6 Best Practices for Growing Your Consulting Business from Seasoned Professionals
Successfully running any type of business is no easy task, and managing a consulting business comes with its own unique set of challenges. As a consultant, you are expected to provide others with expert information that improves their businesses, while you strive to constantly improve your own. It can all be a lot to manage!
Whether you’ve been in business for a while or are considering starting your own consulting business, these tips will give you some insight into what running an effective consulting business entails and how to do so smoothly. You will see that these guidelines, which we will go over in detail, all prioritize efficiency and excellent customer experience.
1. Use The Right Tools
Most business owners can agree, having the right tools is crucial for an optimally functioning business. For your consulting business, you will want to use applications and platforms that help with time-consuming but necessary duties like delegating tasks, onboarding, and communicating with clients.
Simon Dwight Keller, CEO and founder of SDK Marketing, acknowledges that “working for yourself and at the same time working for others can be overwhelming.” Because of this, he recommends arming yourself with the right tools: “Increase your productivity with apps that simplify everything you do. When used to their full potential, many applications can make your life much easier.”
Using a project management software can be a great way to keep up with daily tasks and help all employees stay informed and organized. It is also a good idea to invest in a Client Relationship Management platform (CRM) that helps you handle clients at all stages in your workflow. Many CRMs allow you to use templates for things like onboarding questionnaires, data collection forms, contracts, and proposals. This can help you move clients through your workflow more efficiently.
For example, Ray McKenzie, Managing Director of Red Beach Advisors, has found that his CRM created significant efficiencies while also improving client experience:
The application allows our clients and all stakeholders visibility into engagements, questions, discussions, projects, files, and tasks in one unified platform. It allows our team to be more efficient, saves us money from multiple disconnected SaaS apps, and we can initiate and maintain a better client experience.
CEO of Sell with Richard, Richard Mews, is a proponent of using templates as they help you “perform your tasks as effectively as possible and maintain a consistent standard of quality across all projects.”
Tools like CRMs and templates can be great for automating client onboarding but Paige Arnoff-Fenn of Mavens & Moguls wants business owners to remember the importance of face-to-face interactions:
We have learned that CRM tools are only as effective as the relationships you have built, so disconnecting from technology periodically and focusing on cultivating human, face-to-face relationships is important. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time.
While software tools are very helpful and can save you a lot of time, they can also waste it. We typically see that happening once you get to 5-10 consulting clients - you simply get caught up in performing admin tasks like sending manual reminders, invoices to clients all day long. Plus, your clients get a poorer overall experience compared to when you could give them your full attention.
So, instead, what if you could have everything in one place? All clients, active engagements and projects, individual and group sessions, scheduling, billing, notes, forms. You can utilize those & much more in Profi.io - a powerful all-in-one solution built for consultants. Try it free and your clients will thank you (instantly).
2. Provide Clients With Clarity
Client retention is important when it comes to running a successful consulting business. One way to lose clients is through mismatched expectations. As such, it’s good to provide them with a clear roadmap from the first consultation to project completion. At Profi.io, we strongly recommend coaches and consultants use a structured client intake form.
In this respect, Business Builder Magazine’s Cody Cromwell suggests beginning the client process with “standard operating procedures and templates.” This will be significantly more efficient than starting from scratch with each engagement.
Milosz Krasinski of Chilli Fruit Web Consulting talks about being transparent from the beginning of his process, and how he helps interested businesses understand the value of his services:
I find out a little about the client’s business and identify its weaknesses. I present them with tangible proof of results gained for a client with a similar business to theirs. I explain, step by step, exactly what I will do for the client and the kind of results that they can expect.
Once you begin a project, it’s important to maintain that transparency and keep your clients in the loop. Luz Donahue of LD Creative outlines her process: “We start with an immersion call where we walk clients through expectations (for both sides), project stages, and an outline of our procedures. We also provide them with reminders of where we are in each phase so there are no surprises.”
3. Build Relationships
In a business like consulting, making connections can go a long way. Build good working relationships with both colleagues and clients. Dr. Linda Khoshaba of National Endocrinology Specialists suggests taking advantage of networking opportunities and trying to stay in contact with the people you meet:
If you meet someone in a professional capacity, make an effort to establish a connection with them. Exchange contact information and submit a follow-up email if necessary. You never know who you may like to contact later, and online resources make it simple to locate individuals regardless of when or where you encountered them.
Networking is a great way to make new connections. You can also nurture important relationships by providing excellent value to current clients. This fosters positive word-of-mouth marketing that helps you grow your management consulting business.
Scott Cairns, founder and CEO of Creation Business Consultants encourages business owners to “value your clients’ trust [which can] get you more clients and recommendations that will lead your consulting business to success.”
When putting yourself out there and building those relationships, remember this piece of advice from Amanda Davis of Hudson Davis Communications: “Be yourself! As a consultant, you get clients because of your experience and because of who you are. That’s what people are signing up for.”
4. Learn To Say No
When you are first starting out, it can be tempting to say “yes” to every client that comes your way. However, to sustain a business over time, it’s important to know when to turn down work. When it comes to the work you take on, think quality over quantity. Learning to say no keeps you from spreading yourself too thin. This is crucial for the long-term health of your business (and your sanity!)
Israel Gaudette of Link Tracker Pro had a hard time turning down clients at the beginning of his business but quickly realized that doing so was crucial for maintaining high quality work:
As we’re getting more and more clients, the quality of our work was compromised. So we decided to change our focus and start saying “NO”. Instead of aiming for more work, we shifted to focus more on doing better and quality work. With it, not only were we able to get back up again but was able to get the business in a more stable position.
Learning to say no also means learning how to set boundaries with your clients, and not being afraid to give them a tough opinion, or tell them something they don’t want to hear. Finding a way to communicate a difference of opinion, as well as to reach consensus with clients, is essential for success, says Scott Cairns, Founder and CEO of Creation Business Consultants. He reminds us that “not all people will have the same thinking as you are, so you should know how to be flexible so you both can meet halfway.”
5. Evolve As Needed
In order to thrive, businesses must be willing to adapt. Sustaining a business over time involves being flexible and open-minded, and knowing when to pivot. Some of the best insights on when and how to do that can come from your team.
Attorney Stacey Burke advises consultants to “always be willing to adjust and improve your company procedures.” She even suggests involving your team in the improvement process: “Interview your team members to identify their pain points as well as to empower and involve them in the process of internal systems evolution. I tell my team that I want them to critique, adjust, and improve upon everything I’ve built.”
Fielding feedback from your team and from past clients can help you make necessary changes so that your colleagues stay invested in your business and keep producing at levels that help it grow and prosper. You will give them buy-in to the businesses’ success, and get insights as to how to best compensate them for their performance.
Aaron Alpeter, Principal and Founder of supply chain consultancy Izba, stresses the importance of setting goals and targets:
We look at offering a 10% bonus each paycheck if team members hit their productive hour targets and a few other metrics. The basic idea is to be detailed in what each person needs to do in order for the overall business to be successful and to reward them when they do their part.
Alpeter further suggests dividing teams’ weeks into “30 ‘productive’ hours and 10 ‘internal’ hours” to create space in their schedules that ultimately will maximize productivity and help build the business.
6. Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
Remember that you don’t have to do it all alone! The relationships between you and your team are just as important to managing a consulting business as the relationships between you and your clients. As a thought experiment, Alpeter urges leaders of consulting firms to ask themselves, “if your team turned over every 6 months, how would you change your approach to recruiting, training, and client work?”
In Profi.io, you can work as a mighty team to deliver services and manage your clients together, share notes and more.
When it comes to maintaining a smooth and efficient workflow, outsourcing also can also be beneficial. Hire help for the tasks that take up too much of your time. This will help you perform better, which gives your clients the best experience possible.
Sales and marketing consultant Kathryn Read suggests outsourcing sooner rather than later:
Don’t wait too long to hire assistance for doing the routine tasks of desk work and admin. Clients expect you to respond promptly to their requests, and you will eventually miss things if you’re down in the weeds. You are charging clients for an expert experience and so that is what they expect you to deliver.
Running a consulting business has it’s fair share of challenges. However, having the right tools in place that help you automate your system and outsourcing time-consuming tasks can make your business more efficient and successful.
It’s also important to think about your client’s experience from start to finish. Provide them with clarity and high-quality work to maintain a positive relationship. Know when saying “no” is necessary and be willing to make adjustments as your business grows. Martin Boonzaayer, CEO of The Trusted Homebuyer, reminds us that “an effective consultant spends more time listening than speaking.” Whether you’re tuned in to your team or to your client, having your ears and your mind wide open will help you run a successful business for the long run.