Few consultancies or knowledge businesses market exclusively either online or offline. So it is critical to be aware of the techniques of both. This article is primarily about marketing offline but in reality the two work hand in hand. I’ve said elsewhere that a niche is a group of people looking to solve a problem that they can’t find a resolution to. A niche is not a product! So the first thing to do is find that niche – a group of people with a problem.
Then, try to find out what problems they are trying to solve. Once you’ve done this you are ready to start marketing on and offline. Let’s think about the latter. So your first question is ‘who exactly are you selling to’? Who are your potential clients? Who populates your niche? Will you be marketing your products and services to large corporations? Or will you offer a speciality that would only be of interest to smaller businesses or individuals? Perhaps your services will be sought after by non-profit organizations. Maybe they are certain individuals with a particular health need or hobby – who are these? Where do they congregate? How can you reach them? Before you go forward from here, make sure you spend time getting answers to these questions.
The most time-consuming aspect of setting up your consultancy or knowledge business is finding your niche, deciding where the people are you want to sell to and how they can be reached. So whatever you do not shortcut this initial part of your plan or activity. If you don’t get this bit right then you may have to start again. So be careful with this first stage, take your time and put in the time and energy. Also, never be afraid that you may be narrowing yourself too much – in online marketing the apparently small in one respect can turn out to be very big in others. We’ll talk in more detail in another article about online marketing. Let’s first look at the things you’ll need to do if you are marketing offline. Here are some key offline techniques you will need to market your knowledge offline:
1. Take any opportunity to tell people what it is you do. Drop it into conversations – implicitly rather than explicitly (the latter can seem desperate).
2. Network as much as you can. Go to gatherings where the kind of people who want your knowledge go
3. Go to conferences – but avoid the highly expensive ones which are often just ‘show’ events
4. Develop your sales letter writing skills – this is important for both offline and online selling
5. If you provide a client with consultancy make sure you finish up by letting them know what else you can do
6. Develop your listening skills
7. Develop your question asking skills
8. Don’t ‘lecture’ your potential clients There are plenty of other things you can do to develop your offline marketing and I am sure you’ll be aware of some of them but this is a start.
You can practice these in almost any context too. You don’t have to wait for a ‘real’ client to come along before you practice listening skills or question-asking skills. Likewise attending conferences and networking. So you can start all these now. Remember that selling your consulting services is not the same as selling a car or a house. In this case, the customer is probably already in the market for one or both of those products. Your job is harder because you are marketing your services to people who may not even be aware that they need those services – yet! There are a variety of techniques and methods you need to become both familiar and comfortable with in order to begin attracting and keeping clients. Let’s look at some of the more conventional ones that are being used by many knowledge specialists and consultants today.
Calling cards: If your business demands that you visit clients or that you spend time networking or at conferences then get some cards printed. You don’t need to invest much in this. Get the smallest print run you can (100-200) as it will take time for you to distribute these. Don’t just give them to anyone. Choose people you think might be interested. You should always give them to people you have had a business meeting with. If your business is entirely online and automated then your need for cards will be less. But you may still want to meet with people which your business can ally or link with so it is best to have cards that you can give to these people – just in case!
Preparing Brochures: Brochures are a traditional but useful way to communicate to a client the benefits of using your products or services. There are six issues your brochure should address:
- It should clearly communicate to a reader what benefits your services offer.
- It should tell customers why you are good
- It should give a few reasons why you should be hired
- It should include some brief biographical information
- It should include some information about who your other clients are (if you have any)Keep it simple and clear. This is something you can afford to be perfectionist about – from the outset. With a physical brochure you only get one chance.
Remember, your brochure represents you in the marketplace, so make sure you polish it before you send it into action. In fact, it is often a good idea to design your online brochure first then use it as a template for the hard copy. That way you get it perfect before it goes to press and they will be similar in design and content – which is great for branding.
Cold Calling: I know, nobody particularly likes it and few are really good at it but it remains a mainstay of basic business and especially of the sole trader in a traditional sales role. If you really are utterly terrified of this then don’t do it. If your fear and reticence comes over on the phone then you are just jeopardizing your marketing. Also, the idea ultimately is to get people calling you. But I know some people who have actually come to like it and enjoy the challenge! There are a few tricks you can use to make cold-calling a little easier for you:
- Prepare a script for yourself ahead of time. Be sure what you want to say when you get someone on the telephone. The goal is to get in the door with the decision maker and, eventually, a new client. So before you end up stumbling over your sales presentation (either in person or over the telephone), write your script and practice it.
- Try to get to the main decision maker. Most times you will get through to a secretary or administrative assistant who is used to turning away the cold caller after years of experience. But don’t give up! To avoid being screened by the secretary, try calling before they are on the job. You may have to phone early – before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m., but the chances are the decision maker you are trying to reach will answer.
Placing Advertising: How much you spend on this will depend on your budget. If you are lucky enough to have a very healthy advertising budget then by all means use this medium. But remember that you don’t have to spend the money on ads just because you have it to spend. Advertising can be very expensive. Be careful where you place an ad. Target journals and newsletters related to your field. Don’t go for national magazines or newspapers. These are very expensive and will be highly ineffective.Many knowledge specialists and consultants hardly advertise at all. Some such as Andrew S. in London, UK, depend on word-of-mouth. “The most effective form of advertising [for my business] has definitely been word-of-mouth and recommendations from other people,” he says. This is why networking is key. Depending on what your niche is, it may be worth advertising in a special trade journal. For example, if you are a fund-raising consultant, you can place ads in such publications as The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Non-Profit Times and Fund Raising Weekly. Likewise a gardening expert, social researcher, dietician, or I.T. expert will all have their own publications that you can advertise in or write articles for.Before you spend any money though, go to the library and ask for advice. Start looking through professional journals relative to the fields you specialize in. Examine ads that have been placed by others, and determine how effective you think their ads may be. Then design one that suits you best. Phone the publications first. Tell them about what you are trying to achieve, get to know them and ask for their help. And don’t be shy about asking for a discount.
Newsletters: You should have enough information to produce a newsletter as a way of informing potential clients who are interested in your offerings what you are doing, what offers you have and generally informing them of interesting issues, events and comments in your knowledge area. This doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t have to make it an expensive, full colour publication. The simpler you keep it, the better. You can also hire a freelancer to do this – a good recent graduate not yet employed in marketing would do this for you if you feel you don’t have the requisite skills or much money to hire a professional company. A good informative and interesting newsletter will sell itself based on the content rather than the sophisticated or flashy design.You can collect newsletters in your consulting field to start with and use these for inspiration. If you can’t find any go to your local library. You will find several newsletter directories–Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters (Oxbridge Communications) and Hudson’s Newsletter Directory (The Newsletter ClearingHouse) – these list, by subject, newsletters that are published not only in a range of different countries. Use the topics and designs in these to help you.Newsletters are an excellent way to keep informed and an advertising media for a consultant to sell his or her services. They are also a good alternative to brochures.
Public Speaking: Public speaking is a great way to get new clients and to get yourself known. Go to a local college or chamber of commerce or business club and offer a talk or lunchtime seminar. Don’t just make this a pitch for your business. Make it genuinely interesting and informative. I knew two people who did this. One was a nuclear physicist who was tired of his job at college and managed to persuade the local chamber of commerce to do a 30 minute session for a business lunch on the benefits of nuclear power for business – unbeknown to him at the time it was the start of a new career as a consultant. I also knew an amateur ‘storyteller’ who did a similar thing. She simply gave a 30 minute talk on how companies can use stories in their marketing. She now works with companies on their marketing material and other documentation. Public speaking will win you more friends than a mere advert. As I said make your talk short and snappy and tag your offerings and contact details on at the end. Prepare talks for between 15 and 45 minutes.
Ask for Referrals: Once you start getting clients ask them for referrals. When you have finished a consulting assignment and your client is happy with what you’ve done for them this is an excellent time to ask them for a referral! Send a note or a short letter asking if any colleagues, friends or business associates they feel might be interested in talking to you. Ask permission to mention their name. Often it just means having a mutual friend or respected associate to get the potential client interested in you.
Get information on how to market your consultancy online too, below.