

If you already have a relationship, even if you haven't invoiced yet, then I don't consider it a cold call. I was talking about using the telephone as a first contact -- to me, that's the worst way to introduce yourself short of driving a semi through their front door.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Because they know that the person on the other end of the line will likely resent the intrusion. There are better ways to get your name out there.

apotheon
apotheon

It looks to me like most of that is covered by what Sterling already said.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I meant for "cold" to apply to both calls and emails. I should have added "unsolicited" before "emails."

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Except for the one about referrals from existing clients. Getting those first few clients is the hard part -- once you do, then doing great work for them will start to build your reputation. Perhaps I'll write a piece on getting that first client. Thanks for the idea!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Doubling the size of your business requires a lot more than doubling your resources.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

1. Don't make cold calls to sell. It seldom works. 2. Use cold calls to kick start relationships. 3. Use cold calls to gather information. (see 2 above) 4. Use cold calls to seek advice (see 2 above) 5. Grow a thick skin. It really isn't you. 6. Use a script at first. It will help you get over the butterflies. 7. Know yourself... cold calling is the frozen end of networking. If you aren't comfortable meeting people at networking meetings you'll really be uncomfortable with cold calling. 8. New things are never comfortable. (Much of the discomfort you are feeling is the result of breaking out of your comfort zone. It will get better with time.) 9. Focus your efforts on the connectors. (ala Gladwell/Tipping Point). If you're going to do this to yourself you may as well do it to connect with people who a) like to connect with people and b) like to connect other people. I think that's it. Glen Ford, PMP http://www.vproz.ca http://www.learningcreators.com http://www.howdoyoublog.biz

apotheon
apotheon

It depends on your particular niche and your business model, but for any business model I wouldn't find somewhat slimy I think cold call marketing is pretty good at burning bridges, and treating potential clients as a numbers game is bound to provide you with a client base whose character is less ideal than other approaches.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

It's because they hate being turned down. No feels too much like personal rejection. (And also because it has a high time/effort to results ratio). I takes a special person to be able to take that amount of rejection without taking it personally.

apotheon
apotheon

. . . but for me, it would be because I know the person at the other end of the line will likely resent the intrusion.

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