Professional Services Consulting companies come in all different sizes: small, medium, large, and enormous. Unlike other markets, though, the size of the consulting company has little impact on the expertise, bill rates, or geographic coverage. I have seen variances in specialized markets, but general operational consulting tends to be a pretty competitive market. Why is that? My theory is there are a lot of people out there who ‘come through the ranks’ and want to share their hindsight with those who hopefully would benefit. That’s why I was encouraged to start a consulting company and I’m sure others out there have experienced the same thing.
When you work in a small consulting company, a big challenge is how you differentiate your company enough to stand out among all the others vying for the same business? You’re too small for a big marketing budget and may not even have a real sales team. Your employees may need to be the well-rounded wear-many-hats type. Competing with the big guys is a bit daunting but you have a few advantages. Your biggest differentiators are partnerships, networking, and referrals.
No matter what the size company, there will be holes in knowledge and expertise. No one knows everything about everything (thankfully!). This is where partnering comes in. In fact, some of your best partners may actually be your direct competitors. Pull together on joint proposals or strike up a prime/sub contractor relationship. You’ll find strengths and weaknesses in each other that can give you the upper hand on opportunities that walk through the door. I’ve worked on many opportunities as part of a single team where it was difficult to provide a complete proposal due to weaknesses that could not be compensated alone. Partners can fill in those weaknesses and, in many cases, those partners can be small consulting firms since they tend to be more flexible on terms and may have unique skill sets.
You always hear about networking but that’s because it truly is one of the best techniques to get your name out there along with your reputation. It doesn’t mean you have to send flyers to all the local businesses or attend every professional conference in your industry area. It does mean that you have to take advantage of forums out there to meet people and share advice. You are reading this on PSVillage so you have already started on your networking goal. PSVillage will lead you to other forums and conferences such as TSW, and to their sponsor networks including OpenAir, Tenrox, Projector PSA and Appirio. You do have to participate, though, in order to get the benefit of the networks you join. It’s not like a Christmas card list that you pull out once a year and get lots of letters in return. But if you are vigilant, it will pay off in dividends.
Referrals and references, not surprisingly, trump any other method of driving business. How many times have you casually referred something to a neighbor like a good restaurant or a lawn service? Or to a client or colleague, such as an article or a helpful contact? Companies benefit from referrals no matter what their business and that includes consulting. Striving to have all customers reference-able and to have those companies refer others to you is an ultimate goal. Word of mouth is the best sales channel you have —- it can help you gain partnerships, expand your network, and close deals.
Companies, no matter what their size, all have the same problem – to differentiate themselves and win new business. Why try to do it alone?