It’s been over five years since I left my job and started consulting for a living. I had a good year of business being great before the economy really tanked, leaving me and many other small business owners in the weeds. There was a long period of time where I wasn’t making enough each month to cover my bills and had to decide between buying groceries or paying my credit card bill (guess which one won). After floundering for a while I made some changes and within a year I had a successful PPC consulting business. So, how did I do it so quickly and how can you do it too?
Pick one thing you’re good at and focus on that. How many people do you know that offer PPC, SEO, SMO, ORM, PR and every other acronym on the planet? How good do you think they are at all of them? Chances are there’s one or two things they are good at and they just do the other things to make money. Do you want to refer clients to people who are just doing something for the money? Neither does anyone else. Pick the thing that you are the best at and focus on it. You will have happier clients, you will be happier and you will become better at what you do. Partner with someone who offers the services you don’t so you can still be a one-stop shop for clients without offering subpar work. There’s plenty of business out there for all of us, so if we all focus on what we’re good at and refer out the projects that aren’t right for us we can all be more successful.
Network. I don’t mean go to conferences and rub elbows with “rockstars” and I don’t mean retweet everything Neil Patel tweets. I mean actually make friends with people in the industry. Real friends. Friends that would bail you out of jail are more likely to refer business to you than people you buy a drink for three times a year and never interact with outside of industry events.
Don’t disappear when business is bad. Falling off the radar when business is down is the equivalent of failing companies cutting out their marketing budgets. If you aren’t visible, people will forget about you and will refer business elsewhere. This doesn’t mean you should go into debt going to every conference trying to drum up business. It means you should pick the one or two that will give you the most bang for your buck and be seen there. There are ways to save money on conferences so you don’t blow your budget. You could choose a conference that is near you so the travel costs are less. You could choose to only go for a day or two to reduce hotel costs. You can share a room with someone. You can skip the expensive dinners and go to the free cocktail parties. I know people that go to conferences and don’t spend a dime on anything but their hotel. Networking is marketing for a consultant so don’t eliminate your networking budget entirely.
Let people know what you do. I realize this sounds silly. I thought it did at first too. But it’s not silly. There are people that I’ve known for nearly 10 years through the conference circuit and yet I have only a vague idea of what they do. If I had a client to refer to them, I wouldn’t know that I should refer the client to them because I don’t know what services they offer. I’m pretty sure that there are people that I’ve spent hours talking to yet they don’t know for sure what I do. Update your Twitter bio, your Facebook profile, your LinkedIn and make what you do very clear on your website. My bios never said anything about what I did because I didn’t want to be one of those “I’m an SEM guru!” jerks and because my Twitter is anything but professional. So, I married the two worlds by adding “awesome at PPC” to my bio as a humorous way to let people know what I do. Shortly after making that change I saw a dramatic increase in inquiries.
Let people know you are taking on new clients. Don’t waste all that time you spent networking by pretending you’ve got more clients and money than you could ever possibly need. If people think you are too busy for new clients, they will send them to someone else. After casually mentioning to a small group of people I know well that I was taking on new clients and would appreciate any referrals my business increased dramatically.
Don’t be too eager. Contrary to my last point, don’t walk around handing out your business card to every one in your path letting them know you are open for business and have great rates. When you go to a restaurant and they have oysters on sale and the waiter keeps pushing them, do you think “wow they must be really great oysters, and at such a great price!” No, you think “stop trying to sell me crap oysters that are about to go bad.” You need to find a balance between letting people know that you are available to take on the right projects and looking like an SEM bargain bin.
Refer business to others. If someone comes to you and asks you to do something that isn’t your forté, refer that person to someone you trust. The next time they have a project to refer, there’s a better chance they will send it your way. Quid pro quo.
Take care of your clients. Nothing is stronger than a client referral. Doing a good job for your clients is the best way to ensure they will stay with you long term and will bring you additional business. If you can’t do a good job for your clients due to lack of time, knowledge or skill, no one will be happy in the long run and you’ll end up constantly having to find new clients which will get harder and harder as your reputation dwindles.