I took part in the Marketing Consultant’s forum at CNSV tonight as a panelist, joining Ahmet Alpdemir, Brian Berg, and Peter Salmon. The slides are on the CNSV site at http://californiaconsultants.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/CNSV-0901-Berg-Murphy-Alpdemir-Salmon.zip
My focus was on “Cultivating Communities to Get More Customers.” I addressed joining a community with the objective of becoming a member in good standing. Broadly there are two kinds of communities for a consultant: prospects and peers (who are both potential partners and competitors). In either case you want to learn and follow unwritten rules and local customs, finding ways to contribute to the core purpose of the community.
The French philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, presented the following situation. Two hunters can either jointly hunt a stag (an adult deer and rather large meal) or individually hunt a rabbit (tasty, but substantially less filling). Hunting stags is quite challenging and requires mutual cooperation. If either hunts a stag alone, the chance of success is minimal. Hunting stags is most beneficial for society but requires a lot of trust among its members.
What this means as a practical matter is that you are looking for other consultants who will be reliable and have complementary expertise. This will allow you to take on larger projects. You may also carry other consultant’s business cards so that you can refer work to them that’s appropriate if it’s not a match with your skills and expertise.
In a community that’s primarily prospects, you have to create more value than you harvest or you will be viewed as a parasite instead of a contributor. The challenge is to err on the side of caution in marketing your services. A side benefit, if you listen carefully, is to learn about emerging topics and issues before they become common knowledge.
It was a very well attended meeting. Brian Berg noted the organization has doubled in size in the last year and the downturn/recession has seen a lot of first time consultants join. There were a number of questions from folks who were considering consulting (or possibly anticipating an involuntary career change to consultant) as well as those who were new to consulting in the last year or so.
The challenge with learning how to market yourself as a consultant is that it’s typically a mid-career change that your earlier work as an engineer doesn’t prepare you well for. The technical challenges of consulting are for the most part straightforward compared to the new challenges in marketing oneself in a way that is authentic and effective. I think all of us on the panel were sensitive to those issues.
I would also encourage newer technical consultants to attend the CNSV marketing meetings that occur before the main meeting. Very experienced consultants like Carl Angotti and Walt Maclay donate their time to share a number of effective techniques for marketing a technical practice. They include a how to section where attendees can critique each other’s work (e.g. Craigslist profiles) and walk you through the process of posting on-line in appropriate forums.