Lots of folks are joining the ranks of “business owner” as a career path these days. Some by design and some, unfortunately, because they have little choice. Many of these business owners are choosing to open up coaching, consulting and service businesses in part because it’s so darn easy to do. The barrier to entry is sometimes little more than printing up some business cards.
Now, I’m not suggesting that people who start these kinds of business don’t have incredible experience and expertise to offer, far from it. But, because it is so easy to start a business offering consulting, it’s more important than ever that you find a way to differentiate your coaching and consulting business so prospects can understand your unique experience and expertise.
The following seven steps offer a road map for creating a winning practice.
1) Turn your service into a product – selling services is a little like selling air. By making your offerings more productlike you can create something tangible while your competitors continue to offer solutions driven, customer centric services. Give your services a name – install your solution – offer a set deliverable, with set outcomes at a set price and watch how easy it becomes to explain and sell. The other advantage of a packaged program offering with a set price is that it allows you to rise above the hourly wage. When you sell your time you are capped and compared, when you sell a product or program, you are free to sell the value of the program without regard for the cost that goes into making it. As you become more effective at delivering your program you create the greatest path for getting paid on value delivered rather than hours input.
2) Develop a suite of tools and systems – to compliment your tangible product offering you must surround it with documented systems, tools and processes. This includes processes for lead generation, lead conversion, evaluation, service delivery, and results reviews. By creating tools that allow you to communicate and deliver a result in a consistent manner, you will immediately rise above 90% of your competition. Making it up over and over again with each engagement, writing proposals and reacting to client demands is a very tiring business. When you can guide a client logically through the path to success with a professional process your business will become more profitable with each new engagement.
3) Build a brand thatâ€™s easy to talk about – one of the things that step one did for you was create an immediate point of differentiation. In order to create true momentum you must focus on a brand building strategy that makes it very easy for your prospects, customers, and partners to talk about what you do. You must simplify your core message to the point where anyone can understand it and communicate it. Again, you can lean heavily on your tangible offering here, but this is the place to add your story as well. In addition to the results you can bring, a strong brand is often accompanied by a strong vision and story. It’s crucial that you can tell a story worth repeating and make that a foundational marketing element.
4) Push out lots of expert content – Let’s face it, people hire people who are considered authorities and they often pay them a premium. One of the ways you develop your authority is to speak and write every chance you get. Authoring articles in publications, consistently writing engaging blog content, and presenting your point of view live or online is how your raise your authority. As a practical matter pushing out education based content is also how you win search engine results. I don’t think you can overdo this point and it never stops. You simply continue to raise your authority with a best selling book and national speaking engagements.
5) Lead generate from multiple outposts – One mistake some consultants make is to rely on one or two ways to generate leads. In many cases there will be one of two ways that seem most effective. Speaking for example is a great way to present your ideas and brand to willing prospects. But, to build a winning practice you need to generate awareness and trust by appearing everywhere. This means speaking, writing, advertising, PR and referral generation. The impact of multi-faceted lead generation is that it speeds the sales cycle dramatically and often removes price shopping. A prospect that sees an ad, reads a white paper and finds your quoted in an industry journal can effectively sell themselves. If you rely on one form of awareness you may indeed get attention, but the education process will be much greater.
6) Perfect your lead conversion close – I sometimes get a little push back here, but I’ve found that writing proposals and reacting to what a client thinks they need can drive you nuts. When you take the tangible product approach married with the expert content approach, lead generation is more about getting in front of the right prospects and explaining “this is how we do it” in a way that addresses what you know they need. Add to that an elegant process that enrolls and orients them to your system and you are on your way to delivering a lead conversion experience that’s a joy for all. Winning profitability relies heavily on your ability to close more of the right deals and that includes knowing how to spot and move quickly away from the wrong deals. A systematic lead conversion process is the best tool possible for this strategy.
7) Construct a killer network – one of the best ways to make yourself more valuable to your clients is to become a source for everything they need to succeed. The best way to do this is to develop a network of best of class providers that you can refer and introduce whenever the need arises. By being the “go to” resource for your clients you become irreplaceable and ultimately highly referable. In addition, when you court and nurture these network partners with an eye on learning how to refer them to your clients, you set-up paths that make you an obvious referral choice for their needs. In fact, I would go as far as creating formal ways to build and enhance your network. Develop a plan to hold each other accountable, create and write a blog jointly, and freely offer each other an experience of your products and services. A strong network is also a powerful business tool for the solo entrepreneur to use as a sounding board, sanity check, and social outlet to replace the interaction that often comes with working with an internal team.
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