My biggest fear is not getting clients.
Ask any new consultant what they’re worried about and they’ll probably all reply: how to get consulting clients.
When you’re just starting out as a freelancer, it can feel impossible to find clients for your fledgling business.
After working as a freelance marketing consultant for a few years, I’ve learned a lot about finding new consulting clients. I’ve also read countless articles that simply list places to find potential clients but don’t tell you how to win them over. That’s not what this article is about.
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In this article, I’m going to share really actionable steps for landing clients — not just where to find clients but how to send them a pitch they can’t refuse, convince them to jump on a call, sign the consulting proposal, and eventually, validate your work through awesome testimonials and refer you to others.
This guide on acquiring clients for your consulting business can be condensed into the following steps:
- Create an online presence that attracts the right kind of clients
- Craft a stellar pitch
- Handle a discovery call to ensure you and a client are the right fit
- Write a winning proposal
- Address any red flags and handle negotiations
Now, are you ready to learn how to get consulting clients? Let’s get started.
Editor’s note: This article was originally written by Amy Rigby but has since been updated by Nathan Chan who is highly experienced in consulting. Nathan ran his own private consulting firm before starting Foundr Magazine and is an expert in the space.
1. How to Attract the Right Consulting Clients
Before you even begin looking for consulting clients, you need to figure out who they are and create an online presence or portfolio to draw them in.
Now, I want to be clear here: I am not saying you should only rely on your online presence to acquire new clients. You don’t have the time to wait around!
But having a stellar online presence is important before you start reaching out, because potential clients will be researching you. Having a respectable online presence/portfolio will help convince them to hire you.
Perfect your portfolio
While you might not need a fancy website, you do need portfolio entries that speak to your talent and past results.
Share examples of your previous work and elaborate on the project to give it context. Explain what you achieved, how you did it, and to top it all off, be sure to include a testimonial from the client.
You want to provide as much proof that you’re the real deal.
If you don’t have the budget to hire a web developer, use Squarespace or Weebly, which have WYSIWYG website builders that make it easy for anyone to use.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “How am I supposed to add entries to my portfolio if I’m a new consultant?”
Great question! Here are some ways to do just that:
Use work from your previous jobs (as long as you have consent from your former employers). The work you’ve done as an employee is totally relevant to your work as a consultant. If you’re a financial consultant who used to work in an accounting department, share with your potential clients how your previous employer benefited from your work. Or if you’re an SEO consultant, explain how your skills helped clients rank first on Google for a particular keyword.
Offer to work at a reduced rate to get testimonials. The key here is not to force a testimonial out of anyone. Simply let them know you’re charging less because you’re just starting out and you’re hoping to get more testimonials as you gain experience.
Offer to work for free in exchange for testimonials. While some turn up their noses at the idea of working for free, the truth is, many new consultants do this to get a foot in the door.
Clean up social media accounts
Do a quick search on Google for your name. What do you find?
Are the results something you’d be happy with your potential clients finding?
If you have a forgotten Instagram account with photos from parties or a neglected Twitter account that has nothing to do with your business, either delete them, make them private, or better yet—start afresh by posting articles and tips that help solve your ideal client’s problems.
Optimize your LinkedIn profile
Unlike Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook; LinkedIn is the one place that’s strictly for business networking. So it’s a great place to find potential clients who will be receptive to pitching your consulting services.
Some quick tips to optimize your LinkedIn profile:
- Complete your profile: your potential client will want to learn as much about you as possible. So share what your consulting service offers. Fill in your profile and list every position you’ve ever held and your accomplishments.
- Personalize your profile URL: LinkedIn offers the opportunity to use a vanity URL for your profile. On your profile page, click Edit public Profile & URL on the right rail. Under Edit your custom URL in the right rail, click the Edit icon next to your public profile URL and type your preferred custom URL but make it a professional one!
- Ask for recommendations: your consulting business may be too young to gain any testimonials, but you can certainly get recommendations for jobs you’ve held in the past. Take advantage of this feature to showcase your skills.
- Use a professional headshot: make sure you have a photo set in your profile and make it a good one.
2. Where to Find Consulting Clients
Now that you’ve created a stellar portfolio, spruced up your social media presence, and juiced up your LinkedIn profile, you’re ready for some clients to see them.
The question now is: how are you going to find new clients?
Publish a website
I cannot overstate how powerful it is for you as a business owner to maintain a website or blog with consistent, valuable posts.
Your blog becomes a priceless asset that will help readers get to know you, learn from you, and eventually, want to hire you.
Optimize your website for Google.
Especially if you plan to work for clients locally, you need local SEO to rank for searches for consultants in your area. In addition to that, you will want every blog post to be optimized for keywords that your ideal clients may be searching.
Publish blog posts that might answer questions your ideal client is asking.
Not only is this great for SEO, but it also helps you stand out as an expert in your niche. I recently hired a writing coach because I had been reading her blog, learned more about her experience, and grew to trust her.
In one of her blog posts, she briefly mentioned that she offered writing coaching and had a link to her services page. I hired her instantly.
Ensure that your website has a prominent “Work With Me” page. On that page, detail what services you offer and how your potential clients can get in touch.
Many companies are pouring tons of resources into long-term employment positions to fill needs that might best be filled by a consultant.
One thing you can do is respond to employment postings, but pitch them your consulting services instead.
Try positioning it as a way the company can save money.
For example, instead of a startup hiring a full-time marketing director to create a launch strategy for a new product, wouldn’t it be better for them to hire a marketing consultant who can craft a strategy and then hand it off to them to implement?
Point out that it would free them from extra costs such as paying for employee benefits.
One caveat, make it very clear up front that you’re not applying for the position as listed, otherwise you risk wasting both parties’ time.
To find job listings, try looking at:
Referrals from previous and current clients
Even if your working relationship with a consulting client is winding down, don’t see it as the end.
You should keep in touch and have an offboarding process that wows them; after all, you never know when they may need to hire you again. Plus, they probably know someone who needs your help.
At the end of every project with a client, I like to send an offboarding email that does the following:
- Thanks them for their business.
- Lists bullet points highlighting the results you’ve helped them achieve.
- Asks them for feedback (this can later be turned into a testimonial, with their permission).
- Ask them if they could refer you to another person who might need your help too.
Here’s a template you can use:
Hi [client name], Now that we're wrapping things up with [project name], I wanted to review some of the things we've achieved while working together:
- [results 1]
- [results 2]
- [results 3]
It’s been a pleasure working with you, and I’m so proud of the results we’ve seen together. At the end of every project, I like to ask my clients some questions so I can continue to improve my services. If you’re happy with my work, I’d also like to use some of your answers in a testimonial on my website and marketing materials with your name and URL included. Is that okay with you? Please reply inline to these questions:
- What made you decide to hire a consultant?
- What were some hesitations you had as you looked for a consultant?
- What results have I helped you achieve?
- What did you like best about working with me?
- What could I have done better?
- Would you recommend me to your colleagues? If so, what kind of person do you think would benefit from working with me?
- Anything else you’d like to add?
Once you get your client’s replies to those answers, hopefully they are good and can be used as a testimonial.
I usually put the answers together into a few paragraphs, edit for clarity, and then send the finished testimonial to the client and ask them to approve it before I publish it.
I also tell them they can write their own testimonial from scratch if they’d prefer. Almost every time, though, I find they like when I use their answers to craft the testimonial.
When you need new clients fast, cold pitching is the best way to take matters into your own hands!
People often try to avoid doing this, but it’s part of how I quadrupled my business revenue in just a few months.
The basics of cold pitching are:
- Identify a client you want to work with
- Identify a problem they have (and maybe don’t realize) that you can fix.
- Reach out with a killer pitch.
When you cold pitch, you’re carving out a new path; as opposed to responding to a job posting, where you’re competing with other consultants vying for the same job.
Where to find clients to cold pitch:
- The brands and people you already follow
- Recently funded startups on AngelList
- Employment postings
- New business announcements in the newspaper
3. How to Cold Pitch Your Way to a New Client
Perfecting the art of cold pitching is especially important. Remember, this person did not ask you to email them. They don’t know you.
Basically, they have every reason to ignore your pitch. You’re up against some big challenges to win them over.
There are a few strategies you can employ to gain yourself some new clients.
Elements of a Winning Pitch
Be personal. If a prospect opens your email and sees “Dear Sir/Madam” or “Dear Business Owner”, you better believe that email is going straight to spam.
Take the time to find out the name of the person you’re emailing.
But getting the name right is just the beginning. Every pitch you send should be personalized in a way that shows that you understand that potential client’s business, needs, or desires.
Do your research, and spend the extra 30 minutes it takes to craft a personalized message to each prospect. A copy-and-paste job will be obvious, and it will make the recipient feel as though you don’t really care.
Identify a problem and solve it for free. I’m a huge fan of giving expertise away for free, because it allows you to gain trust with your audience and prove you know what you’re talking about.
This pays off in a major way later on.
So in your pitch email, don’t just tell them what you’d like to do for them e.g. help you grow your Instagram following, but tell them how you plan to do it. The more specific, the better.
It shows you’ve done your research.
For example, when I wanted to start offering SEO copywriting to startups, I found one startup whose app I loved, and I really wanted to work with them. Before I pitched them, I did some keyword research, and in my email to the founder, I told him exactly which keywords his company could rank for and how I planned to help him do that.
I gave the outline of my plan away for free to entice them. And guess what? The growth manager for that company ended up reaching out to me and wanted to hire me for SEO blog writing!
Many consultants are afraid to give their expertise away for free — don’t be! It often pays off later.
Pave the way for them to say yes. If you’re trying to get someone to do business with you, don’t make them jump through hoops to do so! In your pitch, include everything they need to determine if they’d like to work with you, including:
- Your first and last name
- A link to your website
- Your phone number
- Optional, but I think it’s a good idea: A Calendly link to schedule a free consultation with you.
Have a clear call to action. Just as with any high-converting copy, you must add a clear call to action at the end of your pitch email.
What is it that you want the recipient to do? Do you want them to schedule a free 15-minute call to review their sales funnel strategy? Do you want them to reply with some available times this week to discuss their social media accounts?
Whatever it is that brings that client to the next step of your sales funnel, be sure to tell them that specifically at the end of the email. And this is important: don’t make it a huge jump or a big investment; they’re just getting to know you!
The call to action in your pitch email should be simple, easy to complete, and free.
So instead of saying, “Book an $800 social media package today,” try “When are you available for a 15-minute chat about how I can help you get more leads via Instagram?”
Follow up. Always. If you don’t hear back, don’t give up! But don’t be pesky either.
I usually wait one week, and if I don’t hear back, I send a follow-up email. Many salespeople will recommend following up a bunch more times after that, but honestly, I leave it at one follow-up.
If they don’t respond after two emails, I move on because I don’t want to build a reputation as an annoying consultant.
4. How to Charm Your Prospect During the Discovery Call
It’s perfectly natural for anyone to get the jitters before a phone call with a stranger. But getting a prospect on a call is crucial in converting them to a client.
If you’re nervous, try role-playing with a friend, practicing in front of a mirror, or even recording yourself. This might feel silly at first, but just like anything, it gets easier as you practice.
So what should you say on a discovery call? I’m a firm believer that as the consultant, you should take the lead in the call.
Start out by quickly summarizing the goal of this meeting. You can say something like, “Thanks so much for taking the time for a 15-minute call. I’ll start out by asking you some questions so I can make sure we’re a good fit. Then, of course, you can ask me any questions you might have about my services. Does that sound good?”
Then start by highlighting the problem they’re coming to you with and reiterating their desire.
For example, “So it sounds like you’re stressed out, and you need help implementing systems that help you automate your business so you can have more time with your family. Is that right?”
The questions I always ask:
- How will you measure success? I love this question because, in order to make a client happy, you need to know what makes them happy. Will they measure success by how many new website visitors they get? Or will they measure success by how many people download their free app? Define success early on so you never misunderstand what the goals are.
- Picture your dream life after working with me. What does it look like? This question is great for two reasons: Like the above question, it helps you to understand what’s really important to your client. Also, it helps the client imagine what it’s like to work with you, and it helps them visualize achieving success with you.
- What hesitations do you have about working with me? This question may seem blunt, but it’s my favorite. While you’ve got your potential client on the phone, this is the perfect time to address any hesitations they have about you. I also think this shows confidence, as it shows you’re not afraid of honest feedback and open communication.
At the end of the call, wrap it up by reviewing what you’ve discussed, sharing why you’re confident you can help, and telling them what the next steps are.
Be clear to them when they can expect to receive a proposal from you, and then follow up.
5. Crafting the Perfect Consulting Proposal
Proposals come in all shapes and sizes and will vary widely depending on the consulting services you offer. Some consultants send proposals first and then separate contracts.
I prefer to have my proposal and contract as one document, so the client can read what I’m proposing and then sign off on the scope, timeline, and price.
In this article linked below, we go really in-depth on how to compose a consulting proposal, the tools you’ll need, the anatomy of the perfect consulting proposal, and some templates. I suggest you head over to that article if you’re keen to learn more.
In a nutshell, here are the essential elements you should include in your consulting proposal:
A cover page is exactly that, a cover for your proposal that displays your company’s brand, the client’s name, project, and date for reference.
The next part is forming an executive summary, which is basically the entire project summed up on a single page. The executive summary should broadly highlight the client’s issues and challenges, and how you plan on tackling or addressing them.
Project Outline/Scope of Work
Now, this is the part of the document where you want to be ultra-specific because when the dreaded “scope creep” rears its ugly head, you’ll have this document for reference, which clearly outlines what you will (and will not) do for the proposed fee.
So, if you’re being hired to write for a client’s blog, be sure to outline how many words you will write, how many revisions are included, etc. Or if you’re being hired as a life coach, specify how many coaching calls are included, how long each call will be, if there will be any email support allowed, etc. You don’t want to leave any room for confusion here or you might lose out on time and money.
Similar to scope of work, you might also find it necessary to outline deliverables, which are basically the identifiable end products you will be “delivering” to the client.
There can be a lot of overlap here, but the difference between the scope of work and deliverables might be best explained with an example.
Let’s say you’re a freelance copywriter being hired to write an ebook to generate leads for a company. Your scope of work section might include things like learning more about the company’s brand, researching competitors, writing the ebook, and revising it.
Your deliverable, however, might be a 10,000-word ebook, fully-formatted and delivered via Google Docs.
A good consulting proposal manages expectations so no unwanted surprises pop up. Part of that requires outlining when you expect to complete the project.
So, in your timeline section, answer:
- When does the project begin?
- When does the project end?
- Are there any milestones in between?
On the latter point, with long projects it can be helpful to have checkpoints for completed work. This can help you manage your time and build confidence in the client that things are going as planned.
You can also use milestones to release partial payment of funds. Just be sure not to pin yourself down with too many milestones, to allow some flexibility in your workflow.
Fees and Payment Terms
Make it clear what your fees are and what they include. Also, specify due dates, accepted payment methods, and payment terms.
For example, if you require a 50 percent initial payment, make sure you clearly state that you will not begin work until the client has submitted the first payment.
This section of a consulting proposal isn’t that popular, but I personally always include it and find it important.
Many times, when there are delays on consulting projects, the bottleneck lies with the client. For example, every web developer knows the pain of being stalled on a build because they’re waiting on assets from the client.
If there is any part of your job that could be stalled through no fault of your own, make sure to list it here.
Again, this isn’t a popular section for consulting proposals, but for me, it’s a must-have! Putting an expiration date on the proposal protects you from having a prospective client come to you three months later wanting to accept your proposal.
As you know, by that time, you might be fully booked or your prices might be higher. A client can’t reasonably expect you to drop everything and fulfill the project in your proposal if they don’t act quickly. That’s why I strongly recommended telling the client when the proposal will no longer be valid.
Optional: Contract Terms
Some consultants will send over a proposal for the client to sign and approve first, then will send over a separate contract for the client to sign. I prefer to save time and energy by having my proposal serve as a contract too.
If you choose to make yours a proposal-contract combination, add any terms and conditions here.
Common ones include cancellation, payment terms, and an independent contractor clause. If you need help, use a proposal template from any of the services mentioned above.
How to send the consulting proposal
Once you’ve crafted your proposal, you can keep things quick and simple by sending it online for an electronic signature.
For a free tool, try AND.CO — it lets you send a proposal and get alerted when it’s been viewed.
What to do if the client wants revisions?
It’s common for a client to ask for revisions to the proposal before they sign it. Don’t be discouraged; this is all part of the negotiation process.
It’s best to get on the phone with them to discuss what their concerns are and what they’d like to see changed. Then let them know how much time you’ll need to revise and resubmit the proposal.
Other proposal tips
Send the consulting proposal promptly. Be sure to send the proposal by the time and date you promised. If you can do it within 24 hours, even better.
Follow up, no matter what. So you sent the proposal two days ago and haven’t heard back? Always, always follow up.
Always, always follow up.
And remember, the follow-up is still a sales opportunity. So don’t say, “I’m just following up. Did you have any questions after our call?” Add value by reiterating your client’s desires and offering advice on how you will help them get there.
Here’s an example:
Hello [potential client's name], I really enjoyed our call yesterday, and I've been thinking about what you said about needing a stronger Instagram presence. I think you could start working with influencers in your niche to amplify your brand. I've attached a list of Instagram influencers I've identified who'd be perfect for your business. What do you think? And please let me know if you have any questions about the proposal. Happy to hop on another call. I really think we'd work well together in crafting an Instagram strategy that will boost your sales by at least 20%.
Always restate your client’s true desire. They don’t just want a social media consultant, for example. They want to make more sales by harnessing the power of Instagram.
Prove to them you can get them what they want, and they’ll hire you. Of course, don’t make empty promises. Tell them why you’re confident you can help them, and remind them of the results you’ve helped others achieve in the past.
6. Red Flags and How to Respond
Clients are people too. They have their own ambitions, motives, and goals. Sometimes those things might not align with what you have to offer.
If you come across a client who exhibits any of these red flags, here are some suggestions to maneuver out of the sticky situation and win the potential client.
The client is stuck on price
It’s understandable for a prospect to hesitate to make a big investment; they’ve just met you, after all, and they can’t be sure that you’re going to deliver on your promise.
However, if a prospect is undervaluing your services or trying to get a bargain, then run.
I like to abide by this maxim: never negotiate on price, just scope. In other words, you should not lower your price because it’s out of a prospect’s budget. You can, however, cut back on what you’ll do and thereby lower the price.
Never negotiate on price, just scope.
Why should you negotiate on scope, but not price? If you lower your rates for a client, it signals a few things:
- Your rates were never set to begin with, and you pulled them out of thin air.
- That client is undervaluing your services and expertise.
- That client is likely to do something similar in the future and/or be a difficult client because they’re just looking for a deal.
The client isn’t sure you’re the right consultant for them
Sometimes you’ll get through the discovery call and think someone is the perfect fit, but they’re not so sure about you.
To give you a chance to wow them while lowering their risk, you can do a couple of things:
- Offer a paid trial. Maybe the client isn’t ready to commit to a three-month coaching program with a $2,997 investment. But maybe they are ready to try it out for one month at $1,000.
- Offer a money-back guarantee (risky). As an ultimate show of your confidence, you could offer a money-back guarantee. Just realize this is a big risk on your part. If you choose to go this route, be sure to clearly define the terms of the guarantee, get it in writing, and have it signed.
The client thinks it should be ‘easy’
This is a giant red flag. If a client pushes back on your pricing or timeline by saying, “This should be an easy job,” or, “It shouldn’t take that long,” they are grossly underestimating what good consulting entails.
If it really were that easy, they’d be doing it themselves!
If a client doesn’t see the real value and complexity of what you’re trying to accomplish for them, they’re probably not an ideal client.
If you choose to work with them, they’re likely to be nitpicky and impatient, since after all, they figured it should be “easy” anyway.
The client is in a rush to get it done
Many consultants charge a rush fee if a client needs something done quickly. Why?
Think of a rush fee as a tool. It should serve two distinct purposes:
- Rush fees should deter customers from asking for rush jobs
- Rush fees should cover your opportunity costs
So if a client is telling you they need something by tomorrow afternoon, it’s completely acceptable to charge an extra fee for the rush. If they balk, they’re probably not a client you want to work with.=
Wrapping It Up: How To Get Consulting Clients
If there’s anything I want you to take away from this post, it’s that getting clients for your consulting business isn’t as hard as you think, but it also isn’t as easy as you might hope.
Getting clients is much more than just knowing where to look. Remember these important steps for finding the right consulting client:
- Create an online presence that attracts the right kind of clients
- Craft a stellar pitch
- Handle a discovery call to ensure you and a client are the right fit
- Write a winning proposal
- Address any red flags and handle negotiations
It may seem like a lot of steps, but it gets easier as you grow your clientele. And to me, all the hustle is worth it to work with clients you love and pursue a career that you enjoy.
What are some methods you’ve used to get clients for your consulting business?