Starting your own consulting business

When I first started The Meaford Group, I described myself as a senior executive in the technology industry with global business experience. My goal was to describe my consulting practice in a way that would cast as wide a net as possible to generate client opportunities. I described myself as a “smart guy”, “done a lot”, “broad experience” and “can help your company”. I displayed my resume with all my experience from seventeen years at IBM, ten years at PeopleSoft, and a career that included sales and sales management, professional services, and executive management running large organizations. With my broad background, I thought the phone would start ringing.

It didn’t.

Over time, I began to understand why this message didn’t resonate with clients. While I was trying to genericize my value proposition so it wouldn’t disqualify me from any consulting opportunity, it also didn’t describe to potential clients what I did or why they would hire me. It also elongated by business development time cycle. When I did find an interested client, it took too many meetings to hone in on what I could do to help them. So, I began to refine my message.

Venn diagramToday, I describe myself as a business advisor who works with software companies in the five to fifty million dollars revenue range on “Go to Market” (Sales, Professional Services, and Customer Success) strategy and execution issues. In other words, I described three circles of a Venn diagram:

The immediate reaction that I received from people I met was “wow, that is succinct” and “you must be good if your focus is so narrow”. In other words, the listener heard “Software” AND “$5-50M” AND “Go to Market” with my niche being the intersection of the three circles.

What surprised me was immediately after that reaction, they would say to me: “I’m a software company, can you help me with a product management problem that I am having?” OR “I having a sales problem, can you help me?” OR “You must understand small business, can you help me?” They heard the “AND”, valued the expertise of the niche, but acted on the “OR”. Instead of limiting my prospective clients to the intersection of the three circles, my prospective clients came from anywhere within the three circles.

As my message got more refined, I starting describing myself in terms of common problems that these companies experience. As I tell these stories, the reaction I receive is “you are describing my life” and clients quickly get a clear vision of what I do and how I can help them. As a result, my business development effort involves less meetings and work begins sooner. Conversely, if my stories don’t resonate, it becomes as obvious that the company isn’t a prospective client and we both stop wasting our time looking for a fit, thus saving me more business development time.

Now, after almost a decade into running my own business, I find I spend a lot of time with others who are trying to establish their own private consulting practice. As I share what I have learned, I see the light bulb turning on in their brain in terms of how they describe their area of expertise. If you are in a similar situation, try the advice above and see if it helps you.

© 2014 Meaford Group

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