You’ve probably heard the saying, “When it rains, it pours.” Most consultants would love to be that busy—with clients lined up waiting for their services. The reality is, though, that consultants are more likely to experience the feast or famine syndrome: streaks of challenging, profitable work, followed by stretches of the doldrums with no work in sight.
As one consultant put it, “One of the biggest challenges in consulting is how to juggle the pursuit of new opportunities with my 100% commitment to existing clients. It’s scary not knowing where my next project is going to come from, but how can I chase prospects when I’m already running so fast?”
There’s only so much time in the day to handle client service, administrivia, marketing, and the demands of life. And it’s easier to focus on the work right in front of you than to find the mental bandwidth to think about the future.
The trap is that consultants get so immersed in delivering value to their current clients that marketing takes a back seat. If you don’t actively market your services, your market visibility ebbs and you unintentionally sow the seeds of famine. The result is a dwindling sales pipeline once your current projects end—which they always do.
Here are four tips to help you strike a balance between serving your existing clients and marketing your practice.
Four Tips to Beat the Feast or Famine Syndrome
1. Allocate Marketing Resources Effectively
How should you allocate your marketing resources—your time, energy, effort, and your marketing budget? The key is to find just the right balance in marketing to three groups: existing clients, prospective clients, and the broader market.
Without question, your best source for new consulting work is from your existing clients and the referrals they can provide. Your current clients should generate the largest share of your profits, so plan to allocate 60% of your marketing efforts to your existing clients.
Prospective clients represent the next generation of work for your practice. Your goal is to convert prospective clients into paying ones—if they fit your targeted client profile and have problems that you can solve. Commit 30 percent of your marketing resources to win work from this group.
It’s always important to maintain visibility in the broader market. This includes everybody in the business world not represented in the two groups above. Invest 10 percent of your marketing resources in the broader market. Focusing on this group is less efficient, but the effort has the potential to generate important contacts and leads.
The 60/30/10 percentages are rules of thumb, and are not set in concrete. If you’re just starting a practice, you’ll expend more of your marketing efforts attracting prospective clients. As your practice grows, move toward the 60/30/10 percentages.
2. Create a Plan You Can Stick to
Marketing literature is full of advice on building a marketing plan, so if your eyes are rolling about now, bear with me. The fact is, the most potent weapon to battle feast or famine is a long-range marketing plan that’s realistic, will achieve your goals, and has your buy-in.
Where do you want your practice to go? What clients do you want to work with? What sets you apart from other consultants?
Without a real plan that addresses those questions, your marketing will always be a hit or miss proposition. You might make time for marketing when it’s convenient, but you will put it aside when more in-your-face activities overwhelm your schedule.
The most effective marketing plan is short—seven sentences to be exact. It should fit on a single page. Feel free to add as much detail as you’d like, but begin with the basics. Even if you already have a marketing plan, try to re-craft it using these seven points:
- Explain the purpose of your marketing.
What results will you achieve for your practice through your marketing efforts? Maybe you want to increase your market visibility, attain a certain market share in your industry, develop new business with existing clients, or launch a new service offering.
- Explain how you achieve that purpose by articulating the benefits you provide.
Why are your services needed? Why should clients choose you instead of a competitor? Spell out the substantive value you provide for clients.
Describe your target market(s).
Who do you want to reach with your marketing message? You might, for example, target specific industries, segments within an industry, or a particular business function, like Human Resources.
- Describe your niche.
What’s your specialty? Maybe you excel at improving employee productivity through training programs, or helping clients retain their best people by implementing career development programs.
- Outline the marketing tactics you will use.
How will you convey your message to your target
market(s)? Select the marketing tools you’ll use, such as publishing, publicity, speaking, or direct mail, to name a few.
- Define the identity of your practice
How do you want clients to think of you—collegial, objective, analytical, creative, tough, collaborative, results-oriented, or generous with ideas? Identify the culture and reputation of your practice.
- Quantify your marketing budget
How much will you invest in marketing? You can specify a dollar amount, or you can commit a percentage of revenue from the business to marketing activities.
The process of creating your marketing plan will force you to make choices about the future of your business and about how to allocate your time and resources, especially if you are serious about achieving the objectives you’ve described in your plan.
3. Build a Marketing Road Map
Have you ever been convinced that you knew where you were going only to find out that you were totally lost? When you’re lost, looking at a map—assuming you have one—can quickly get you back on track. A Marketing Road Map spells out the details of how and when you will implement your marketing plan to steer your marketing activities in the right direction.
Preparing your Marketing Road Map is a strategic and tactical activity. It begins with your ideas on how to present your practice to the market and sets a precise schedule for each marketing activity on your plan. Your Marketing Road Map will always show you where you are and what you need to do to arrive at the future you’ve designed in your marketing plan.
You should derive energy and enthusiasm from your marketing plan and Road Map to keep you driving toward your goals—in spite of the fires raging in the short-term.
4. Be Consistent
The most successful consultants know that marketing is a continuous process. Marketing success is about creating momentum through consistent action over a sustained period of time. You must be the constant force behind that process.
Once you have momentum, it’s easier to lose than it is to maintain. Stop paying attention to your marketing activities and you’ll lose your hard-won marketing gains—you’ll have to start from scratch.
How much time is enough to maintain your momentum? Opinions vary, but try to spend a minimum of 20% of your time on marketing your practice. Variations of this rule are everywhere, so assess your own situation. But keep at it, no matter what.
You should schedule marketing time at the beginning of every month and every week. Treat your marketing “appointments” with yourself like client time: It’s uninterruptible, unless there’s an emergency. Reserve marketing time on your calendar and watch your market presence and success grow.
The consulting business can seem like a roller-coaster ride, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Keep your practice in the mind’s eye of your targeted clients, no matter how busy you are serving others. That will smooth out the ups and downs and pay dividends down the road. Take time every week to advance the visibility of your business, and you’ll experience continual feasts—without the famine.