“So what does having a sustainable consulting business mean? It’s not the what, but more the how—the regular process of stopping, reflecting, and planning is key—conversation and collaboration. How can you have greater certainty in an uncertain environment? Essentially, it’s having a long-term plan and the flexibility to adapt your business model to a changing marketplace.” – Louise Davis
We get it—business consultants and coaches are busy. You have to wear a lot of hats in the course of the day, and switching from rockstar trainer, to patient coach, to business strategist, to communications manager, and everything in between is difficult on the best of days. You have to balance short term emergencies with long term priorities. It’s easy to slip back into old habits, lose sight of your goals to grow your business, and get stuck along the way.
The good news is, there are a number of tactics that you can implement today that will help you grow your business in a sustainable way, by working smarter, not longer or harder. We’ve pulled together some of our most actionable insights to inspire you to shake things up and grow your business.
Make a Plan.
We know that hope is not a strategy. Crossing your fingers and hoping that your business will grow is not likely to yield sustainable results. Where do you want your business to be a year from now? Work back from there, and figure out what you need to accomplish in each quarter, and then break it down by month (and week). Do you want to sign ten new clients by this time next year? Great! That means you need to average 2.5 new clients per quarter. What is your pitch success rate? If you sign one out of every four clients that you pitch, that means you need to pitch forty clients in the next year. To reach your goal, how many networking events do you need to attend each month? How many coffee meetings do you need to schedule this week? Break it down into manageable chunks. Which brings us to the next step.
Make your calendar work for you.
Of course, you use your calendar to schedule important meetings and appointments. But what about your other work? Using the work back created in your plan, start slotting things into your calendar—and keep those appointments with yourself just as you would keep other meetings. Maybe you need to spend a few focused hours on developing a pitch template that you can easily adapt for different types of clients. Add it to your schedule. Map out which networking events and conferences you want to attend, and then set aside time in your calendar for follow-up. Don’t just hope those contacts will get in touch with you, or presume that you’ll get to it eventually. Put an hour into your calendar dedicated to sending follow-up emails.
This applies to your personal life as well—do you need to have dinner with your family every evening to preserve your sanity? Great! Add it into your calendar. What about a weekly check-in with your best friend? Perfect, schedule a coffee or phone call. When you’re working to grow your business, everything seems urgent—but I guarantee that you will be better at work if you are rested and happy.
Invest in systems that make your life easier.
There are so many tools available for improving productivity, that sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. If you are working your calendar, it should become pretty clear where you spend the bulk of your time in a given week. If not, make a deliberate effort to track your time in a typical week, and then use that data to figure out where you can be more efficient. Are you spending ten hours a week managing your email? Start looking into a contact management system that automates some of those processes. Do you spend a ton of time driving to client meetings? Use a video conferencing tool (we use Zoom and it’s excellent!) to cut down on travel while still being able to see people face to face. Identify the tasks that drain your time and resources, and look for ways to either optimize, automate, or outsource.
Use what you’ve got.
Are you tapping your existing client list for referrals? Do you have a strategy in place to encourage repeat business? If not, you’re leaving money on the table. When you wrap a project with a client, send them a note thanking them for their business. Let them know that you enjoyed working with them, and that you can offer a discount on their next purchase if they provide a referral. We all know that it’s much more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep an existing one—so use your existing clients to your advantage. If they are unable to provide a referral, ask them for a testimonial to post on your website—in writing is great, on video is even better.
Go where the prospects are.
Who are your clients, and where do they hang out? Maybe it’s an annual conference, a lecture series, or a few top blogs on industry trends. Can you become a speaker or sponsor? Have you considered guest writing for their website? If the answer is no, what about making an effort to interact with them online? Chances are, you are in business to help your clients solve problems. Find out where people go when they have those problems, and meet them there.
I get it. It can be overwhelming to think about building your business while you’re trying to stay on top of the day-to-day. When you’re running to meetings or pursuing the elusive inbox-zero, it’s hard to step back and work on growing your business. Maybe you’ve had success in the past, and hope that it will repeat itself. But the landscape is shifting—technology is disrupting industries, clients are demanding demonstrable ROI while their budgets are shrinking, and uncertainty has become just about the only certain thing about running a business today.
Make a plan for success, break it down into steps (and put those steps in your calendar), and find ways to focus on doing the work that matters most. Growing your business doesn’t need to be complicated, just work at it a little every day, and keep your eyes on the prize.