From local restaurants to online companies, a wide variety of small businesses seek out expert help when venturing into new fields. Small business consulting puts you in the position to help these small businesses achieve their long-term goals.
Think small business consulting is simple? Think again. Although small businesses are more accessible than Fortune 500 companies, the challenges they face are often just as complicated and personally taxing as those faced by big businesses.
In this guide, you’ll learn 10 small business consulting tips that you can use to find new consulting clients, help your existing clients achieve their goals, and develop a marketing system to help your small business consultancy grow year after year.
Have you just started your consultancy business? Learn the basics of operating a successful consultancy, from acquiring new clients to helping your clients achieve their goals, in our How to Start as a Consultant course.
Understand the limitations small businesses face
If you’ve moved into a small business consulting career from the corporate world, getting used to the limitations small businesses face can be tough. In the world of small business, the budgets are smaller, the markets more local, and the business command structure far more direct and focused.
This means you’ll have to sacrifice marketing dollars for creativity. It also means that you’ll need to widen your client base to make up for the lower account value each small business client provides for your consultancy.
Do you need help adapting to the realities of working with a small business? Enroll in our Small Business Marketing Basics course to familiarize yourself with the basics of operating – and consulting with – a small business.
Interview business owners to learn their goals
In order to help your clients, you need to be familiar with their challenges, goals and opportunities. The best way to familiarize yourself with a new clients is to interview their key decision maker and learn about the company’s fundamentals.
Instead of using the same basic plan for all clients, interview new clients as they join your consultancy’s client roster to learn about where they are, where they want to be, and how they think they can get there.
Interviewing clients allows you to better understand the challenges they’ve faced as they developed their businesses. It also gives you a better view of their competitive environment and the growth and development opportunities available to them.
Do you need help creating a client interview that gets to the root of the issues their business faces? Learn how to create insightful client interviews that help you take action and generate results with How to Interview Your Customers.
Identify each client’s key decision maker
Every small business has a key decision maker. In certain cases, the key decision maker isn’t the CEO or Managing Director – in small to medium-sized businesses, key decision makers can be department heads or Purchasing Managers.
As a consultant, it’s vital that you identify the key decision maker before you start creating a growth, optimization or development strategy. A good indicator of a key decision maker is that they can both approve and disapprove your proposals.
Use Google Alerts to monitor your clients
Is your small business being talked about? What about its competitors? When your company gets talked about by customers or in the news media, it’s an indicator that your work is producing real results.
Monitoring discussion and news coverage of your clients is simple. Google Alerts is a free service that lets you monitor usage of selected keywords online. If your client is called “Bob’s Restaurant” you can monitor all mentions of Bob’s Restaurant online.
This allows you to determine how well known your client is within its local area, as well as the results of your consulting decisions. It also lets you keep tabs on your top competitors to see what strategies they’re using for growth and development.
Setting up Google Alerts is simple. Read our blog post on the best online marketing tools to optimize your business to learn more about using Google Alerts and other free online tools to monitor discussion about your business.
Get hard data on revenue, market cap and margins
Before you start developing a strategy for your consulting clients, you need to know where they are now. This generally means getting hard data on their current market share, revenue, profit margin and market capitalization.
Having quantifiable data on the current state of your client makes it far easier for you to track growth and development over time. As management consultant Peter Drucker used to say, “What gets measured, gets managed.”
Using your client’s current data and their long-term goals, you can prepare a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) to track progress. KPIs are metrics like revenue, market share, and profit margin that indicate progress towards a specific goal.
Do you need help choosing the best metrics to track to measure long-term growth and business development? Enroll in our course, Using Your Data to Grow Your Business, to learn more about selecting KPIs that measure real business growth.
Understand how much you’re really worth
As a consultant, your pricing structure determines the success – or failure – of your business. Do you charge clients an hourly fee for your time, a percentage-based fee for the growth you can generate, or a static monthly retainer?
Each pricing structure has its advantages and disadvantages. Pricing your services on an hourly basis allows you to reduce risk while ensuring reasonable earnings. It does, however, make some clients view your time as a commodity.
Pricing your services using a percentage-based fee increases your earning potential and gives your clients a guarantee that you’re focused on their growth. It’s also hard to calculate and enforce, since you don’t have full access to your client’s information.
Before you start marketing your consulting services, understand how much you’re really worth and determine which pricing model best suits you. Learn more about pricing your consulting services in our How to Price Your Product course.
Create a system to find and close new clients
Unfortunately, not all of your clients will stay with your business as it grows. Some will explore other consulting options, some will hire internally, and other might not survive in the competitive small business environment.
Because of this, it’s important to build an effective system for acquiring new clients that allows your business to constantly grow. Your client acquisition system could be purely online, based on referrals or built around old-fashioned direct marketing.
Whichever method you use, it’s important to create a sales system that brings in the right type of clients. Create a client profile using your existing client base and target businesses with similar revenue figures, structures and marketing goals.
Are you new to business-to-business sales? Learn how to create a client acquisition system, develop an ‘ideal client’ profile and find clients that are a great fit for your consultancy with our course, Get Tons of Ideal Clients Now.
Ask existing clients for testimonials and referrals
Are your clients satisfied with your services? Have you helped them increase their earnings, expand their market share and beat their competitors? If your clients are happy with your services, make sure you ask them for testimonials and referrals.
Testimonials are some of the most effective marketing tools for consultants, since they indicate to prospects that you’ve already helped businesses similar to theirs with problems not unlike the ones they’re currently facing.
Likewise, client referrals are an excellent source of business. Numerous consultants can attest to the fact that their highest quality clients generally come from referrals from previous clients and their existing client base.
Do you need help getting referrals from your current clients? Learn great tactics for encouraging your existing clients to refer new prospects to your consultancy in our Growing Hacking course.
When possible, focus on acquiring monthly retainers
After you’ve helped several small businesses optimize their marketing strategy and streamline their operations, you’ll begin to notice a pattern emerging: most of your active work occurs in the first few months of a consulting contract.
From this point onwards, your role often switches from playing an active role in the operations of a client’s business to a passive role – offering advice and assistance as they continue operating their business using the help you’ve provided.
At this point, it’s best to transition your pricing from a results-based fee or hourly contract into a monthly retainer. This pricing model allows you to continue giving valuable advice and assistance with a more reliable, less risky pricing structure.
Retainer fees are one of the three most common pricing models used by business consultants. Learn more about choosing a pricing structure that works for you in our Become a Consultant in 5 Steps course.
Learn how to simplify complex explanations
From advertising metrics to simple formulae, many of the terms and phrases you’re used to using on a daily basis are foreign to your clients. The key to being a fantastic small business consultant is knowing how to speak your client’s language.
This often means simplifying complex processes and explanations into simple, basic explanations that your clients can understand. It means using analogies, metaphors and other linguistic tools to frame complex ideas from your client’s perspective.
Most importantly, it means being persuasive and explaining your suggestions from a perspective that emphasizes their benefits for your clients. Analyze everything from your client’s perspective and you’ll become a far more effective consultant.
Sales and persuasion skills aren’t only used to acquire clients – they’re also useful in dealing with your clients over the long term. Learn the basics of persuasion to help you get along with clients in our Sales and Persuasion Skills for Startups course.