Previously, we discussed how to properly target, prospect, and qualify consulting engagement leads as a way to monetize your knowledge as a consulting business. In this post, we cover the pitch meeting and how to write a winning proposal.
Once you have a qualified lead with a problem that your consulting business can solve, it is time to pitch them.
At this point, hopefully, the prospect has some basic idea of who you are, having responded in some way to your prospecting, and you have a basic understanding of the prospect based on your qualifying the lead. The goal of the pitch is not getting a commitment to hire you, but to make the engagement more personal and to clarify the points that need to go into your written proposal.
Rather than use your first meeting to just share why the prospect should hire your consulting business, consultants would be better served to use the pitch meeting to ask questions to get the prospect engaged in the process, and to show them that you understand and care about them.
“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Based upon what you learned when you developed your empathy map about your ideal customer and what information you gathered on the specific prospect you gathered in the qualifying stage, you should design a series of questions to probe a little deeper to discover the pain and gain points that you can use in your proposal that will resonate with them. During your pitch, you want to demonstrate that you understand what is important to them, and show them that you care about them and their success.
Remember, if your customer works for a larger corporation, their decision to hire your consulting business is likely guided by how it will reflect on them personally. I always made it very clear to my clients that it was my job to make them look good to their boss. I told my customers that I expected them to personally take all the credit for any successes.
On the flip side, it is often better for the prospect to make no decision than to make a bad decision, so you will want to show them how you can take a majority the risk out of making a bad decision in your pitch, such as offering a money-back guarantee to assuage any fear they may have with making a bad decision.
Before you conclude your pitch, be sure to include a question or two so you can see what success looks like for the prospect. For example, you might ask:
- What is your desired outcome for this engagement?
- Can you give me an example of a project you were really happy with and why?
- How does this effort complement your overall business goals?
- If we followed up one year from now, what would need to happen for you to be happy with this engagement?
- What would you need to experience for you to refer me to a good friend or colleague?
During the pitch meeting, be sure to take notes as the prospect responds to your questions to show them that you are actively listening. It is also good advice to periodically check your understanding by paraphrasing or repeating what they said.
Remember that this first meeting with your qualified lead should be less about giving them a laundry list of what you can do, and be more about verifying all the information you have collected with your profile scrape, and collecting new information so you can customize your proposal/response based upon their specific needs.
According to Tim Rice, a Digital Marketer for Entrepreneur, too many consultants vomit up their pitch when they get in front of a qualified prospect for the first time. Having a prepared presentation for the pitch meeting and launching into it without getting the prospect engaged in the process or learning more about their goals says “Your needs are not special and I’m only pretending to care about you… Here is my boilerplate pitch”.
Your goal is to get enough information that you can use to develop a proposal and to make sure that you have answered all any questions both expressed and unexpressed that the prospect will need to move forward. You also want to understand their budget and provide a ballpark price for your engagement to make sure you are on the same page.
In an ideal situation, you can take what you learned from the pitch and sit down after the meeting when the pressure is off to develop a customized proposal document. However, sometimes you only get one meeting with the prospect, such as when they are interviewing several consultants for a specific task and plan to make a decision after all the interviews are completed. In these situations, you have to fly by the seat of your pants, and deliver your proposal or response at the pitch meeting based on what you have gathered during the qualifying phase, and what you learned from your opening questions.
By the end of the pitch meeting, you should have asked and answered enough questions to have a pretty good idea if this engagement is a good fit for both your consulting business and the prospect. Assuming that you can deliver on the prospect’s requirements, be sure to close by asking for the engagement. It is better to be assumptive in the closing, such as saying “Would you like to move forward?” than to leave it hanging by saying something like “Get back to me if you have any questions”.
If the prospect indicates that they will move forward, tell them that you will draft a proposal. Be sure that you understand the prospect’s payment terms. If you assume that they will pay net 30 and they pay net 60, this could create a cash flow problem for you. Finally, ask if they have a preferred format for a proposal before you try to craft your own version that they may then ask you to redo.
Alan Weiss in his book Million Dollar Consulting Proposals provides a Consulting Engagement Checklist that outlines everything you should take away from your pitch meeting so that you have all the information you will need to prepare a proposal.
Consulting Business Proposal
By the time you send the client a proposal, you should understand all of the prospect’s requirements, as well as their payment terms. Moreover, you should have had some pricing discussions so there should be no surprises when they see your consulting company’s proposal. You do not want to waste a bunch of time writing a proposal to not win it.
In your proposal document, don’t over-promise what you will do just to win the engagement. The prospect will likely place a lot of emphasis on the words and commitments you place in your proposal. I have seen time and time again that a consultant will promise the moon in their proposal, then a month or two down the road, the customer begins to question if the consultant oversold themselves. Overselling to get the engagement always backfires and creates bad blood, which results in bad word of mouth within the community.
Be sure that you outline how you will communicate in your proposal document. I recently introduced a fee-based advisor to one of my clients, who submitted a fixed-price proposal that was accepted by the client. There was no mention of the way communication would be handled in his proposal. My client was assuming that the fee-based advisor would attend all her team meetings, creating quite a time suck for him that was not anticipated in the original proposal he submitted.
In your proposal’s narrative, focus on the outcomes that your engagement will deliver instead of the process. “My SEO audit of your site will help increase your rankings in Google” is better than “I will do an audit and provide you with a list of recommendations”. Customers care about outcomes, not your process.
If you have to do some work up front, don’t be shy and ask for a deposit.
Don’t deliver a 40-page proposal full of legalese. While your lawyer would prefer that your proposal cover every possible contingency in writing, such a lengthy proposal will tend to focus on all the things that can go wrong and be too intimidating for many prospects to sign. I have seen too many good freelance consultants lose out on a gig because their lawyer provided them a document full of legalese and escape clauses that made the prospect too nervous about the engagement to sign it. Instead, keep your proposal short. The best proposals are about three pages long. Alan Weiss, in his book Million Dollar Consulting Proposal, provides a Consulting Proposal Template that includes the following key topics:
- Situational Appraisal
- Value created
- Scope of work
- Joint accountabilities
- Terms and conditions
- Acceptance and signatures (which you will have already signed)
Finally, you need to make it easy for the other party to accept your proposal. Consider uploading an electronic version of your proposal to your Dropbox or Google Drive and using an e-signature tool, like the free version of HelloSign, to allow your customers to e-sign your proposals. Be sure to already have your signature on the uploaded document, so all it needs is the prospect’s signature to go into effect.
Send the prospect an email that says the proposal is complete and awaiting their signature. If you use a Gmail account, it is also helpful is to employ an email tracking tool, like the free version of Mailtrack, or a similar product to know if and when your proposal was opened by your prospect.
This blog, and more, can be found on Steve’s consulting blog page, SteveBizBlog.com
Having a consulting business is all about being able to monetize your knowledge. Most consulting businesses have a very narrow, but deep knowledge of a particular subject such as cybersecurity, human resource management, the law, etc. While some consulting businesses have more than one employee, a large number are simply composed of one freelance consultant wanting to monetize their knowledge. While some consultants work with individual consumers, such as being a wedding consultant, the majority of consultants engage with other businesses and share their knowledge in exchange for a paycheck.
This post is part of a two-part series on how to monetize your knowledge as a freelance consultant. In this post, we will focus on lead generation, while the next post will look at how to pitch and write winning proposals for qualified prospects.
The first step in starting a consulting business is to have a clear understanding of what the ideal customer looks like. According to Tim Rice, a Digital Marketer for Entrepreneur, he recommends developing an Empathy map to discover the ideal customer’s worldviews. Typically, empathy maps are a tool used by User Experience (UX) designers, but it works equally well for many businesses trying to know more about their target audience.
An empathy map uses a series of questions to try to get a handle on what is going on inside the ideal customer’s head, so that any collateral material, such as the web page for the consulting business and social media engagements demonstrates that they care and understand the customer’s situation.
What do they say? – “I’m behind in my revenue projections”
What do they think? – “I know I could get more traction. I’m spinning my wheels when it comes to social media marketing.”
What do they do? – “I work from home and use offshore resources to do labor arbitrage. I listen to podcasts while driving, and I’m a big fitness junkie”.
What do they feel? – “I see their friends with jobs getting promotions and paid Healthcare.”
For more information on how to create an empathy map, Nick Babich has written an article titled 10 Tips to Develop Better Empathy Maps that shares how to create an empathy map in more detail.
With a better handle on who your ideal customer is and after making sure that all of your customer-facing content reflects that you understand their issues, it is time to start prospecting. Prospecting can come in the form of both active and passive prospecting
Many consultants resort to active prospecting. Active prospecting is about the push influencing style of persuading, and asserting to engage with prospects. The consulting business uses social media, emails, cold calls and speaking at events to pitch their service.
Most of the time, the recipient of active prospecting is not yet ready to buy and the consultant’s message falls on deaf ears. Active prospecting uses the spray and pray approach to marketing. Therefore, active prospecting can be a huge time suck, and make the consulting business appear sleazy and sales-y. If you choose to engage in active prospecting, make sure you automate the process, as the success rate is pretty low.
Passive prospecting uses a pull influencing style of bridging and attracting to engage with prospects. Passive prospecting often involves the use of a lead magnet- which is a free offering- to incentivize a prospect to provide you with their email address in exchange for a free offer. Passive prospecting using a lead magnet has the added benefit of establishing you as the expert based on the depth and quality of the content you provided in the lead magnet and creating reciprocity since the prospect got some value from you at no cost.
Since most consulting businesses are all about working with other businesses to sell their expertise, LinkedIn is an obvious and natural platform to prospect for leads. An effective use of LinkedIn for prospecting is to write a LinkedIn post that starts with a question such as “Does your consulting business need more business?”, and then provide a relatively quick answer to the question to act as more of a teaser in the post’s text itself.
Since LinkedIn wants users to remain on the platform, if you include a link in your main post that takes the user off the LinkedIn platform- for example to your blog for more detailed information- LinkedIn will not like it and will give your post less reach. However, there is a work around that will not alert LinkedIn that your content has links intended to take the user off their platform.
When you write your LinkedIn post, you will want to include your links in a post’s comments instead of in the actual post itself. In the post, you will want to make a statement to the effect that you have more information or a link to a free tool that you will include in the first comment. For example, you might say at the end of your post like “For a more detailed answer to these questions. we have included a link to a more in-depth article in the post’s first comment”.
By including a statement that you are including more content or something for free in the first comment, you are creating a place to add your lead magnet, and a reason for the user to read your comment to access the additional content you provided. Moreover, LinkedIn will not penalize your posts reach for a link that takes the user off-platform since the links were included in the comment and not in the post.
In the first comment you should provide:
- Any link you offered to provide them for additional information.
- A statement such as “If you have a question. reach out to me on Twitter at…” It is best to ask them to ask a question on Twitter than to send you an email. With Twitter, they will keep the question short by forcing them to ask the question based on Twitter’s 280-character limit. Moreover, their questions will not fill up your email inbox with people looking for free advice.
- A link to something for FREE to act as a lead magnet to get their email address.
- Provide a link on how to get in touch with you if they want to contact you for a consulting gig.
- A pointer to your website so the user can do more research on you.
- A comment asking them to freely share your information with anyone else that might be interested. If you don’t ask, they will most likely not share your information, so ask for it.
For any consulting business today, video is a powerful medium to share your knowledge. Loom offers a free way to capture video and share it as a link. You can create a mini webinar that displays your desktop with your talking head in the corner, capture only your screen, or just you talking to your audience. You can then publish or download the video, and post it or include it in an email.
Related Article: How to Create Effective B2B Marketing Videos
To improve your ability to understand what does and doesn’t resonate with your audience,, you should make all of your links using bitly. You can set up a free account on bitly and then use bitly to shorten any URL. Then you can use the bitly dashboard to see how your links perform.
Once your prospecting has produced a lead, it is time to qualify the lead. The first step in qualifying a lead is to make sure they can make a decision. The last thing you want to do as a consulting business is to waste your time pitching to someone that is only a tire kicker or does not have the authority to make a decision.
You would be surprised about how much you can learn about a person before you meet with them. When it comes to qualifying a lead, I recommend you look at the prospect’s webpage and attempt to find them on social media. Since prospects also buy from someone that they Know, Like and Trust, you should learn to use a tool like the Lifestyle database in Reference USA to find common interests prior to moving to the pitch stage.
Next post, we will discuss the pitch meeting and how to draft a proposal.
This blog, and more, can be found on Steve’s consulting blog page, SteveBizBlog.com
Do you remember how it felt after Waldo Canyon Fire, the Black Forest Fire, and the floods following our regional disasters? If you were a small business, you might still be feeling the after effects. Recovery takes a long time, especially in a community that relies on tourism.
On Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19. “People who work in food, childcare, health care, education and hospitality industries can receive paid sick leave to miss work if they are experiencing flu-like systems so they can be tested for COVID-19 and be paid to take the days as they wait for test results”.
There are strong indicators that Washington and Denver are considering additional measures to help with wage replacement or other forms of relief. Pikes Peak SBDC, now the Statewide lead for the SBDC Crisis Recovery and Preparedness Program, continues to work closely with the Office of Economic Development, SBDC Lead Center, State and local resources including the Pikes Peak Workforce Center to provide the latest information. (Website updated daily)
Today, small businesses throughout the Pikes Peak Region are starting to feel the effects of the health crisis. Face it, we’re a tourist town. While mostly indirect, it’s starting to hurt due to canceled travel plans. However, this time, there’s a local reaction as well. More of our local customers are choosing to stay home rather than go out to eat or shop, choosing delivery instead.
Although small business is hurting…it doesn’t have to hurt THAT bad. Don’t freak out, be prepared!
If you were a small business that was impacted by our fires in 2012 and 2013, and you’re still around, chances are, you’ve got the business continuity thing down. If so, call me…we need your help mentoring others!
If you don’t have it down, here’s some steps you need to take in preparations for ANY disaster…yes ANY downturn in conditions whether it be a fire, flood…burglary, recession, or in this case, public health crisis. The steps of business continuity planning include preparation, response, and recovery.
- What is the risk?
- What are your mitigation steps to prevent the risk from affecting you?
- What plan are you communicating with your employees?
- What scenarios have you tested with response measures written in your plan?
- What’s your timeline for each scenario?
- What’s your communication platform for employees and customers?
- What training have you put in place?
- Did your plan work?
- What resources did you put in place to help?
- What resources are available from the local to federal levels?
Here’s some immediate items you can do for steps one and two:
1. Look at your financials and cash flow.
How long can you “make it through” in case of a quarantine, lost wages, employee absenteeism (when you are paying for sick leave AND not bringing in revenue). What do you need to bridge the gap? Suggestion: Get a credit line approved now. You don’t have to use it. But you’ll have it when you need it.
2. Slash your overhead.
If you’re worried about losing customers or employees due to sickness, school closures or possible quarantines, cut the things you don’t HAVE to spend your money on.
3. Understand your insurance policy.
What does your insurance cover? What doesn’t it cover?
4. Look at your supply chains.
Are they diversified or are you relying on one source for your products? Supply chain management is essential in any global pandemic. Travel, workforce absenteeism, and financials will impact supply chains across the world. It’s important you have multiple providers of a resource that is the core of your business.
5. Do you have an incident response plan?
What do you have in place in case of a quarantine? Can your employees work from home? Can you sell online or deliver instead of staffing brick and mortar? What kind of technology can be implemented to reach your customers? What communication is in place to your customers and employees?
6. Build capacity in the areas you will need it most!
- Legal support
- Financial support
- Employee support
7. Practice Social Distancing!
Social distancing is a term applied certain action to stop or slow down the spread of a highly contagious disease. Here’s some action items you can implement quickly in your business:
- Encourage staying more than three feet apart
- Do not high five, shake hands or have close physical contact
- Wash your hands more frequently and use hand sanitizer
- Clean and disinfect your work and customer areas more frequently
- Avoid touching your face, nose, or eyes
To develop your full business continuity plan, because you are an awesome business owner, visit www.pikespeaksbdc.org/disasterprep to download your free copy of our award winning business continuity guide.
Now that you have your basics in place, how do you alter your plan to specifically answer the need of “Health Crisis” preparedness? Check out our resources below!
As this latest state of emergency unfolds, we will keep you informed on the impact and resources for small businesses. A suggestion: If you are planning a large event, small event, or a gathering…try not cancel your events. The other small businesses you are working with depend on a cash flow too to survive. Rather, look at your contracts and see if you can reschedule the event for later in the year when this crisis subsides.
It may seem silly to have to continue to tell your employees to – wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, or ‘get out of my office!!!!’. But the truth is, habits are hard to break. Signs help as subtle reminders to your employees and customers to practice better personal hygiene – key to recovery from this illness, according to the public health experts.
Business, as in life, is a series of new and unexpected challenges nearly every day. At the Pikes Peak SBDC, we know this and are here to help you plan, prepare and thrive in our small business community.
The ability to avoid payroll taxes and other regulatory aspects of hiring employees causes many small businesses to turn instead to hiring independent contractors. However, do not make the mistake of thinking that independent contractors and employees are interchangeable based merely upon what you choose to call them.
Don’t misclassify workers as “independent contractors” when, legally, they’re “employees.”
Laws exist to protect workers from being taken advantage of by people who hire workers as “contractors” or “1099 employees” as a way of getting around payment of minimum wage/overtime compensation and statutory benefits that are legally mandated.
Different laws have different tests for the purpose of determining whether a particular worker is an “independent contractor” or an “employee.” “Employee” is defined differently for purposes of tax withholding (federal and state) wage/hour (federal and state), unemployment, and workers compensation insurance. For wage/hour purposes under Colorado law, “employee” “means any person, including a migratory laborer, performing labor or services for the benefit of an employer.” Colo.Rev.Stat. § 8-4-101(5).
“Relevant factors in determining whether a person is an employee include the degree of control the employer may or does exercise over the person and the degree to which the person performs work that is the primary work of the employer; except that an individual primarily free from control and direction in the performance of the service, both under his or her contract for the performance of service and in fact, and who is customarily engaged in an independent trade, occupation, profession, or business related to the service performed is not an “‘employee.’” Colo.Rev.Stat. § 8-4-101(5).
Notice those words, “degree of control.” Do you see how the definition of “employee” for wage/hour purposes is dependent upon the facts of each situation? If you hire the neighbor’s kid to mow your lawn and you tell him or her to show up exactly at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesdays, to use your own mower, then use your own edger, then use your own leaf blower, you have probably just hired yourself an “employee.” And that would probably still be true if the kid mowed lawns for money for a few other neighbors as well. Contrast that with a true “independent contractor” relationship where you hire a company you found on the internet with four crews of two people each, that come on their own schedule, use their own machines, and have hundreds of customers. If you’re the one with the lawnmowing business and you intend to staff it with a bunch of teenagers who have their own lawn mowing businesses, but you’re providing machines and dictating work schedules, your probably going to be deemed to have “employees,” not true “independent contractors.”
Don’t assume that just because a worker is an “independent contractor” for one purpose, he or she is an “independent contractor” for all purposes.
The definition of “employee” is different under other statutes (taxation, unemployment, and workers compensation), so don’t believe it if anyone ever tells you there is a simple answer to the question, “is he/she an employee or independent contractor?” It is a complicated, fuzzy, fact-intensive inquiry—under each statute.
The back liabilities, penalties, legal expenses, accounting expenses, and lost sleep you WILL experience WHEN (not “if”) you are audited for misclassification of workers will make you wish you hadn’t done that. The SBDC offers materials, consulting, and webinars on proper classification of workers. Take advantage of them. Consult the IRS, U.S. Department of Labor, Colorado Department of Labor Wage/Hour Division, Unemployment Division and Workers Compensation Division for the rules for distinguishing “employees” from true “independent contractors” under the various statutes. When in doubt . . . the worker is almost certainly an employee.
Have a written Independent Contractor Agreement.
It is very important when hiring a worker that in any way could be construed to be an “employee,” you have a written independent contractor agreement. In particular, for Colorado unemployment insurance purposes, independent contractor relationships should be documented by a written agreement containing specific provisions. Some of the provisions must be written in ALL CAPS or Boldface. I suggest you hire an experienced employment law attorney to review any independent contractor agreement you come up with. Your average business attorney isn’t going to know about the Colorado unemployment guidelines for what independent contractor agreements should contain. Using qualified and experienced legal counsel can help you include in your form agreement all sorts of things you may not have thought of such as provisions for protection of trade secrets, non-competition provisions, an indemnification clause, alternate dispute resolution mechanisms, and a clause for recovery of attorney fees in the event of breach of the contract.
Check out your contractor’s licensing, insurance, and bonding situation.
Many lines of work are regulated by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies also known as DORA, and people performing such work are required to be licensed. Even if you don’t need a licensed service, you may still want a service that has in place suitable liability insurance or bonding. Don’t be satisfied with just seeing a photocopy; call the supposed insurance company to make sure the policy is currently in effect.
© Copyright 2019, Gene R. Thornton, Attorney-At-Law, all rights reserved.