When it comes to marketing, the biggest mistake a new consultant can make is not targeting a specific business niche.

Often, newbie consultants are more focused on broadcasting their skills and services to a region and spend tons of money marketing with that approach.

Too many new consultants jump into direct mailing—a marketing approach that often doesn’t even pay for itself in terms of clients or contracts.

Joshua Feinberg, cofounder of Computer Consulting 101 in West Palm Beach, FL, estimates that a direct mail campaign in a metro market would mean sending out 200,000 to 300,000 mailings—most to cold contacts—and would offer little guarantee of success.

Due to today’s highly fragmented technology market, he recommends focusing your marketing, and business strategy, on a specific services niche or at least the kind of company you want to work with. We asked Feinberg, and consultants, for insight on marketing a new consultancy.

Picking a niche
Robert Fitzgerald, an independent consultant in Danvers, MA, and president of Universal Business Projects, is focusing on associations outside the high-tech industry.

“If you can pick a group or niche right now that is struggling, you can provide (IT) solutions in a positive way,” he said. “People need to look at the resources around them to be successful.”

Other IT consultants are finding work at small businesses, ones with more than five but less than 50 users. “They’re big enough where they’re starting to have problems but not large enough to have an IT staff person,” Feinberg explained.

In choosing what industry or business type to target, keep in mind that your skill set must meet current needs. That’s why you should only specialize in a handful of skills, and not try to diversify your work so much that you are spread thin.

“Focus on what you do. Don’t try to be a jack of all trades,” advised Dr. Scott Testa, COO of Mindbridge Software in Philadelphia, an intranet development company that uses IT consulting firms.

Finding clients
After you’ve decided what to specialize in, and have targeted a client base, it’s time to start marketing in earnest.

Feinberg, a 14-year IT consulting veteran, suggests starting with referral marketing—letting your peers know you’re in business for yourself. If you can sell your skills to your colleagues, they will be more than happy to recommend you for a job or contract, he noted.

Another well-known route is networking through your family and friends. Fitzgerald turned his coworker’s wife’s husband into a client. The insurance salesman had a handful of computers that needed work but he didn’t want to budget for a staff IT worker, the consultant explained.

Initial client work
The marketing stage is also the best time to create the materials you’ll need once you grab the interest of your first client.

You’ll want some quality materials, not just a business card, to leave with the client. In fact, to personalize his initial presentation with clients, Feinberg likes to fax or mail a one-page piece to the company before the appointment. It’s a client questionnaire on systems, applications, user base, and other important service data. He then uses this information in his materials and presentation on how he can help the client.

And keep in mind that those first few clients you land may not be paying clients. Experts say new consultants often volunteer IT knowledge, especially to small businesses, to foster relationships and build the much-needed project portfolio, which will come in handy when you’re ready to tackle bigger clientele.