Ask any new consultant what they’re worried about, and they’ll probably all say the same thing: how to get consulting clients. When you’re just starting out, it can feel impossible to get anyone to choose your fledgling business over someone else who’s more established.
After working as a marketing consultant for the past five years, I’ve learned a lot about how to get 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 is.
Below, I’m going to get really detailed with actionable steps for the entire process of landing clients—not just simply where to find clients, but how to send them a pitch they can’t refuse, get them on a call, convince them to sign on the dotted line, and eventually, give you awesome testimonials and refer you to others.
Ready to learn how to get consulting clients? Let’s get started.
How to Get Consulting Clients
1. How to Attract the Right Clients
As a new consultant, you may be champing at the bit to get out there and find clients, but hold your horses! Before you even begin looking for prospects, you need to figure out who your ideal clients are, and then create an online presence that attracts them.
Now, I want to be clear here: I am not saying you should rely only on your online presence for clients to find you. I’ve never relied on inbound marketing for getting clients, and when you’re just starting out, I would not recommend it. 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 Googling you, and you want them to find more evidence that they should hire you.
Perfect Your Portfolio
While you don’t need a fancy website, you do need portfolio pieces that speak to your talent and past results. When you include links to or screenshots of your previous work, don’t just leave it at that. Have at least a few sentences that give context to the piece. Explain what you achieved, and to top it all off, be sure to include a testimonial from the client.
If you don’t have the budget to hire a web developer, use Squarespace or Weebly, which have drag-and-drop website builders that make it easy for anyone to use.
Now, you’re probably thinking: How am I supposed to add pieces 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 it’s okay with 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, tell your clients how you helped your previous employer cut costs by 20%. Or if you’re an SEO consultant who used to work on the marketing team of a startup, share how your skills helped them rank number one in Google for a keyword that gained them new leads.
- Offer to work at a reduced rate to get testimonials.
The key here is not to force a testimonial out of anyone, but simply let them know that the reason you’re giving them a reduced rate is that this is a new service you’re offering and you’re hoping to get more testimonials as you gain experience. You can simply say something like this: “I’d like to offer this to you at a reduced rate since this is a new service for me. And if you’re happy with my work, I’d love a testimonial after.”
- Offer to work for free to get 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. This is exactly how Marie Forleo got her start, as she describes in an episode of MarieTV:
Clean Up Public Social Media Accounts
Do a quick Google search for your name. What do you find? Is it 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 made for business, so it’s a great place to find prospects who will be receptive to pitching consulting services.
Some quick tips to optimize your LinkedIn profile:
- Add keywords to your profile title and URL.
- Fill out your entire profile.
- Be sure to use bullet points that summarize achievements and results from your relevant work.
- Ask for recommendations.
Your Blog or Website
I cannot overstate how powerful it is for you as a business owner to maintain a 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 search.
Especially if you plan to work for clients locally, you need local SEO to rank for searches for consultants in your area. Outside of that, though, you will want every blog post to be optimized for keywords that your ideal clients may be searching.
Publish blog posts that 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.
Have a prominent “Work With Me” page.
So you’ve got your ideal client’s eyeballs on your site—but do they know they can actually hire you? You need to have a prominent “Services,” “Hire Me,” or “Work With Me” page in the navigation on your site. On that page, detail what services you offer and how they can get in touch.
For example, Jess Creatives is a web designer for small businesses who want to grow their online presence. She writes blog posts that target this audience, and no matter where you go on her site, you’ll see a prominent “Hire Me” button in the upper right corner that leads to her services page.
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:
Now that we’re wrapping things up with , I wanted to review some of the things we’ve achieved while working together:
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 ?
- 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 this 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 answer a job posting, you’re competing with other consultants vying for the same job. But when you cold pitch, you’re carving out a new path.
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.
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.
- Solve their problem 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 (e.g. “partner with influencers in your niche to host a giveaway of your product”). 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.
- Don’t make them work too hard. 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.
You want to make it easy for them to say “yes” to the next step.
- 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 prospect 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.Remember that app company I mentioned above? I didn’t hear back when I first emailed them. So I waited. I kept using their app, and when I had a major win to share, I emailed the founder again and simply told him how his app helped me save money. That got his attention; he replied and then he passed my info on to the growth manager who emailed me to set up a call about my services.Never underestimate the power of the follow-up, and when you do follow up, be sure to add value without being salesy.
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 a favorite for me. 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 Proposal
Elements of a winning 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.
Here are the essential elements you should include:
- The opening statement: Your proposal should begin with an opening statement that includes a thank-you and a sentence about why you’re confident you can help your client achieve their goals.
- Scope of the project: The scope of the project details exactly what services you will perform for the client. This ensures you’re both on the same page, and it prevents scope creep. My recommendation: If you can, “package” it up. I like to offer three tiers of options with varying price levels so the client can choose which one they like best. This three-pronged pricing strategy also has an interesting psychological effect: our minds naturally wander to the middle ground, because the lowest option is too cheap, but the highest option is too expensive.
- What you’ll need from the client: Many consulting projects get hung up on something you need from the client, such as when a web developer can’t continue with a project without the web copy. Add this section to avoid any roadblocks to your job as a consultant.
- How much it will cost: Of course, the client will need to know how much to pay you. I prefer to use the word “Investment” here rather than “fee” or “cost.”
- When this will happen: Be sure to give a start and end date, plus any deadlines along the way. Some consultants even choose to put an expiration date on the proposal so the client can’t come back a year later and hope to get the same pricing on a proposal that’s outdated.
- A signature area: Again, this is up to you, but I prefer to have the proposal be the contract too so the client can read it and sign off on the project all in one go.
How to Send the Proposal
Once you’ve crafted your proposal, you can keep things quick and simple by sending it online for e-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 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. When I interview potential consultants for my business, even if I like them and know I want to work with them, I often wait for them to follow up. Why? It’s not because I’m trying to be cruel, but because I want to know that they really want to work with me as much as I want to work with them.
I like to think of it as dating. If a suitor asks you out on a date and you have a great time together, but they never contact you the next day or the day after that … you’ll start to wonder if they really like you, right? Not only that, but people are busy. Sometimes they just forget to get back to you. Don’t let your consulting business fall through the cracks. 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:
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. But 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
If 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 100% sure that you’re going to deliver on your promise. However, if a prospect is undervaluing your services or trying to get a bargain—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.
For example, let’s say a client wants to hire you as a business strategist to set up systems for their business, and your going rate is $2,997 for a three-month consulting package that includes four strategy calls, a detailed systems manual, and project management software setup. If your client’s budget is a firm $2,000 maximum, then maybe you can cut it down to three strategy calls and remove the project management setup.
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.
If 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 in being able to help a client, 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.
If 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! My suggestion is 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.
If the Client is in a Rush to Get it Done
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. It’s also knowing how to:
- 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?