“I am a consultant.” This declaration is probably heard more these days than ever before. More than at any other time in history, this economy has prompted well educated highly skilled professionals to seek to earn a living by plying their trade without working for an employer. So how does the “standout” consultant rise above the masses of tenderfoot claimants who are just temporarily between jobs? Conversely, how can bright new consultants convince prospective clients that they are really tuned-in and not just singing the same old song?
Many people who in recent years have found themselves unemployed are well trained and highly qualified. More importantly, the need for their skills has not disappeared. Most of these people were simply “laid off” in order for the company to cut the costs of salaries and benefits. Now these companies are challenged to continue to increase productivity with less manpower and faced with diminished brainpower.
Many of these displaced workers were key management and executive level employees. Because of their high salaries and the fact that there are fewer openings for top-level positions, they may have limited success finding a new job at the same level. In order to earn a living, out of necessity these former long-time employees are now faced with the daunting task of becoming first time entrepreneurs.
Given the economic trends concerning workforce expansion and economic productivity, hiring consultants as opposed to full-time employees is becoming the rule rather than the exception. Translation: This isn’t your grandmother’s workforce. Progressively more opportunities to become a consultant may become available in the future than permanent full-time jobs created.
So what does it take to gain a foothold as a consultant in this current environment? Essentially all consultants have to do 3 things to succeed:
1) Define your area of expertise
2) Find Clients
3) Deliver a quality product
Numbers 1 and 3 will be determined by the experiences and abilities that you have acquired throughout your career. Number 2 will be a function of your efforts to effectively build and promote your brand in order to stand out from the competition.
When you walk into your local Home Depot in search of a new hammer, you assume the hammer is a good one because of the quality you expect from the Home Depot brand. To gain this same level of confidence from your prospective clients will require you to create the perception that your generic skills are of a higher quality than the identical skills presented by the next guy. This seems like it could be a daunting task. However, by employing a few strategies you can manage to stand out from the crowd.
As a reminder, there are 3 Branding Fundamentals that should always guide your Branding Strategy:
1) Build your Brand Identity
2) Maintain your Brand Consistency
3) Focus your Branding Outreach
The image that you present through your marketing materials (business cards, correspondence, website, etc.) is very important. The information this “identity package” transfers to the public are the first signs of your dedication to quality. What these materials communicate will be the first sign that the potential client will receive as to the soundness of your thinking. You must make sure that these simple things create a lasting impression, which will help potential clients remember you instead of the other guy.
In this day and age, you must build and manage a quality online reputation. There are a number of well known platforms available for establishing an online presence. However, most business people drop the ball when it comes to monitoring and managing their internet presence. The analytic tools of your various pages and blogs should be evaluated regularly to make sure you are consistently reaching your target market. Using online tools and social media better than the next guy will definitely give you a leg up on the competition.
Another vital yet overlooked key to successful branding is building and managing the right relationships. Who you associate with and are associated with can make more of a lasting impression than you ever could by attempting to make your own unassisted introduction to certain prospects. A referral from someone your client already knows and respects can be the key to opening the door to new business. Sometimes, it really does come down to who you know.
In summary, to attract customers as a consultant in this competitive environment you will have to stand out from the competition. Once you determine your area of specialization and determine the niche market that you will service, finding clients will be your greatest challenge. To be successful at building your business, you will have to build a brand that stands out from the competition. The keys to successfully leveraging that brand will be determined by maintaining the consistency of the brand and continuously engaging your target market.
Vince Rogers is an accomplished resource manager, communications strategist, change agent and thought leader. He is academically trained in economics, marketing, management and professional communication. He possesses many years of successful professional experience in financial services and real estate management and marketing
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