The Top 10 Myths of Starting a Consulting Business

I’ve seen a lot of myths about consulting, all of them as hoary and false as the idea that if you build a better mousetrap, people will beat a path to your door. Following are the infopreneur myths I’ve found to be most prevalent… and wrong.

#1. Consulting is what people do when they’re between jobs
In my experience, you can’t both start a business and look for a job; either you are focused on finding what your clients need most and how you can meet those needs, or you’re focused on finding who will hire you for your skills.

#2. The services I provided as an employee will be valued by consulting clients
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Seven Traits of Thought Leaders

It’s always more effective for a solopreneur to attract clients rather than chase after them. Cold calls and cold emails are usually unwanted, most likely not immediately relevant to the recipient, and often filtered as spam. Building a reputation as a respected expert in your field, on the other hand, can be an efficient way to attract clients who need, value and will pay you for your services. Following are seven traits that successful thought leaders develop.

Be curious. Read news sources that cover trends in your industry and reflect on what impacts new developments will have. Attend conferences; the conversations and serendipitous meetings enhance your credibility and expand your horizons.
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Outcome-oriented taglines

As I was driving the other day, I passed a panel truck for Panorama, a local company that handles landscaping and maintenance services. Their tagline?

Enjoy life! We’ll manage the details

Like my favorite tagline from The Cleaning Fairies, We give you your weekends back, and Old Dominion Freight Line’s Helping the world keep promises, it focuses on why their clients would use them, not what they do or how they do it. Landscaping, housecleaning and trucking are three service professions that can be seen as commodities, just as many solopreneurs can feel like they are competing with the cheapest alternative on the web. By focusing on their commitment to their customers’ outcomes, they’re able to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Learning about your unknown unknowns

Recently, I was talking with Kim Dority, a friend and colleague and one of the smartest people I know, and she was telling me about how she had recently pivoted the focus of her business. First, she developed a compelling write-up of the services she could provide to graduate schools to better attract, support and retain qualified students. She then sent this out in an introductory letter to a few of her top prospects to see how it was received. She followed up with conversations, either in person at a conference they were attending or on the phone, to discuss what she could do for each of those prospects. It turned out that no one wanted to buy any of the services she had so carefully crafted. Instead, they all asked for something specific to their needs – to run their internship program, or to develop a series of workshops for alumni. She could not have predicted the outcome of any of these conversations, but each one resulted in some type of consulting engagement.

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The ROI of Relationships

I recently overhead a consultant talking about the need to stay in touch with contacts, even if they never turn into clients. I completely agree. But then I winced when I heard how she described her thought process: “I know I’ll never make any money off her, but…

Words matter. The words you say out loud matter and, perhaps even more importantly, so do the words you say to yourself. And what you say in your head often winds up being reflected in how you act and the words you do choose to speak. When we let ourselves think in crass terms, even in jest, we reinforce the worst of being in business – seeing everyone as a mark, as nothing more than how much we can make off them.

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Resumé or dog whistle?

dog1What’s one of the first things you do when you launch a business? Get a domain name and set up a web site on a platform like WordPress. You pick one of the popular templates, write up descriptions of your services, grab a few stock photos and you’re good to go. No-brainer, right?

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Logo or no?

I used to advise new solopreneurs to invest in a professionally-designed logo – something that reflects well on their business and conveys a certain permanence. And while I have one that I use for invoices and proposals on letterhead, I haven’t used a logo on a business card for years.

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Improving your ca$h flow

Summer is a slow time for many solopreneurs; our clients are on vacation or taking Fridays off, and they just aren’t calling as often as they do during the rest of the year. That means that many solopreneurs are facing a cash crunch this summer. Our recurring expenses — utilities, ISP, health insurance, etc. — still need to get paid, but the income isn’t coming in. If you were able to anticipate this slow-down, you put money aside to cover your basic expenses when your income is not coming in. But even with preparation, it’s nice to get the cash flow going again. The following are a few thoughts on how to ease cash crunches.
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A tag line that works

cleaning-fairiesI just saw a car with a large sign for a local housecleaning service, The Cleaning Fairies. The tag line was perfect:

We give you your weekends back !

I live near Boulder, and there’s nothing Boulderites value more than free time we can spend in the mountains — skiing, hiking, kayaking, climbing, biking — anything to enjoy our 300+ days of sunshine every year. (And yes, when I saw their car, I was playing hookey and on my way up to the mountains, just because I’m self-employed so I can.) The message I took from the tag line is “I know how much you value your free time, and isn’t that worth way more than the cost of a cleaner?”

What better way to sell the value of your service than by reminding people of a better way they could be spending their time?

How do you describe your service to prospective clients? Do you talk about what you do or how you do it, or do you talk about the amazing thing that happens when you are done?

See more of my thoughts about marketing strategies.

Marketing Vignettes

Have you ever struggled to describe what you do so your prospective clients really hear you? Do they look at your web site and say “Oh, that’s nice” or do they immediately recognize you as the person who can help solve their most important problem?

One way to talk about your services memorably is by telling a story. My 10-Vignettes Exercise, which takes no more than an hour or two to complete, helps clarify how you describe who you are and what you do for your clients. And if you don’t have any clients yet, use this as an exercise to picture your prospective clients.

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