10 resolutions to help grow your consulting business in 2011

The start of a new year is a good time to take stock and establish goals for improvement. Jack Wallen suggests some measures to help your consultancy thrive in the months to come.

The New Year has arrived, and many people have been making resolutions they most likely will keep for only a few weeks or at best, months. That doesn't have to be you. For your consulting business, you need to make resolutions you can keep -- especially ones that will help increase your business. But how? There is always something new to try that can help build your business. Here are a few possibilities.

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1: Go social

Let's face it: The "networking" of today is all about social networking. This means Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You and your business need a presence on these sites to expand into markets you wouldn't reach otherwise. One outstanding trick is to offer special deals via Twitter. Post something like, "The next person who responds to this tweet gets 15% off their next visit." Just make sure you let the winner know this does not include the cost of any hardware or software.

2: Include open source and Linux

As much as the media and Microsoft do not want to admit it, Linux adoption is going to continue increasing. So you should start picking up Linux and open source skills. Even if you don't focus on the Linux operating system, you can add LibreOffice, Apache, Samba, or a number of other open source technologies to your toolkit. The more you add, the more powerful and marketable you will be.

3: Focus on mobile platforms

If you add mobile platforms to your toolkit, your business will boom. Anyone who knows anything about the IT industry knows the future is mobile. This means you are going to be taking on more and more clients who have mobile help needs. This does not just mean iOS. You need to know Android as well as Blackberry. Of course, knowing the Android OS means you'll need a solid understanding of the different Android platforms: Droid, Samsung, HTC, etc. All of the Android platforms are fundamentally similar, with the biggest differences being at the "desktop" level.

4: Learn a new skill that will increase your clients

If you are a small shop, you might want to consider adding something like Web site design. If you are a larger shop, you could add virtualization or cloud computing. Regardless of your size, the important thing is to diversify your toolkit. This goes along with knowing the mobile platform or open source, but you want this to be something that goes beyond what you already do. If you are primarily a desktop service, add a level of server work. If you are a server-specific shop, add some desktop work. Whatever it takes to add business and success to your bottom line.

5: Spend a few dollars on traditional advertising

The beginning of the fiscal year (regardless of whether that's the beginning of the calendar year) is a great time to run an advertising campaign, no matter the size. This could consist of a run of fliers you can hand out at shopping malls or plaster cars or mailboxes with. Or you might buy a small advertising slot on your local newspaper's Web site. Yes, you'll have to incur the cost up front, but prospective clients (who may not have known about you before) will become aware of your presence. You should recover the cost of that campaign fairly quickly.

6: Offer specials for referrals

Word of mouth is the best source of advertising. Why? Because new clients are being referred to you by satisfied customers, so those new clients will have positive expectations for your work. For customers you trust to give positive references, offer discounts for every referral they make that results in a new client. This will perpetuate itself, as those clients learn that sending you referrals benefits them as well.

7: Get (and stay) better organized

Most of us could stand a little improvement in this area. Let this be the year you successfully become an organizational machine! The more organized you are, the more efficient your work will be. The more efficient your work is, the more work you can do. Finally -- the more work you can do, the more money you will make. If you aren't motivated by that, just think how happy your clients will be when they see how organized you are.

8: Reevaluate the tools you use

The firm I work for recently reevaluated the anti-virus solution we deploy and made a fairly big change away from the tool we had used for years. This decision was based not only on issues we had experienced with the software in the past, but also with advancements by other companies. You should never just assume the products you use are the best for the job. Always be on the lookout for newer, better tools.

9: Get a new certification

Although it seems that certifications are so very 90s, they're still valuable business-enhancing tools. But instead of adding onto your MCSE, consider a Cisco or network security certification to broaden your horizons and your marketability. The Cisco certification may be a bigger challenge than you're used to, but it will certainly be worth it in the long run. You could also consider a RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer) or Ubuntu Professional Certification.

10: Hand out your business cards more often

If people don't know about your business, they won't call you. One of the easiest ways to get your name (and number) out there is to distribute business cards. You can do this in many ways. Hand them out at network meetings, pin them to the corkboards at coffee shops... anything you can do to get those cards into the hands of the public. Always have a stack of cards with you (in your purse or wallet) in case you overhear someone talking about computer or network problems. Then, hand them a card with a smile.

Resolutions that work

What was the one key resolution you made in the past that helped your business the most? Share your thoughts with your fellow TechRepublic members.

Additional resources

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....