8 Tips to Writing Effective Consulting Proposals that Win Business

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The consulting proposal is misunderstood. Consultants believe they understand what a ‘proposal’ should be yet their idea of one is ineffective and often results in losing the business they are after.

To help bridge this gap I’ve provided 8 tips to make your consulting proposals more effective.

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1. Don’t Count on It

The proposal isn’t meant to win the business. The business should have already been won before sending the proposal. Remember that. It’s an important distinction.

Don’t be lured into using some online legal form as a base for your proposal. Having a consulting proposal is very different from having an effective consulting proposal.

Now, before you want to shoot the messenger, let’s get clear. Until the buyer signs an agreement (or proposal) you haven’t won the business. That said; don’t count on your proposal to win you the business. That isn’t the role it plays.

You should only be sending a proposal to a buyer once you’ve engaged in a sales conversation with them and they’ve given you the go ahead. They’ve agreed that they do have an issue or opportunity that they’d like your help with.

Before sending them a proposal and once it’s clear that you can add significantly value to the buyer you simply ask “Great, since we agree on ______, why don’t I put together a proposal for you with some options of how we can work together and I’ll send it over for you to review on X day. Does that work for you?”

If they say “No” or hesitate, you need to focus on the conversation until they say “Yes”. Only after they’ve given you this agreement should offer and send your proposal.

Many consultants jump at the chance to send a proposal to a buyer that isn’t sold on hiring them. They wonder why they ‘lose’ so many opportunities – it’s because they never reached agreement before sending the proposal – the opportunity they thought they had simply didn’t exist.

2. Focus on the Buyer, Not on Your Business

You must resist the urge to tell the buyer all about your business in the proposal. This isn’t the place for it. This conversation should have happened already.

The proposal needs to be focused on your buyer and their business, not yours. Don’t tell them how long you’ve been in business and that you have this and that. Instead, use the opening of your proposal to re-establish the opportunity and challenge that you previously discussed with the buyer.

Longer proposals provide no extra value. They tend to talk more about YOU than they do about the buyer.

This opening (think executive summary) confirms for the buyer that you understand their business and situation and that you know how to get them from where they are now, to where they want to be.

3. Nothing New Here

Confusion leads to inaction. Make sense?

If your buyer is confused and if anything is unclear they won’t sign your proposal. That’s why you don’t want to introduce any new information in the proposal. Keep the content focus on the discussion that you had with the buyer.

Should you choose to include new information make sure it is positive – for example, maybe you’re listing all the benefits they should expect as a result of implementing your recommendations. Most of this information should have come up in the sales conversation however.

Anytime you want to add information that wasn’t discussed previously stop and ask “Is there value for my buyer to see this in the proposal now? ” and “Is this really necessary to include?” If not, cut it. Continue Reading

What Differentiates Your Consulting Practice From the Competition?

Differentiation Consulting

Today I want to encourage you not only to read my article but to ‘work’ through it. That’s right; I want you to actively participate. Not for my benefit, but for yours.

If you can come up with a statement that matches both criteria there’s a good indication you’re getting close to finding what really makes your practice stand out from the competition.

I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to take a minute or two right now and answer it. Trust me, it will be worth your time and greatly benefit your consulting practice.

The Question

Okay, here it is:

Question: “What makes your consulting practice special and separates you from other consultants in your marketplace?”

Now before you continue reading think about that question and list out 3-5 of your key differentiators and advantages.

If you can’t, an alarm should be going off for you that this is something you really need to work on.

Okay, have you written down your answers now? Continue Reading

Negotiation Strategies to Land More Consulting Clients

The best negotiators know everything they can about the other side they will be dealing with. This step is critical.

Let’s be clear on one thing right away, negotiation is part of life.

Whether you’re a consultant, business owner, employee, parent or child…we all negotiate in one form or another at some point.

And when you realize that it makes the case for us all to become better at negotiating that much stronger.

Here are several strategies and tips to help you become a better negotiator

Bring a Solution

Neil Patel, co-founder of KISS Metrics and Crazy Egg, suggests that you start your negotiations off by identifying the problems your potential consulting client is facing. Once you have opened their eyes to all the areas that are ripe for improvement…you are perfectly setup to show the other side the solutions that you bring to the table.

Naturally, your solutions will be the answer to all the problems the other side has. Think about this, if someone has just clearly outlined real problems that you’re having and then shows you that they can get rid of those problems, well, you’re likely to get them to do so.

Of course, you can’t discuss problems and solutions without knowing what they are…

Do Your Research

The best negotiators know everything they can about the other side they will be dealing with. This step is critical. Continue Reading

Effective Leadership Skills for Independent Business Consultants

Effective leadership skills are vital to the success of independent consultants due to the nature of their role within an organization. Consultants are outsiders to the organization and they almost always create change within an organization. Most people inherently resist change, particularly when it is initiated from the outside, due to fear, uncertainty, territorialism, or even wounded pride if the change is considered to be a critique on how they have performed their job. In the absence of leadership, a consultant can create a flawless solution to a business problem, yet be unsuccessful in implementing it because of client resistance.

Being a problem solver helps you build a reputation for being resourceful and helpful in tough situations, which are desirable qualities in any organization.

Leadership is about inspiring people to do what you want or need them to do. In order to be the most effective in fostering and implementing change, consultants need to demonstrate exceptional leadership skills to get consulting clients to work with them in making changes. Good leadership starts with self-development: understanding the perceptions, motivations, strengths, weaknesses, and leadership style within yourself. This forms a solid foundation upon which to build leadership skills.

Great leaders also invest time in interpersonal skills development. Interpersonal skills include relationship building, communication, and team development. In order to lead others, you need to be able to create connections with people and foster a sense of trust in the relationship. Communication is critical, particularly when dealing with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Since much of a consultant’s work involves consultants working with project teams, being able to assess group dynamics, foster collaboration, and resolve conflicts are also vital skills.

It’s not good enough simply to have leadership skills. Consultants need to effectively demonstrate these skills with every client interaction. Below are some examples of the many ways to show you’re a leader when working with clients.

1. Gain the trust of others.
Leadership without trust is next to impossible. Aspire to demonstrate ethical practices in all that you do. This means being truthful and holding yourself accountable for your actions, avoiding setting others up to take the blame for your mistakes or failures.

 

2. Be a problem solver.
Being a problem solver helps you build a reputation for being resourceful and helpful in tough situations, which are desirable qualities in any organization. It can also represent added value to your client. Instead of focusing solely on the specific reason for the consultation, don’t be afraid to suggest solutions to other problems you may encounter. Continue Reading

How to Make More and Work Less with Business Systems: Book Review

I’ve just finished and put down my copy of “Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less” by Sam Carpenter, and it’s got me thinking…

I’ve been involved in building and running 6 companies to this point in my life and I’ve learned a lot about what contributes to the success of a company, as well as the factors that can lead to its demise.

I’ve also had the pleasure of working with many more companies around the world in over 23 industries.

Evaluating the Mechanics of Business

When I evaluate a business, a few of the things I quickly try to establish are: What’s working and what isn’t? Why is this business seeing success in one area, yet not in another? Or said another way, why is this business failing when others around it are succeeding?

The majority of business owners are looking for answers to their problems in the wrong places…

It’s In the System

The answer in many cases is that the business suffers from having a lack of a system in place.

And that is the topic of Carpenters book, Work the System.

In it Carpenter talks about how he almost had to close his answering service business because he was low on money, yet still spent 80-100 Continue Reading

Find Your (Company’s) Next Competitive Edge: Book Review

Find Your Next is a book about business processes. Yet not processes in the way we’ve come to know them.

In the field of business, what works for one company won’t necessarily work for another. Even if you’re armed with a well thought out business plan, success is far from guaranteed.

While that might sound depressing, Find Your Next, a book written by Andrea Kates, creator of the Business Genome Approach and consultant to many a fine company, gives us all hope.

Kates’ book provides a blueprint for mapping out our ideas and hunches, from just that, through to executing them with success.

There are 4 steps in this process:

Continue Reading

The Secret Power of Visioning for Consultants

At the start of the year I took a new approach to planning that has changed my life.

I was sitting in the Japan Airlines Business Class lounge at the Tokyo/Narita airport waiting for my flight home.

At the start of the year I took a new approach to planning that has changed my life.

Looking out over the tarmac, watching planes coming and going, shooting back a few rice cracker snacks and sipping an ice cold Asahi beer…I thought it was a good time to reflect on the previous year and what I wanted to accomplish during the next 12 months.

I grabbed my bag and pulled out a new planning sheet that a friend of mine had sent me a couple of days earlier.

Getting Focused

Each year, like so many, I set out to plan my resolutions and what I want to accomplish for the coming year. This year however, I did two things that I hadn’t done before…and the results surprised me.

I used that new planning sheet and made sure to look at what I had written every day.

So there I was, sitting in the lounge filling in the sheet.

I wrote about my biggest successes, both in business and personally for the previous year. My biggest disappointments and what I wanted to accomplish going forward.

The Secret Step

When I got back home I put this sheet beside the whiteboard in my office.  This might not sound like a big deal, but having it in plain sight is crucial.

I look at it every day. I review it. It gives Continue Reading

Announcing New Course: The Management Consulting Blueprint

I’m very excited today to announce that our new course, authored by expert consultant Aarni Heiskanen, on Consulting Tools and Management Consulting is now available.

For the next 7 days you can enjoy an almost 50% discount on the course. Full details here »

If you aren’t familiar with the value of Consulting Tools and using systems in your consulting business I suggest you start by reading these 3 posts:

The Management Consulting Blueprint provides you with 17 tools, templates, worksheets, videos…everything you need to start implementing these tools and systems in your business so that you can deliver bigger results for your clients and increase your income.

Get all the details on the course here…

5 Reasons Consultants Should Blog

Most consultants know they should have a website. But I get asked all the time by those new to consulting whether or not they should have a blog.

My answer is yes, but with a couple of caveats.

If you’re going to start a blog make sure you have something to say. And be sure you can keep it up.

This advice goes for all companies…

There’s nothing worse than setting up a blog, connecting it to your website, posting a couple of articles…and then months go by and there’s no new content.

Certainly it’s not good for your image. Imagine a prospective client checking out your website, clicking on ‘Blog’ and then seeing that your last post was 6 months ago.

Ouch! That aint pretty.

Aight, so now we’ve explored the dark side of blogs and what you should consider before starting one.

But how about the positives, you ask? There are many:

1. Search Engine Love – Search engines such as Google love content from blogs. Especially when it comes out consistently. If you put up even a short post every couple of days or weeks your blog and therefore website traffic will climb.

2. You The Expert - You’re a pro right? Of course you are. Writing about your experience, sharing stories, consulting case studies, etc is a great way to demonstrate your expertise and become known as an authority.

3. Get Found – As you publish your posts you’ll start being found in the search engines by people looking for information on the topic you’ve written on. This is a great way to get contacted by potential consulting clients.

4. Easy to Get Started - Setting up a blog is eeeaasssy! Seriously. Even if you don’t have one technical bone in your body, you can pay someone through a service like Elance or oDesk to help you setup your blog. Continue Reading

How to Create a Strategic Plan for Consultants

As I lay in bed the other night reading for the second time a book by Verne Harnish (the Rockefeller Habits) it dawned on me that there’s a lot of people that don’t know what ‘strategy’ really means.

I thought about all the consultants, freelancers, and business owners that I’d spoken with over the years and the ones that came to receive advice…few really understood the meaning of the word…and even fewer were putting it into practice the right way.

To many, having a strategy is about having an overly complicated plan to grow their business.

A list or several steps they need to take to achieve their goal.

Frankly, as an idea that approach makes complete sense.

However, the problem is…

most plans miss a critical check to see whether
or not they are actually strategic.

The firm Strategos says to have a real strategy it must…

“…really matter to your existing and potential customers; and second, it differentiates you from your competition.”

Now, let’s dig a bit deeper into both of these points:

1. Matter to your existing and potential customers
A) If your strategy and plans don’t offer the value your customers are looking for there really is no point. If someone needs chopsticks for their business and you’re trying to sell them a better kind of fork, you’re probably wasting your time.

Make sure that your focus and offer is what your market wants and that it really matters to them.

B) If it doesn’t, you’ll need to refocus on a different market where you can sell your offering or go back to the drawing board or modify your current offering for a better fit. Continue Reading