In my previous IT Consultant column, I covered how to work with clients as a direct vendor. Once your IT consultancy is set up for direct contracts, you need to put yourself in a good position to find, negotiate, and secure contracts. Here are three approaches that I recommend.
Your first strategy for finding direct contracts is to market your services. At a minimum, you must have a professional looking website, printed marketing materials (i.e., a one-sheet, a brochure, business cards), and professional stationery. Spare no expense on your image. For instance, I have a press kit that I assemble when needed, which includes a high-gloss presentation folder with my company logo embossed on the front.
On your website and your other marketing materials, list your clients and client testimonials; also list all your services, which may include speaking engagements, workshops, and coaching. If you have any products, list those for sale on your website; if you don't have any products, consider creating booklets or recorded seminars. If you've authored a book, or have some intellectual property that you can advertise on your website, you should prominently display it on the home page.
I don't recommend putting your resume on your website -- resumes are for jobseekers. A better fit for a website is a biographical sketch, which contains most of the same information as a resume except it's formatted to be a sales tool instead of a job-finding tool.
When clients contact you as a result of your marketing efforts, you're in a wonderful position to secure a direct contract. Work through your sales process ahead of time (you may even want to rehearse with friends and colleagues) so that you sound confident and professional when get that client call.
Convert an existing contract
Another way to secure a direct contract is to explore opportunities where you're contracting now. If you're going through an agency, you likely signed a non-compete clause that prevents you from marketing directly to the client company; therefore, if the agency is not receptive to the idea, there's nothing legally you can do.
That said, most agencies are more concerned about their relationship with the client and will not risk upsetting their contacts over one consultant who wants to go direct. So, first plant the seed with your client to make sure they will support you, and then have your client talk to your agency. If you've already been at the client site for some time, and the agency has a lot of other business with the client, chances are they won't resist the idea.
You must handle this situation delicately, and make sure all parties are comfortable with the new arrangement. As stated, if the agency is not on board, there's no deal.
Reach out to hiring managers
Direct sales is very tough, but it's still an option that you may want to pursue. You should spend time every week actively reaching out to potential clients. Start by staying abreast of what companies are hiring by trolling job boards and signing up for job alerts. If you keep your resume updated on the job boards, you should have agencies calling and emailing you for job positions. Pay attention to where your colleagues are getting placed, and the companies that other consultants are talking about.
Once you have an idea of where the hiring managers might be, leverage your social media reach with LinkedIn and Facebook; you should search for potential hiring managers, and try to get an introduction through someone you know. Even if the manager isn't hiring now, it's always good to initiate the relationship and ask if you can stay in touch through your monthly newsletter (you do have one, don't you?).
Bottom line for IT consultants
When you're trying to secure direct contracts, remember that large companies engage directly with other companies, not individuals looking for side work until they find another job. There's nothing wrong with being small or solo, but it must be glaringly obvious that you're running a consultancy.
Although it may not seem easy to secure direct contracts, it's still quite possible. I've had direct client relationships with large companies throughout my 20 years of consulting, and I have many colleagues who routinely have four to eight direct clients at any given time. Keep marketing, explore your existing contracts, and reach out directly to hiring managers, and before you know it, you'll have a direct client list of your own.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!
John Weathington is President and CEO of Excellent Management Systems, Inc., a management consultancy that helps executives turn chaotic information into profitable wisdom.