Let’s look at a 6-step process in how to get clients from an accomplished professional. David A. Fields is the author of The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients, as well as a coach who directly helps real-life consultants snag high-paying gigs. His book details the strategy he and his team have developed over the years.
I originally intended to review 3 books in this post, the other two being The Sell by reality T.V. star Fredrik Eklund, and The Only Negotiating Guide You’ll Ever Need by Peter B. Stark and Jane Flaherty. These resources are fun to read, but Eklund’s book is all over the place, with lots of good tips but no overarching strategy. Meanwhile, Stark and Flaherty’s work amounts to 127 pages saying one thing: don’t be a shark, strike deals that are mutually beneficial to you and your customer.
David Fields, however, gives us a much more coherent roadmap. The other 2 books offer ideas in support of his advice (and I’ll mention them throughout this review,) but Fields’ book is where you should go for a solid plan. So let’s start.
Step 1: Think Right-Side Up
The first principle Fields gives us, which he returns to throughout his book, is building the mindset where your prospective clients’ needs come before your own. Clients don’t really hire professionals because the professionals are super great at what they do; they hire them because they solve a problem and are suited to the clients’ own circumstances. Everything from a professional’s marketing, outreach, and value proposition should be oriented toward the client.
Oddly enough, “right-side up thinking” and putting other people before yourself is a confidence booster. Fields observes that lack of confidence comes from focusing on ourselves and seeing our faults up close. When you focus on others, though, your personal shortcomings are less of an issue. And when you’re confident, that’s when your sales efforts are successful.
Step 2: Maximize Impact
Fields says “hunting” for clients is the wrong way to go about it. To find clients is more like fishing- you go where the business is, cast your line, and let clients come to you.
To figure out where to fish, you need to determine your niche. You need to learn which businesses or demographics are most lucrative, find out what their biggest, most pressing problems are, and come up with the right solution. This comes from research in which you ask people what problems they’ve spent money on to fix. Don’t fear your competition, because they’re in niches that are already booming with business. As a professional or consultant, again, you aren’t selling yourself as much as you’re selling solutions, so worry more about delivering. “Most clients don’t want a breakthrough approach. They want a reliable solution,” says one illustration in this section. Selling services is not like selling consumer products!
Once you identify the right clients, problem, and solution, you need a statement or phrase “that succinctly, precisely describes your target and the issue you address.” Fields calls this statement the “Fishing Line,” in keeping with his analogy. It’s not an elevator pitch, because the work of winning clients goes far longer after delivering it. But you can use the fishing line in your networking to get clients’ attention. It should mention the narrowly defined problem and the solution without boring the prospect with the process or reasoning. All that comes later during the relationship-building phases.
Step 3: Build Visibility
Referrals and word-of-mouth are fine up to a point, but marketing is the key to a sustainable career. You should build up your impact in Step 2 before this step so that your marketing efforts will be meaningful. Here, we have some supporting arguments from Fredrik Eklund, who built his real estate career with warm-hearted customer service and a splashy reality show on cable.
Fields is more conservative in his approach, but no less bold. His “Five Marketing Musts” are writing, public speaking, trade associations, digital presence, and networking. You should utilize at least 2 of these, and do them consistently. This goes along with the Familiarity Principle, which I wrote about in this post. Writing can be done on your blog or guest articles on popular sites. Books are great for visibility. Speaking can be done at association meetings or events you host yourself. Trade Associations are your market to landing speaking gigs or building your writing audience. Digital presence includes your website (check out my YouTube channel for a handy guide to building a site with WordPress here,) blog, social media, podcasts, and webinars. Don’t be shy about paid advertising, either. Google Adwords is a great platform for it.
Step 4: Connect, Connect, Connect
This step is all about building relationships. The saying goes, your network is your net worth. The best source for new relationships is your existing ones. The next best is your marketing, as long as you’re consistent and keep yourself top-of-mind with your target audience. Again, read about the Familiarity Principle. Always remember to put your prospects’ needs first and maintain your relevant solutions.
When building relationships, don’t ask your existing clients for a sale, just introductions. Ask if they know anyone interesting, or high-ranking in their organization. Always follow up. The best advice I got from Eklund’s book is to keep a calendar and follow it faithfully. You should mark down dates and to-do lists in which you regularly say “hi” to your contacts, and ask how things are going. It’s not nagging as long as you put them first! You can send them emails, call them on the phone, send handwritten mail if you’re really affectionate, and visit them in person. By putting them first, you’ll be more confident and likable, and you should routinely give them value like sharing industry news, books, apps, etc. Be a sounding board for their concerns.
After weeks of nurturing your relationships, you’ll determine the right time to sell your services. Fields gives us a phrase called “the Turn,” which I’ve mentioned in an earlier post. It goes something like, “Would you be open to a separate conversation where we talk about your business, and explore whether my firm can help you achieve your goals?” This wording bridges the gap between social communication and transactional communication. It gives your prospect a choice in switching to a business relationship while staying natural.
Step 5: Become the Obvious Choice
Convincing your prospect to hire you depends on you understanding them and their problems, and making sure they know it. The chapters in this Step are full of scripts of a fictional negotiation. But first, Fields tells us the 6 Pillars of Consulting Success. They are “Know,” “Like,” “Trust,” “Need,” “Want,” and “Value.” Trust is the most important of all, and it’s built in the previous Steps.
After you win prospects’ trust and give them The Turn, you’ll have the “Context Discussion.” You’ll cover 6 topics, which are the clients’ Situation, Desired Outcomes, Indicators of the Project’s Success, Perceived Risks and Concerns, Value, and Parameters. Value and Parameters come at the end, and this is where you’ll determine how much to charge for the project. But don’t give price yet, that comes in Step 6. You want the decision maker to agree to the context you determine in this conversation so there are no unpleasant shocks.
Step 6: Propose, Negotiate & Close
This is where I could have talked about Stark and Flaherty’s book, but if you follow the preparations outlined by Fields, negotiating is a lot easier at this point. “Closing isn’t something you do. Closing is the result of everything you’ve already done.” The Context Discussion in Step 5 is the cornerstone of closing deals, where you confirm with the prospect what they’re dealing with and the results you will deliver. You should write a “Context Document” detailing these things before writing a proposal. This can’t be rushed. It will take several drafts of the Context Document before you can set the proposal.
When you do write the proposal, don’t focus on why you’re so great. Instead, reassure the prospect that you’ll achieve their goal. Focus on their outcomes rather than your tasks, reassure them, and offer choices. The choices are when you can introduce money to the discussion. Give the prospect 2 or 3 packages at different prices. The prospect’s reactions to the different fees will help narrow down the right cost. It’s actually in the client’s interest for you to charge a large fee. It gives you the flexibility to work in changing parameters without you having to nag them for more billable hours.
Field’s book is available on Amazon. If you download the Kindle version, you’ll have access to his bonus material, including practice scripts and access to his website.
You can also download my book, Be True, Cut Through at the link below. It’s a short guide to content marketing through blogs, email, SEO, and more. It’s free as a PDF if you sign up for my emails. I want you to have as much digital marketing comprehension as I can muster!