When starting out as an independent consultant, everyone wants to know how to get your first consulting client. Stepping out as an independent consultant is a big leap, and there are always some nerves about how to get your first consulting client. Luckily, there have been many successful consultants who have paved the way and did the heavy lifting of figuring out which methods work best to find leads.
If you’re worried about how to get your first consulting client, it doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as it seems. There are some simple steps that you can take to start off on the right foot. In this article, I'm going to show you everything you need to know to land a steady stream of clients, including the 4 best places to start building your prospect pool.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
Solidifying the building blocks of your consulting business is an important component of getting your first consulting client. While you don’t need a comprehensive, expensive website to get started, it is important to have your own space on the internet. When potential prospects are searching for services, they are likely to conduct preliminary research. If they find that you have no social media accounts, and no website, they will question the legitimacy of your business, and continue to look for other options.
There are plenty of website building services that do not have a steep learning curve. Even if you’re not the most technologically inclined, you can create a basic business website in an afternoon. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should give your potential prospects a good idea of what you can do to help them.
When you are starting out, even a single landing page can be effective and quick to pull together. There are plenty of free services that allow you to build a landing page and offer contact forms for lead generation to get your first consulting client.
Optimizing Your Consulting Website
One thing that you should focus on right from the start is optimizing your website. Creating a Google Business Profile can help you show up in local search results when people are looking for a consultant in your area. You don’t need to be a professional at SEO, but keeping an eye on posting about relevant search topics can help you show up in more search results as people enter search terms related to your consulting field. One of the best ways to show up in more search results is to add a blog to your consulting website.
Once you get your basic website framework set up, it is time to add testimonials from previous work. Testimonials are vital to landing your first consulting client. Since people are significantly more likely to commit to a service that has been recommended by other people, adding words of praise to your website is a logical step to getting your first consulting client. Testimonials do not have to be complex either, and just a few words to legitimize your business from previous employers can do wonders.
Prospects want to see that you are capable of doing the job properly, in a timely manner, and that you have a proven track record of driving results. Pulling work samples from previous jobs or offering services to people you know in exchange for testimonials can help boost your online presence.
If you are working across different industries, it is good to add a testimonial from each sector. If you are experienced in your field, case studies from your past jobs and volunteer work can show that you are good at what you do and have helped others achieve great outcomes in the past.
Don’t Wait to Sell!
There is a tendency amongst new consultants to wait until everything is perfect before putting themselves out there to land their first consulting client. The truth is, you will never feel totally ready to get started. There is always going to be something that you will want to finish before you get started, but those things can almost always develop over time.
There is no place for perfectionism and imposter syndrome as a new consultant. Avoiding networking opportunities, not posting on social media, or waiting until you have a plethora of blog articles before approaching people will only delay your income opportunities.
Jumping headfirst into networking with others in the field, posting on social media without the perfect graphics, and approaching prospects without a professionally designed website or info product may seem counterintuitive. However, you can highlight your personality, knowledge, and skillset to impress and land your first consulting client right out of the gate.
If you feel like you need to do “something more” before you pitch to your first consulting client, you can optimize your LinkedIn profile and link it to your website. This will give prospects the chance to learn more about you without taking you more than an hour or two to set-up. LinkedIn has also recently released a freelancer platform and is an easy way to connect with people already looking for your services.
Remember that all successful independent consultants had to start somewhere, and they too most likely felt nervous about getting started. However, businesses are built on consistent habits, and you cannot wake up one day with a suddenly thriving business without putting in the work. Getting started before you feel ready can help you hit the ground running and work out the kinks as you go.
Define Your Services and Your Ideal Clients
If you are just starting out wondering how to get your first consulting client, it is important to detail exactly who you are targeting and what services you are offering. You may be willing to take on consulting work outside of your usual scope in order to get income flowing, but it is essential that you can directly target the right audience. Knowing exactly what services you specialize in and what prices you are charging will help you get your first consulting client. If someone approaches you about your work, you want to be able to say, “Here’s how I can help you, and this is how much it will cost.”
Establishing both scope and financial boundaries will stop you from being undercut by people trying to get cheaper work, as well as help you charge what you are worth. This can also generate referrals, as it is common for people to say, “Oh, I saw ________ offers that service.”
Identifying a “buyer persona” for your target audience can help you target the right audience through social media initiatives, e-mail marketing campaigns, and paid ads. You can ensure that your time is being spent approaching people who actually need your services instead of a broad audience that is only slightly interested in hiring you someday. Once you have established your core services and determined your ideal audience, you can start developing your strategy to market directly to this group.
Figure Out Where Your Ideal Clients Hang Out
In-depth research can help remove some of the barriers to reaching your target audience. By understanding which websites they visit, podcasts they listen to, and if they belong to any offline groups or trade associations, you can determine the best methods of connecting with them.
For example, if you know that a certain podcast is particularly popular amongst prospects in your industry, you can contact the host about speaking on their podcast. Or, you could create your own content that has similarities to the content they are seeking (but never directly copy what someone else is doing – be authentic, and speak in your own voice!).
As you grow your online presence, you can contact blog owners for guest posting opportunities. Guest posting is a great way to reach an already established audience and provides backlinks to your website. This is a highly effective way to expand your audience.
You can also check to see if there are any offline conferences, online summits, or other speaking opportunities that occur in your industry. Speaking at events like these or even just attending and using them as a networking opportunity can help you earn leads and potentially land your first consulting client.
Putting in the effort to create a community with your social media content can also be a way to attract your first consulting client. In 2021, 83% of people surveyed reported that they discovered new products and services on Instagram alone; using social media (especially LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram) is a worthwhile time investment in the early days. It may take some effort, but consistently posting valuable content is always a good way to create authentic connections and prove your capabilities.
How to Get Your First Consulting Client: Step-by-Step
Now that you understand the basics of landing your first consulting client, I want to provide you with a simple, step-by-step program for getting your first paying customer. Here is are the four steps I always take when launching a new consulting practice:
#1: Reach Out to Current Contacts
The first step to landing your first consulting client is to utilize your network. You probably know a few people in the industry already, and they can become your biggest resource if approached correctly.
If you can’t work in a consulting role with the people you already know due to prior contracts, you can let them know about your new consulting business and ask for their help in spreading the word. They may also be willing to offer you a review or testimonial for your website, or to link to your site from one of their own websites.
If you are able to network with other independent consultants, you may find that they have advice about which steps they took to land their first consulting client and which online groups they are part of. Finding out where like-minded people spend their time online can help you promote yourself and grow connections in the field.
#2: Seek Referrals
Referrals are a consultant’s best friend. Seeking referrals means asking people you know to refer their contacts to you – people who are looking for the services or products you provide. Since people are much more receptive to services recommended by people they know, referrals can go a long way in establishing your client list. If someone has been referred to you, it is likely that they have already been inquiring about services like yours and are in the position to begin working together.
Once you have the referral, all you have to do is sell yourself as the right person for the job. Making sure you’re prepared for this moment with the proper pitch and onboarding processes will make this interaction much easier. Your pitch should be well thought out and planned before you begin seeking referrals. Having your marketing approach already laid out before you approach your first consulting client makes you look more competent and more professional.
#3: Attend Conferences
Conferences, whether in-person or virtual, can be a goldmine for new consultants looking for a first consulting client. These events give you an opportunity to listen to leaders in your field and network with those with similar interests. Not only will you get the chance to make new connections, but you may also gain some helpful tools or advice that can help advance your business. As a new consultant, taking every opportunity for professional development is beneficial.
Even if you don’t find your dream prospect at a conference, you can work on improving relationships to get referrals. You never know when someone may need your services.
#4: Seek Joint Ventures
A joint venture is a partnership with another business that serves the same audience – you both work together to fulfill a clients needs, and share the revenue from the project. Establishing joint ventures like this may be very beneficial to you when you are just starting out. As you and your joint venture partners have different skillsets, you can offer a package of diverse services to the same customer. Due to the joint effort, you can split the profit, and both parties benefit.
Creating a dual offer with a trusted colleague takes away some of the initial intimidation and work, as you have someone to make decisions with. You are also opening your prospective client pool to include not only your own contacts and referrals but those of your joint venture partner as well.
Of course, this situation can be a little tricky to navigate, and you should definitely have a signed contract in place if you decide to take on a joint venture. However, athis type of endeavor has the potential for increased income and is a gentle way to transition into independent consulting.
Conclusion: How to Get Your First Consulting Client
Signing your first consulting client does not have to be intimidating if you take the right steps and prepare in advance. Trusting your own skill level and capabilities is an important part of getting your first consulting client. While it may seem overwhelming at first to jump into the independent consultant waters, being able to manage your own time and projects brings freedom.
Remember that branching out with your own business comes with risk-taking and that you cannot make progress until you take a chance on yourself. If you are prepared to do the work and present yourself as an authentic, skillful consultant, you should have no problem landing your first consulting client in a relatively short amount of time.