First consulting rule: Face your fears

When you’re starting off in the consulting business your first consulting rule and often biggest challenge is facing your fears.

No, finding clients is my biggest challenge, you say? I’ll suggest that’s not the case. You see, finding clients is easy when you’re really prepared to find them.

Most new consultants have this idea that they just need to make a website, get a business card and officially call themselves a consultants and business will flow their way. Unfortunately, that’s far from being the case.

To get your first client you’ll need to pick up the phone and start making some cold calls – that’s a big fear for some people. Or you can put together a direct mail piece and send it out or pay for an ad in a trade publication – all good stuff – but all cost real money and new consultants often are scared to spend money before they are making money.

As time goes on the fear of failure and not being able to make it can also set in. This is normal, but again you need to face your fears. Either fail fast and get on with your next business. If this is your choice then do all that you can to make sure you’ve given it a real good go – or else you’ll likely regret your decision to jump ship early.

Your best bet when these fears set in is to look them in the eye. It’s hard for sure, but face your fear once and the next time it rears its ugly head you’ll find yourself less scared to tackle it than you were initially.

If you keep knocking down your fears you’ll find yourself on the path to success. Why you ask? Because so many entry level consultants give up as these challenges pile up and they decide facing all these fears is too much for them. If you stick around and keep pushing forward, the town is yours.

Your first consulting challenge will appear if it hasn’t already. Be ready for it and take it down.

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  • Personally, I don’t fear cold calling now, but when I first tried it as a 16 year old new, naive freelancer in the mid-90s, it scared the crud out of me, no doubt. These days, I just don’t know who to call, where to call, maybe what to say when I call. I live in an upstate NY market, but most of my business comes out of NYC, by way of luck, happenstance, bigger market and generally better rates there. Does cold calling Manhattan from Albany work? Does direct mail really work across the board, or is it really more successful for certain fields, industries or niches? Saying “go conquer your fears” is great … but specifics and elaborations on some of these tactics as a consultant, a new consultant, and/or a consultant having trouble generating leads, would be great.

    Also, speaking of fears, I think bigger fears tend to gel around doing new/different sorts of work. I think Weiss said something along the lines of, if you never do something you’ve never done before, you’ll never become a truly successful consultant. I find that overcoming this particular set of fears, at least for me, leads to greater consulting confidence in general, better, more interesting and higher-paying projects, and just plain more work. (That said, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Do what makes sense, not just what pays a buck.)

  • Andrew,

    Location is becoming less important these days as people become more used to working remotely and with overseas teams/clients.

    Of course, this can depend on your type of consulting work. But living in Albany shouldn’t stop you from getting more business that you can handle.

    One of the most successful copywriters and marketing consultants around, Bob Bly is based, I believe in River Vale, NJ. His business comes from all over.

    Face to face meetings are usually ideal, but by no means always necessary. As long as you can do your work off-site – you’re all good.

    Next, you need to position yourself as the best choice for your target market. If you’re a software consultant, one approach would be to put together a report about the industry, or threats that companies face if they don’t have the right software setup, etc.

    Create a list of your ideal prospects, and then mail them the report. You can then follow up with them. Continue to send valuable information and if you know your stuff, and they’re the kind of company that can really use your services, when they’re ready to buy, you’ll be at the top of their list.

    Many others have successfully positioned themselves as experts that companies constantly call on by writing columns in local or national papers.

    It’s really all about sharing your knowledge and giving value without the expectation of an immediate return. Do this and you won’t have to worry about cold calls, location, or much of anything else, your phone will be ringing. I’m not offering you a guarantee here, just what’s worked foe me over the years and for many other consultants. Cheers.

  • Michael,

    Thanks for the reply. At the moment, I happen to be buried, and for a couple months to come, at least … but it all feels very random. Happily random, but I prefer to deal with more known quantities and not randomness.

    As far as location & ideal prospects … that’s where the Albany location question comes in. How do I start to compile that sort of list when I’m removed from the market in question, lack intimate knowledge of that market, and am not involved in weekly or monthly semi-professional or social events that tend to introduce me to these sorts of potential clients, or make me aware of them? (Or them of me?)

    I do a mix of systems and software consulting on the hard tech side. I also provide consulting CIO & CTO services. I would love to be doing more of the latter, but it seems very dependent on heavy, heavy networking that takes away time for other/ongoing projects. I suspect getting more serious about writing and speaking would help there, but again, very time-intensive.

  • Andrew,

    Good on ya for lining up all that work. Let me break your question down into two parts – and I’ll attack both.

    You’re talking about your location being a problem – it doesn’t have to be. You’ve actually uncovered the bigger problem – which is lack market knowledge. The more you know about your market, what your ideal client looks like, what they think, what they buy, their fears, what makes them giddy inside…the better you’ll be able to communicate with them.

    With the web everyone has the best tool for research at their fingertips. Figure out which kind of company in which industry is most likely to engage you in work. Then do some research online to find those companies. You can also use the services of a list rental company or business database to find out revenue figures and employee numbers if that data is critical.

    Once you’ve lined up 50-100 of your ideal clients and you’ve spent the time to understand what it is that they think about and how to get inside their mind, then it’s time to start marketing and communicating with them. Think emails, calls, direct mail, maybe taking a trip to a conference where they will be…the list goes on.

    Ahh, and the question of how to get inside their mind? Read publications that your market reads and pick up the phone and start talking with them. You’ll be amazed by how much people will share with you if you just ask.

    As for the second issue of time. There’s no silver bullet here. You’ve got to put in the time. If 70% of your time is being spent on client work, you need to spend 20%+ of your time marketing and lining up your next clients.

    Putting in this time is what separates those that have continued success and make consulting a stable lifestyle, from those that ride the income roller-coaster up and down, up and down.