Marketing and business development within professional services is often shrouded in mystery. So many consultants, lawyers and accountants feel comfortable about converting a warm prospect into a client. However, tell them that they need to call upon their professional services marketing skills to generate the lead in the first place and suddenly its a very different story.

For this reason Rain makers, i.e. people who are great at developing and winning work, are often revered and talked about in hushed tones. In reality becoming good at business development within professional services, is like anything else. It is all about following a process and be disciplined. 

 Just before christmas I was interviewed by Michael Moshiri, ex-Big 4 partner, who wanted to know how consultants could become good at marketing and business development in professional services.  In this interview, I explained the process of how consultants (+ others) can become great at professional services marketing or as it is often called business development in professional services by becoming the Go-To Expert.

Either click on the link to the video in YouTube or read the transcription below:

Michael:       Hello. Today’s guest is Heather Townsend. She helps professionals become the Go-To Expert. She’s the author of the best-selling and award-winning books The Financial Times Guide to Business Networking, How to Make Partner & Still Have a Life, and the most recent book The Go-To Expert. Over the last decade she has worked with over 300 partners and coached and trained over 2,000 professionals at every level of the UK’s most ambitious professional services firms. And today she’s going to share with us some of the incredible knowledge that she’s captured in her book on how to build your reputation, differentiate yourself from all your competition and win business.

We’re delighted to have her here with us today, hello Heather.

Heather:        Hello Michael, thank you for such a nice introduction.

Michael:     It’s a pleasure and I’m really looking forward to having some of your wisdom to share with our audiences, our readers and our viewers. Looking back at the book, your Go-To Expert book, there are several concepts that I wanted to discuss with you which I think are immediately applicable to our audience which are primarily independent consultants.

The main message of your book is about differentiating yourself from your competition. So what are some of the main considerations or maybe most important considerations when it comes to differentiating yourself from your competitors in the eyes of your prospects and clients?

Heather:     So the first consideration is you’ve got to really think about what your clients actually want. So probably the best way to illustrate this is with a little story. I’m highly gluten intolerant and I stayed at this really, really top hotel in Lisbon, which is over in Europe, in Portugal, and the speciality of that place is custard tarts, so full of flour and gluten. And the hotel thought that it was delivering an amazing service because everywhere you looked it was offering you free custard tarts, but I couldn’t eat it. And I think the core of the message is it’s not thinking about what you want, it’s really making sure that you’re thinking about what your buyers want and that actually will differentiate yourself probably more than anything else you do. It’s really thinking about what do your buyers want; how do they want to buy you; what’s the buying journey they go through?

So particularly, what are they thinking about before they need your services and that’s probably one of the real secrets out there. And I know that you’ve got lots of experience Michael, but the real secret out there is most consultants are fighting over the work that’s visible. Consequently, there’s a lot of you wanting to win it, whereas if you could get to the client before they realise they were going to be a client and you got them to trust you at that point there’s a lot less competition and the conversion rate is a lot quicker. So the key thing there, the second thing is to really anticipate what are they going to be typing into Google before they actually need your services and that’s a great way of differentiating yourself.

And then the third is actually decide to focus on a target market. Far too many consultants, particularly when they’ve done their first and second assignment, it’s all gone a bit quiet, they try and say that they can do everything for anyone and actually that’s just a quick race to the bottom. It’s a way to dilute your day rates, it’s a way to actually dilute your messaging because particularly with consultants you’re not doing small $50 jobs a day; you’re actually doing something that if you do it right you’ll be getting many thousands of dollars for your day rate. So what do people want to find when they’ve got that sort of budget? They want to find the expert. They want to find the person who really understands their world.

So in essence, if I’m going to talk about how do you really differentiate yourself, it’s be targeted. I’m sitting there and I am flooded with work at the moment, so much so that I’ve reduced quite heavily the marketing I do, and that’s because I’m probably one of the most targeted people you probably know on what I do. I only work with lawyers, accountants and very occasionally consultants. I tend to only work with them in two particular pieces: 1) either when they are on the cusp of making partnership or 2) if they need to significantly increase their lead generation in order to achieve their career aims, they might own their own firm or they might be an established partner needing to quickly grow his client portfolio. That’s all I do. I’ve never been short of work in the last 6/12/18 months with the deepest, darkest recession the UK has had.

Michael:  That’s wonderful. I think you had a couple of really very important messages and I wanted to talk maybe a little bit more about where you were saying what do clients do, they look you up on Google. So maybe we can expand on that a little bit. Can you tell us what you see currently happening with social media and how it has changed the name of the game or has changed the way the consultants are viewed in the eyes of the clients and what the clients look for when they are looking for them? Can you expand on that for us a little bit?

Heather:  Yes, absolutely. So I’m going to throw a couple of stats and it might be a little bit of an eye-opener. I suppose the first thing is to realise, finger on whatever, the world has changed. It’s not necessarily social media that’s changed it, but actually broadband and access to the information. Social media is just another communication medium like one other. I suppose to put some context around it, in the last two years, so from the beginning of 2013 to now we have created more data, more information than we have since time immemorial.

Michael:                     Right.

Heather:    You think about that and that blows your mind doesn’t it? Once you understand that you kind of get it. So what does that mean? It means Google and actually LinkedIn have conditioned us to go, “If I’ve got a problem, a challenge I Google it or if I’m looking for a certain person I’ll go into LinkedIn”. And so we’ve been conditioned that whatever our challenge, whatever our problem is we’ll be able to find it by looking online. So that means that, you know, you and I, how many thousands of miles are we away? Far too many and we’ve reached out to each other many a time based on the fact that we were one of the few people in the globe that was talking to that audience at that point and we knew we could collaborate a bit our strengths. We wouldn’t have been able to do that five years ago. The Skype connection wouldn’t be good enough.

Michael:                     Right, that’s true. Definitely not for this.

Heather:    So how has this meant that buyers’ behaviours have changed? Well let’s look at a couple of stats. I guess the first one that I really want to talk about is previously how did people evaluate you? Well, they might look at some references, they’ll talk to a couple of people, they’ll look at your shiny marketing brochures. For the first time we’ve shifted that more people will now check you out online than will check out your references. So it’s about 60%-odd will go and check you out by Googling you or looking at you on social media. So if you compute the maths and what people look at you on social media, if you don’t embrace LinkedIn wholeheartedly and treat it as an extension of your website you’ll be leaving up to 50% of your business on the table.

Michael:                     Yes.

Heather:     The second thing is, so the Corporate Executive Services Board – and I hope I’ve got that the right way round – did some research and they found that people of 57% to 70% of their due diligence online. That means if you go, “Well, my work will do the talking for me, my network know enough about me, I don’t need to bother with LinkedIn, I don’t need to bother with getting a really consistent online footprint” you won’t realise that the phone wasn’t ringing. Because if you don’t pass those tests then they’re not going to pick the phone up to you because they can find somebody that will.

Michael:     Sure, that’s great. As a matter of fact, as I was in the process of creating a platform for consultants to be able to continue their education and continue becoming better at finding highly qualified clients I reached out to people to develop this web platform for me who were in Bangladesh and in Germany and in other places. I live in the United States and there are plenty of wonderful web developers here, but when I did a quick search online the people that I wanted to reach out to were in Germany. So naturally I didn’t think twice about, “Oh gosh, there’s hundreds of people here in the United States”; I just went after the one person that I thought, “He’s got all the right skills to be able to accomplish what I need to accomplish with this project quickly and do a wonderful job at it”.

So you’re absolutely right I think. The world has become flatter than it has ever been and people who are consultants need to heed that and remember that.

Heather:   Yes. And I might be in a simple sense, but we had a problem in our business, this was a problem that was causing our chief organiser, Lisa, who heads up our back office, she’s the lady that is responsible for helping us delivery extraordinary client service and she had a Christmas card problem. And the Christmas card problem was she needed to take the addresses from our system and mail-merge them into address labels.

Michael:     Okay, sounds simple enough.

Heather:     Sounds simple enough. Could she get the thing to work? No. She struggled with it on Friday. She struggled with it on Saturday. On Friday we said, “Just call People Per Hour, look at the website, there’ll be somebody there that will do the mail-merge”. On Sunday she gave up, she looked at it, found that she could get somebody to do 1,000 for £10 and an extra 500 for £5. £15, she’s got it all mail-merged, she’s a happy bunny.

Michael:   Wow, and it only took her £15. Guess she should have done that at the beginning, but it’s a good lesson to learn that no matter what it is you want to get done, there is someone out there that you can find that does that for you.

Heather:    Yes. And I think the valuable message for your consultants is that you are not unique; there is somebody out there that will do something like you do. So the real thing that you need to make sure you do is that your personal brand – so it’s not just about saying, “Hey, I’m an expert in this for this” – it’s that your personal brand and what you externally communicate to help grow your reputation is wider than just your skills and experience. And I think that’s a final almost a twist in the tail that people don’t realise because you’ve come up through the Big 4 Michael where I would imagine that it probably wasn’t actually said but there was an unstated rule that you needed to morph your character into what the client wanted.

Michael:     Sure, yes.

Heather:    And actually whenever you portrayed yourself you portrayed yourself as vanilla and as plain as possible in order not to offend someone and you built your credibility around, “Here’s my skillset”. That makes you really dull.

Michael:    Yes, it’s like almost being Play Doh that you can say, “I can fit into any vessel, into any shape” and you really need to be multifaceted when you’re working for firms like the ones I’ve worked with. Surprisingly though, I think the people who were deeply skilled, like, as you were saying, the real Go-To Experts, people who for example testified in front of Congress on a particular topic, those are the people that tended to do the best when it came to really shining in the firm.

On one of the recent projects that we did we needed to get someone who was so well-versed in the latest cryptography that we didn’t have anyone in the US in our firm that could do that. So we ended up reaching to someone internationally in one of the associated firms in the UK who just happened to be the person who testified in front of the Prime Minister in the UK about a particular cryptography problem and he was the guy that we ended up calling. Why? Because everybody knew who he was, even in the United States people knew who he was.

Heather:                     He was the guy.

Michael:                     He was the guy.

Heather:       And one of the messages for your not completely newbie consultants, but not too far into their consultancy career is if you’re going to be the guy what are you going to be the guy for and how do you take that step?

So the first thing you’ve got to really look at is what are you passionate about? Because you know how consultants do stuff, they kind of go, “Right, let’s look at the marketplace, let’s look at the trends, let’s go and really get down into these, let’s analyse the hell out of it. That looks to be the biggest opportunity for that skillset”. And what they forget is they’ve got to be passionate about it, you’ve got to love what you do. So don’t analyse the hell out of the marketplace, start with what you’re passionate about. Then look for a fit and what do I mean by a fit? It’s about where what you’re passionate about can earn you decent money.

Michael:                     Sure, solve a problem for someone, yes.

Heather:                     Yes. Where can you apply your passion in a way that can actually mean that you can put food on the table, not just today but tomorrow and actually put a nice bottle of champagne on the table as well?

So it starts with passion and then you look for fit. And when I mean fit it’s about having something that your audience will pay for but also that you feel comfortable in there, because it’s all very well if you’ve got something that your audience will pay for, you’re passionate, but you don’t want to spend time with them? That’s a problem. You’ve got to love the people you’re going to work with; you’ve got to love what you’ve got to talk about. You’ve got to be like me who could effectively spout for three hours on this topic without a break and without a question from you because I love it so much.

And then the final bit is you’ve got to have a track record in credibility. As you found personally, one of the hardest things to do is to build up credibility and break into an audience at the same time. If you’re a reasonably newly self-employed consultant, what’s your track record? Where can you point to X amount of projects that really showcase what you’re passionate about? That’s the place. It’s got to be that mix of passion, fit and credibility and that is where you need to start looking for what is going to really differentiate you, what should you make your name in? And then you’ve got to hold your nerve.

Michael:                     That’s true, that’s the hardest part isn’t it?

Heather:                     You’ve got to really hold you nerve and there’s a reason for that, because when you look at your pipeline and it looks a bit light and you’ve gone down this, “I’m going to be known as the guy” or “the lady”, let’s put it that way, it can be a bit daunting because you seem to have put all the eggs in one basket. And my view is hold the nerve for as long as you can because let’s be honest, if the worst comes to the worst you can always get an interim role again.

Michael:     That’s true. And I think the most important part of what you’re saying that I think a lot of independent consultants ignore is that a lot of people don’t care about the passion, they’re loving what they’re doing or maybe even whether there is a fit between what they’re doing and even the clients that they’re taking on. Perhaps because they have pressures to make money or they’re looking to establish their first client or a third or a fourth client and they want to establish themselves as an ongoing concern and maybe they don’t stop to think about the long term repercussions of being the jack of all trades, both on not being able to say, “I focus on this and I’m the Go-To Expert on this” and also from the perspective of hating the client or the client work that they’re doing and then they don’t want to do continuous work for that client, so they end up going off and chasing yet another client and they take that client on because they need the money and then, of course, they don’t like that client and they end up dropping that client and chasing the next client.

And so that perpetuates that cycle and the revenue rollercoaster, if you will, without really considering that if they really loved what they did and if they were known for what they were doing and they loved their clients, really what you need for success, the thing on how you define it, is one really great client that you can continuously do work with. One client that loves what you do, loves you because of what you can do and just continuously being able to do project after project, getting to know their client better, getting to know their organisation, them getting to know you and your skills. If you think about that, that cycle never gets started if you’re constantly chasing the next client because you didn’t look at all the factors that you’re mentioning right now. That’s really significant. I think the repercussions could be immense.

Heather:                     Can I let you into a little secret?

Michael:                     Definitely.

Heather:                     The secret is as follows: the best business developers are ones that don’t need to develop business.

Michael:                     Sure, right.

Heather:       That sounds a bit of a tautology and I imagine your listeners are probably going, “This woman, she’s mad” but actually it’s absolutely true. When you really love what you do work will come to you because you deliver that brilliant job, because you’re fun to be around, you deliver the right results for the client, and you’re not constantly chasing the next piece of work. If you are able to let go of that need for the next piece of work it’s amazing how many opportunities come to you because you’re relaxed about it. You’re doing what you love, everything’s fine.

Michael:     And you have the availability. The opportunity cost by itself could be huge if you’re working with a client you don’t like but you’re tied up. Your entire time is taken up working with this client you don’t like doing a job you don’t like and now an opportunity comes to you to work with another client that you would have loved to work with on a project that would have been wonderful for you, but unfortunately you’re busy working the terrible client for the next three months and then you cannot take on that new job. So the opportunity cost by itself is immense as well.

Heather:    Yes. What’s worse that not being on a job? The answer is being on a job you hate.

Michael:          Yes, that’s true. I’ve experienced that unfortunately first hand.

Heather:         But the key thing here is that people are going to say, “Well, if I haven’t got any work I’ve got to go after it so it doesn’t make sense”. And yes, there’s very much a virtuous circle here and there’s also a vicious circle here. The more desperate you get for work the harder it becomes because you’ve got “desperate” written across your forehead. And actually the key here is build up three, four, five companies that you love, they love you and when one project comes to an end they seamlessly take you onto another project. So your marketing time is very light; it’s easy to talk about rates and stuff; they love you, you love them, they don’t want to work with anyone else. It’s that magic point, but that magic point doesn’t happen until you’ve really built up your profile first.

And it’s really interesting, I’m working with a client at the moment who’s in a reasonably large accountancy firm and we recognised that yes, he’d been talking a good story but he hadn’t done enough activity. So we upped his activity six to eight weeks ago and the amount of PR he’s got out of really – because if you cut him open he will bleed independent retail, he loves it, absolutely loves it. The journey he’s gone through, he’s built his passion around this and my God he’s a bit of a bore about it, but he loves it. He’s always asking his other partners, “So why did you buy that? What made you do this? Where do you do your shopping?” and he’s like, “No, I’m not going to buy it from any of the big supermarkets, I’m going to buy local now”. He’s really transformed his whole outlook because he’s so passionate about it and that passion has now unlocked the door to getting content out. So he’s being picked up left, right and centre, a little bit of help from a PR agency, but actually he’s doing just as well by putting his own content out there and he’s starting to see the clients come through now.

So there is something about even if you’re passionate about something you can’t wait for the universe to come to you; you need to get out there, you’ve got to write about it, you’ve got to demonstrate how much you love what you do.

Michael:    Definitely. And I think one thing you said that really resonated and it got me to think was that the first thing people do when they look for you is they go on LinkedIn and look to see for a particular person. I recently read that LinkedIn provides over 53% of general traffic, if you will, compared to Twitter and other social media, Facebook and whatnot. From a links perspective, when something is posted over 53% of the people who get traffic from social media get it from LinkedIn as opposed to Twitter and Facebook and other ones. So LinkedIn is a great resource and one of the things I think is going to help people figure out what to put in their LinkedIn profiles or how to identify themselves is something you mentioned in your book which is the “Why you?” exercise.

Can you run through that for our audience real quick so that they learn how to do this?

Heather:     Yes and this is a real classic one. So the first thing you’ve got to realise is that people when they buy they buy emotionally and they backup rationally. When they have a real problem that they want to solve it will reach to the deep emotional core about it.

Now, a lot of consultants fall into the trap of thinking rationally about this, they take the surface of, and so what you do is you ask “Why would somebody buy your services?” and a lot of consultants will say, “Well, because it will save them time and save them money”. If you look out there you see the generic messages about saving time and money, that doesn’t do anything so you go, “So why is it a benefit for saving time and money?” Typically for consultants you’ll get because their backside is on the line; because actually they want to get this promotion; because actually if they don’t get this bit of IT infrastructure right their company could go to the Swanee. And so actually it’s never about time and money, it’s always at a deeper personal level. So what is it that they’re really buying?

And that’s how the “Why?” exercise works, you really dig down and you dig down and you dig down and you dig down. So for example, with your consultants think about what are they actually buying from you? Actually, they’re buying the reassurance that if they do this right they’ll have a pipeline of business that will keep them in a manner they really want to become accustomed to. That’s what they’re buying, they’re buying reassurance.

Michael:                     It’s not like the widget.

Heather:                     No, it’s all about the process, it’s actually that’s what they’re buying. And that’s when you really understand the emotions and what really makes your target market tick. That’s when you can put the 10% spin on what you do that makes them think, “My God, they really get me. They really get me”. And it could be something like, once again, I was talking with my accountancy client this morning and we were talking and he said a big thing for him at the moment is about pricing strategies in retailers and how so many people just fight to the bottom with deep discounting without even thinking about it. I said, “You need to do a pricing audit and do it on a very cheap level, but as a way of getting in and directly into their bottom line”. He was like, “Yes, you’re right”.

Michael:       And if nothing else, that’s a very easy way to get in and learn more about the client’s organisation and what their main pain points are so that you can speak to that directly and also get to learn more about the decision makers and the buyers and who’s who in the organisation so that you can answer the questions you just posed about what are they really buying from me? You can learn that by just getting your foot in the door.

I’d say one of the things that a lot of newer consultants struggle with is how do I get my foot in the door? In other words, even if I do this “Five why” exercise or the “Why you?” exercise and I go to a deep level in my mind of why I think clients would want to hire me or what they would want, the question is how do I get my foot in the door to really find out for sure – not just me guessing, but really find out for sure why me in their minds or what it is that I should be offering to them? So giving advice for the ones who are just getting their start on how to do this?

Heather:     Yes and I think there are three core steps and the first is actually choose your target market. It’s amazing how many people try and be a little bit vanilla in this. Really drill down and go as niche as you dare.

The second thing is you’ve got to package that up, package up your brand and so many people miss this step out. They go, “Yes, I’m going to go after this person and this person” and they kind of go off into the distance and they forget the things like they need to truly understand their marketplace first, even if you’ve dealt with them for 20 years. One of the reasons I’m so busy was I actually did some research interviews 18 months ago and as a result of that I picked up lots of clients that I didn’t think I would win based on the knowledge of what made them tick. It also gave me the knowledge of what are the buttons to press?          So when I talk about package the brand, that means actually going out and talking to people and it’s not about selling, it’s about getting a deeper understanding.

The next stage is then to go, “Right, when I have that deep understanding what do these people want to read?” and when I say read I really mean digest their content. Do they want to do it as a video? Do they drive long distances and quite like listening to podcasts in the car? How do they want to consume their material and how do you make sure that your online footprint really says, “I get you, I understand you and this is why I’m earning the right to have the conversation”. And I think so many people miss that bit out, it’s earn the right to have the conversation. As one of my peers found out, you can’t just go round and talk to people and have that cup of tea, you’ve got to talk with purpose. So what’s going on in their world? And actually, when you talk about what’s going on in their world when they raise some suggestions about that – if I think about why I find that most doors are already open to me it’s because I’ve been educating them 6/12/18 months in advance and helping them.

So one of the big mind-set tricks that people want to go is, “I want to keep all my information close to me because I don’t want to help my competition”. And you know what? My golden rule is you put your best stuff out there because what your competitors can’t buy or replicate is your 20 years of experience, is the wisdom, is how you apply what you do. So the big thing here is put your best stuff out there. Don’t worry if you’re giving it away.

Michael:   Yes, but it’s not really giving it away either because, like you said, if it’s got your experience and your insights and your passion written all over it, that’s something that no competitor can reproduce because it’s coming from inside you. The general technology or the technical side of things, the 1, 2, 3 step of how to replicate that particular process yes, so maybe that part of it is a commodity if you will, right?

Heather:                     Yes, absolutely.

Michael:      If there’s a certain way to install something that’s always the same, but the way you talk about how to solve a problem, that’s uniquely yours.

Heather:        Absolutely. So the next thing you’ve got to do is once you’ve packaged up that brand, you have services that people want to buy, you have lots of content that resonates with the audience and gets them moving from, “I think I have a problem” to “Damn right I’ve got a need that I need to solve”, the next thing you’ve got to is you’ve got to be active. And I think that’s another thing that people are like, “Whoa, I just want clients to come to me. I’d like to just put the right stuff out there and they come to me”. And actually in time they will. If you have a great website and you spread your message, but how you spread your message is you get others to spread it for you. So you’re active on LinkedIn, you’re active on Twitter, you’re active on Google+. Your big thing is about connecting with gatekeepers into your audience.

So how can you reach out and find people that have similar audiences that you can help them by having this unique set of knowledge that helps their audience? That’s the way. Go and look for these people, connect with them, have a conversation, deepen the relationship and stay in touch.

Michael:                     Yes, that’s right.

Heather:                     And if that doesn’t work the next stage you do is you build a prospect list and you go, “Right, who are the companies that I would love to work for? Who are the companies that really, really are on my sweet spot?” and then you do that research. And then you go through your network and you go, “Who knows them and can introduce me in?”

Michael:                     Right. That’s as a matter of fact one of the key principles within the book Never Chase Clients Again is to be able to accomplish what you just talked about.

What I’d like you to do is assuming that people can actually do that effectively and follow the advice in the book and follow what you’ve shared with me so far to develop themselves as the Go-To Expert and to be able to get clients to give them attention, I think one important part of it that people may not consider is what do clients look for? In other words, once I have determined that this is who I am, this is what I do, this is my passion, this is what I’m really great at side, the flip side of it is what are their clients looking for?

So can you give us some ideas of what you think clients look for before they choose a service provider, a consultant, before they consider a consultant as a serious choice?

Heather:                     Okay, so the first thing they do is when they recognise they’ve got a need and a problem they start looking for information and actually that’s the first thing they do is look for information around that that can help them determine what’s going on. That’s as simple as, giving you the story, I got home, walked into the house after work, seven o’clock in the evening, nanny was there, we turned around and there was smoke coming out of the utility room. Dum, dum, dum, there’s smoke coming out of the utility room! So first thing I did was I opened the door, saw what it was, turned the washing machine, which was smoking, off at the fuse. What did I do next? I Googled it and I put “smoke coming out of washing machine drum”.

Okay, that’s a bit of an extreme example, but when people have a problem they will type into Google that problem, so they will look and they will build their knowledge up. So that’s what they do and that building their knowledge up then takes them to the next stage where they define their outcome. And this is the point where they decide, “Is this just an irritant and actually I don’t need to anything and it will go away in time or I can live with it” or “What am I going to do? What is the outcome?” It could be “I can live with it” or it could be “I have to do something about it and I have to do something now and I need to change the figures of my organisation by the end of the year”. That’s the point where they switch from quite emotional stuff into very rational stuff and what they want to know is can I trust them, do they do what I need them to do, how much will it cost, how long will it take, what implications are there? They’re very, very rational at that point. And at this point they’re not yet thinking about who they want to work with, but they really want to get a rational grasp of what they’ve decided to do.

Michael:                     So define the problem more specifically and more clearly?

Heather:                     Yes.

Michael:                     And then look for a solution provider that fits that?

Heather:                     The next point is they then start to look for a supplier and actually what they’ll do first is they’ll build a selection criteria and that selection criteria will be individual to them.

Michael:                     Right, of course.

Heather:                     But to give you an idea, the Financial Times did a piece of research in conjunction with a professional marketing forum and they brought that research out in November 2012 and in that they found that 67% of all buyers of professional services want to work with a real sector expert, somebody who really knows them and gets their world. They also then found that 40% – get this, this is fascinating – 40% even went as far as to put in their top three buying criteria, that deep sector-specific knowledge.

So at this stage if you want to hedge your bets you probably won’t get the call. If you go all in and say, “This is what I do, this is who I do it for, this is the specific audience”, that is when you’re going to start to pass those short listing features. Remember, this is probably before you’ve even got the call.

Michael:                     Right. You may not even be away of this client at that point and they’re already checking you out, in a way.

Heather:                     Yes, you are probably not aware of it and that’s the scary thing. So then you actually get into effectively if you can pass that test you’ve opened the door and then that’s about selling. If you can literally provide the information, pass that test you’ll get there.

So let me give you a real example. So I was working with my client who’s just changed, he’s a financial adviser. Because he’s covenant restricted, so he can’t go over his past clients until the 28th February, he’s effectively got to build his portfolio from scratch. He specialises in partners in professional service firms, he’s got that and manufacturing, so it’s kind of owner-managed businesses but with two really different forms. So he went to somebody who’s very, very highly connected within the profession, in fact he runs the professional practice sector group.

So what you look for are people who open doors. And he said, “Why don’t you go and talk to our old HR director because she’s now HR director at this firm and I know she was brought in because it’s a mess and she’s having to build it up from the ground upwards. So you would probably…” And then he told me and I said, “And I can introduce her to you because she’s a client of mine at the moment as well”. So I was on a call to her talking about potential partner development, I said, “Oh, and by the way, this guy is going to give you a call because etc. etc.” she said, “Oh, that would be really useful”. And you know what? I’ve opened the door for him.

Michael:                     You acted as a catalyst to get him in the door.

Heather:                     Yes. But what did he do? He had a key specialism. He then went to what you would call that real gatekeeper, that person that can open the door for you. That person said, “You need to talk to this lady”. He said to me, “I’m going to talk to this lady” and I said, “Well, I’ve got a call with her this week, I’ll tell her that you’ll be giving her a call”.

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Michael:                     Right, that’s perfect.

Heather:                     And I even said, “And actually, he could really help with people” because the tax affairs in the UK is you go from Schedule E being employed to Schedule D being self-employed and actually that means your financial affairs change drastically, as you’ll know from your past.

Michael:                     Yes, right.

Heather:                     And one of the things he does is he goes in and talks to these potential partners and says, “This is the implications of what’s going to happen to you. You need to think about this, this and this”.

Michael:                     Right. And the beauty of what you did was this person doesn’t need to do any traditional networking, they don’t need to do any social media marketing, there’s no content marketing really.

Heather:                     No.

Michael:                     All they did was they used the power of their intentions, if you will, knowing who they want to serve and the power of their close network to identify who the target audience is that he needed to talk to, figured out what they need and then reached out to that network and said, “Do you know this person?” and you just happened to know and happened to be working with that person and were able to make an introduction.

Heather:                     Yes.

Michael:                     I think that’s a great way of going about doing it and it doesn’t really require a lot of random leg work, if you will. So that’s really good.

Heather:                     Yes.

Michael:                     That’s great. So from the perspective of the consultants that are just getting started and they haven’t really defined where their target audience is, in this case this individual is really very focused on one particular target market. What advice would you give independent consultants as to how to identify which areas they want to focus on and who they want to focus on if they are putting together a roster of prospective clients that they’d like to serve? What would you suggest that they do first?

Heather:                     It goes back to what we already said, it’s look about what you’re passionate about, look at where there’s a fit so you can monetise that passion and you enjoy being in that space, and then check you’ve got the credibility. You may look at it and go, “Well, actually this is where I’ve got all the fit and credibility but I don’t have the passion. What I’m really passionate about is X but I don’t really have the credibility”. So you may have to do a short term strategy to pay the bills while you build your credibility in the new thing that you want to be passionate about. And I’ve done that quite a few times, but actually the core is looking where you’re passionate, you’re credible and you’ve got a fit.

Michael:                     That’s perfect. Those three are very, very valuable. Any other last-minute advice for our listeners and viewers, anything that you think they need to be doing in order to succeed as independent consultants?

Heather:                     I think on many different levels what they need to stop saying is, “I can do that”. And why is that on so many different levels? The first is the people that go, “I can do that, and I can do that, and I can do that” are spreading themselves too thinly, so that’s number one. Number two, actually people get really pissed off when this person’s going hand up, hand up, hand up and you can see them doing it and you’re like, “Actually, just read what the brief is. That’s not where you’re good at”, and so it can really annoy people. And the third thing is when you’re saying, “And I can do that, and I can do that” you stop listening to the client and what they really need.

Michael:                     Sure, right. Yes, that’s definitely great advice. So you’ve given us some really great nuggets of wisdom. You’ve talked to us about how to identify what we’re good at and how to really hone in on a particular target audience, target market; what to look for; what clients look for, where they look and how we should set ourselves up to succeed by providing those things that clients are looking for; and also the three areas that you showed us how to check on ourselves to make sure that we are focusing on the right things.

So some great advice all around, I really appreciate your time today and really looking forward to having you on the programme again and hopefully we’ll be able to avail ourselves of your wisdom again soon.

Heather:                     Thank you very much, it’s been a delight and I look forward to talking to your audience. And to anybody who’s listening, good luck.

Michael:                     Well thank you, I appreciate your time. Have a great day. Bye Heather.


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