Ideally, you will have been planning this for quite a while before you leave employment, and you have your first client already teed-up. Trouble is, you're likely to not be in an ideal situation right now ...
As the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic hits home, many staff, both technical and in management, will find themselves being made redundant. Some will see this as an opportunity and use it to set up their own consultancy.
There is a wealth of information available online to help them take that first step and all of the resources I find online stress the importance of having a business plan,, but surprisingly, few stress the importance of building a productive network.
So, whether you're in the happy position of being able to plan the transition from employment to consultancy, or have had it thrust on you at short notice, here's a simple way of building three overlapping networks that will help you gain those important early clients.
I urge you wherever possible to seek these people out from the contacts you already know and whose judgment you trust:
- Information network
These are the people who will help you set up your business. They will cover all the basics like legal, financial, tax advice, insurances, marketing, sales training, data protection, professional organisations.
Importantly, to oversee all this, a mentor or coach who is experienced in consultancy or working with start-up businesses. Getting the basics right from the start and having a business plan to work from will stand you in good stead.
- Support network
You will need others to support you as working on your own can be a lonely place; it can be a real roller coaster too. I meet many start-up consultants who had not realised how difficult it would be to suddenly be expected to sell themselves. It can make you feel de-skilled and the pressure of having to top up the bank balance regularly now a salary doesn't simply appear at a set time each month.
The first rejection or cancellation can be gut-wrenching. Having a support network usually drawn from friends and family or again that mentor or coach is invaluable to help keep you motivated and keep a sense of perspective. And these people will also be there to celebrate your successes.
- Business generation network
These people are the engine of your business. They are the people who can put you in front of your potential clients. Your first clients will almost certainly come from someone who knows you and your abilities and is already motivated to help you.
These are the people who, right from the start, you need to invest the most time and effort in nurturing your relationships. However, there is a step you need to complete first.
The only people who can introduce you to your ideal clients are people who know someone who needs your service. Someone who knows your target market. So, first define your ideal client. To learn more about this do visit my other blog post on the subject here.
Now, the clearer you can describe your target market the easier it will be for you to identify who can introduce you. It also makes it easier for everyone you know to think of someone they know who can help you.
I highly recommend you resist the temptation to spread your net wide. Much better to focus on the type of clients where you already have credibility and contacts who can reach them.
These may be past clients from your old company where you had a personal good relationship. Beware assuming that your clients in your old firm will follow you, as their loyalty may be to the company not you. I have seen many a new consultant get a rude awakening when trying to contact old clients in this way. The danger is you are seen to be poaching from your previous employer.
Another strong source may be ex-colleagues, sometimes even from years ago. LinkedIn is a great tool for re-establishing such relationships. I well remember one client who reluctantly looked up ex-colleagues and came across someone he had mentored as a junior member of staff over 10-years ago. This man was now in a senior position and delighted to be able to repay his help with some useful introductions.
Lastly, don't forget that your friends and family may be able to help. Another client of mine was reluctant to ask his brother-in-law for a contact he knew he had because he didn't want to mix family and business. I suggested he let his brother-in-law make that decision.
Now, once you've told people you already know about your exciting new consultancy you will likely get your first piece of business. Your strategy can then change to attending events and groups where you can add to your business generation network.
Not everyone may be able to introduce you,, but as you become more established in your chosen business community, all three of your networks will grow alongside you.
If you'd like to learn more about referral marketing then do give me a call on 07970 638857 and let's have a chat and see how I can help you.