Consultants are often struggling to find new, reliable clients. We were able to ask Steve Blank, the founder of the Lean Startup movement (and someone who has helped a variety of businesses get their product out to market quicker and has worked with numerous consultants throughout the process), what consultants can do to attract clients.
Steve’s suggestion is odd and perhaps a bit counterintuitive. However, Toptal’s top consultants have been doing this for a long time.
How can an expert differentiate themselves?
Steve Blank suggests the best way to be noticed is to make your clients more intelligent: “Sure, you can simply take the client’s check, but great consultants actually make their clients smarter,” Steve Blank claims. “People are aware of me because of the content I have to share, and I’m the first to admit that there’s no mathematics involved. It’s not a masterpiece. I’m a genius of common sense. You collate the most effective practices in a manner that’s easy to understand and repeatable, and others could come up with ways to accomplish it.
“I think that consultants must say to potential clients, “Let me show you how to accomplish the X and Y. I’ll take care of it for you, but do you know that? I’m willing to share my knowledge and help you be more efficient while I’m paying you. Although they’re not interested in knowing that, it’s an incredibly unique position: Will you help me become smarter and accomplish the task? Wow.”
Steve has stated, “As smart as you are, there is no way you’re smarter than the collective intelligence of your potential customer.” In the case of remote consultation, Steve noted that “Sometimes the thing you think is the issue is actually an indication of a problem. Even if you’re within the room, you may not be able to identify the issue. Being in remote locations makes it difficult. Conduct a little research to get a better understanding of the nature of the issue you’re working to solve. Even if you think you’ve been given a job. Context is a great help… When it comes to Lean’s Customer Discovery process, which is an integral part of Lean, You must deal with basic blocking and dealing with. Instead of thinking of this as a task, attempt to understand the goal they’re trying to achieve.”
At Toptal, I’ve heard this phrase time and repeatedly from some of our top consultants. They are constantly asking questions. But they also are quick to ask them and frequently. During my interview with Jeffrey Fidelman, one of Toptal’s most sought-after consultants, he often spoke of his questioning and discovery method being one of the key factors for his business success (check out Fidelman’s advice on Tips to be an Amazing Financial Advisor). In the terms that are used in Lean, Steve calls this “customer discovery”–the method of figuring out what the client’s issue through a dialogue with all the stakeholders is and the steps they must take to address the issue.
Steve explained the best way to produce work that is actually used: “The difference between the work you do not use and your contribution to the final goal is knowing where your product is placed as well as what being successful for the client actually looks like. In addition, figuring out what you want to be successful for? Does this piece of code that must work to achieve X? Does this code work on Thursday and if I fail to send it to you on Friday, I shouldn’t have even begun with the task?”
Steve added that the most effective consultants have questions from the beginning: “Most people are simply happy enough at this point in their careers that they do what they want to do. “Nice, I received the job. Look. They’re paying me what they think that asking questions will scare people off or cause them to think that you don’t understand. However, after a time, the people from both sides learn that those who ask the most questions at the beginning are the ones who are the most effective in delivering what’s desired and needed.”
Once you’ve identified the uniqueness of your business, Steve believes it’s key to record your process and develop a set of best practices to achieve repeatable success. “What are the common things that occur frequently? Making a list of the best practices on what you can perform as an online consultant could assist in achieving higher quality results over time.” That means that you can show clients that you’ve got an established process that you’ve completed several times over the years and give them faith that you’ll be able to resolve any issue they face.
TOPTAL FINANCE CONSULTANT BEST PRACTICES EXAMPLE
What are the roles of the client and the projects they are currently working on?
What are the goals of these initiatives and the whole company?
The other players involved in the project? Who do the clients communicate with?
Know the business and, more importantly, decide if you are confident in the company.
Proactive client communications
Establish expectations regarding the speed of response. Certain kinds of projects require regular check-in, whereas it is okay for others to check in weekly.
Be in contact with your client as often as you can. You are a part of this process.
Define and redefine milestones.
The goals should be described along with the general approach to achieving them.
Establish expectations for the task to be finished and set the deadline as soon as you can.
Divide tasks into activities and call-ins.
Define the information/data required to complete the deliverables given.
Every time a milestone is achieved, outline the actions and goals to follow and then get the support of the client.
Write down the definitions that define exactly what “done” means.
Manage the budget of the client
Be attentive to the number of hours you spend on a task.
If you are paying per hour, clearly indicate the amount of time and calculate the cost for each stage.
Keep the client in the loop when a project takes longer than planned.
How to Get Consulting Clients? Give Away Your Ideas
So, you’ve got your list of the best practices and an established, repeatable procedure that is ready to go. How do you convince clients to know what you have to offer? Create a brand that is unique to you.
Steve Blank has done this by sharing all of his slides. He has over 1,120 slides on SlideShare. He is offering a no-cost Lean Startup course on Udacity. Every thought he’s thought of on entrepreneurship success can be found on the blog (or at least, it appears to be that way). This is, of course, free. Below is a glimpse of Steve’s site down, filled with resources for free that showcase his expertise.