Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s about getting together to cook a delicious meal, eating together, and doesn’t come with the pressure of gifts.
After Thanksgiving passes, there’s inevitably a huge amount of uneaten food. (Note: we Americans call the uneaten food simply “leftovers.”)
No one prefers leftovers. We prefer a fresh meal. We prefer variety, not the same thing we ate last night.
We like new.
The Thanksgiving leftovers may sit in the refrigerator for days, still perfectly delicious and ready to eat. But when we don’t eat them, the food starts to spoil. And the longer we wait, the less likely we are to eat the leftovers.
Consulting businesses experience the same thing. Coming from both marketing and sales, I can tell you there’s a bigger focus on acquisition than retention, expansion, or referrals.Most of us want that new meal, even though there’s a bounty sitting in the refrigerator.
In this article, I’ll help you take stock of the assets you already have at your disposal to create new client work. This is the fastest path to creating revenue in your business, and I suspect you’ll identify at least one potential win before you finish reading this.
Get More Consulting Clients the Eas(ier) Way
Nothing is easy in business. There’s a spectrum of difficulty: some things are easier, and some things are extremely hard to do. And since you’re not just starting out, you have developed assets you can use to get more consulting projects without starting from scratch.
If you’ve been freelancing for at least a few months, with one or more clients, than you certainly have at least one of the following groups of people in your life (in order from most to least powerful to engage):
- Current clients
- Past clients
- Friends and Family
- Subscribers / visitors
It’s easy to forget about what you already have. And yet it’s there, and can be used to feed you. It’s just a matter of properly utilizing what you have.
Enter The Leftover Strategy.
Each group of people represents the possibility to create bigger projects, more projects, different fee structures, referrals, introductions, or pitch new products and services.
I’ve organized the article by the type of person rather than the type of project or outcome. The reason is simple: the way to apply The Leftover Strategy is by first identifying the people in your life you may be able to help (or contact), then identifying the business fit.
What follows is your blueprint for how to get more consulting clients with what you already have.
Current Clients: Your Biggest Opportunity
Of all your options to get more work in the door, your current clients are your best opportunity. Assuming you’ve built trust and rapport with them, and they’ve upheld their end of the client-consultant relationship, you’re already in good standing.
The bridge to trust is a long one. Not only do you have to like (or at least accept) each other, you also have to find a constructive working relationship. Mutual success and positive outcomes are crucial. In short, you’ve done a lot of hard work to build, maintain, and strengthen your relationship with your current clients.
The question isn’t “how can they pay me more?” It’s a much simpler one: “is there anything else I can do to help them?”
If you’re working with a client now, you may begin to investigate if there are opportunities to expand your current project. You may also think about a new project that you’ve identified, or even one you haven’t. The point is you need to investigate the possibilities, which means doing some deep thinking on your own, then having a conversation with your client.
Begin your investigation by asking yourself questions like:
- Is there a way to deepen the impact of the current project?
- Have I overlooked or missed anything when I developed my current project with the client?
- Is there new information that lends itself to new or different projects?
- Are there services I offer that would help the client, but they aren’t currently using or aware of?
- Are there upcoming requirements or initiatives that I could contribute to?
- Are there other people at my client’s company who could potentially use my help?
Once you mentally go through the above question list, you’ll have a much better idea of what help you can offer. It’s okay if you don’t identify new ways to help your client. Either way, I suggest setting up a call with your client to discuss your current project, how it’s going, and upcoming initiatives they have. No one is going to buy your services simply because you’re awesome – even though you probably are – so any offer you make must be tied to solving a problem or achieving a desired outcome. You may find it’s appropriate to make them aware of a service you can provide that’ll help them solve a problem during the call. If so, do it, so long as you’re acting in their best interest.
Instead of “pitching” your services, just provide enough information to raise your client’s awareness. If they’re interested in learning more, they’ll tell you. If so, set up a separate call to discuss the particulars so you can dive deeper into their problems and how you might solve them.
Another option involves changing the way you get paid. Namely, setting up a completely different fee structure to better align with the value you deliver, and how your client receives it. Common fee structures are hourly, fixed price (also known as project fees), retainers, revenue share, success fees, affiliate, and so on. There are too many options to cover here, but I’d recommend looking into fixed price fees and retainers if you haven’t already. Retainers work best for ongoing work with a predictable work plan and the need for access and faster response times. Fixed price fees are perfect for well-defined projects with a start and an end. If you’re billing hourly now, I highly recommend you find an alternative fee structure to help increase your project fees without significantly altering your current client arrangements.
Current clients are also a wonderful source of referrals. The most powerful referrals they can provide are internal (“internal referrals”). If you work with companies of 500+ employees, it’s likely that you can get internal referrals to help others within the organization. I recommend doing a little homework on LinkedIn to have a targeted request before asking for a referral. Similarly, you can browse LinkedIn to ask for referrals to people outside of their company (“external referrals”). Client referrals come with social proof baked in, so they’re a great way to meet new people while accelerating the trust and credibility curves.
Doing good work is your best long-term strategy for landing word of mouth referrals. Word of mouth is an elusive and complicated channel: it’s by far the most powerful source of leads, but you have very little control over it. I choose to focus on giving a delightful experience while overdelivering in order to spur word of mouth. My belief is this help-first strategy will, over time, yield enormous results. It takes time, and word of mouth is measured in years, not months.
Action List for Current Clients
- Ask questions to figure out how you might be able to provide more help to your current clients
- Schedule a call to learn more about your client’s current and upcoming situation, and how you can chip in
- Investigate whether alternative fee structures make sense for you and your client
- Ask for internal and external referrals, if appropriate
- Do great work, overdeliver, and delight your clients to increase the possibility of word of mouth referrals
Note: this list, and all lists to follow, are a process. Don’t expect to get it all done in a few days! Be patient, and regularly ponder whom and how you help.
Past Clients: Your Next Order of Business
Anyone who has paid you anything in the past is the most likely source of new business, and that applies to past clients, too.
Depending on the state of your relationship with your past clients, it might make the most sense to reach out to them to catch up to learn their goings on. Occasionally the act of reaching out to past clients will get them thinking about how you can help, and a new project may be in the works shortly. Sharing a recent case study that might apply to them, or even provide insight, is a powerful way to reignite a conversation.
Similar to suggesting a new fee structure to existing clients, you may have a new way of packaging your services that your past client has not seen. This can reframe the previous dynamic you had with a client, since your packaging provides a different benefit or way of engaging. For instance, if you offered your client presentation design services before, you may ask them if they would like a package that includes copy, storytelling, slide design, and coaching sessions to improve their speech. This provides significantly more value, and also allows you to charge for a fixed-fee package at a much higher price.
If you’re offering a new product or service that they’re unaware of, solicit your past clients’ feedback. It’s a way for you to refine your messaging, learn about the value you’d bring them, and make an offer without directly selling. If they want it…great! If not, you’ve learned a lot, rekindled your relationship, and they’ve had a chance to voice their expert client opinion. Everyone wins.
Finally, internal and external referrals are another great way to get more projects flowing your way. Unlike asking for referrals from current clients, you’ll have to be sure that you have good rapport with your past clients before you ask for referrals from them. I generally don’t recommend asking for referrals straight away, unless you don’t want new projects from your past client. You can also put them in a position to give you word of mouth referrals by sending a full description of the kinds of people you can help, and the problems you solve for them.
Action List for Past Clients
- Reconnect first! Start a conversation to see what they’ve been up to, and if there’s any way you can help.
- If you have a new product or service, ask them for feedback, and if it might be useful to them.
- Look for projects you can do for them, or offer newly packaged services.
- Ask for internal or external referrals if you can identify any that make sense (do your homework on LinkedIn first).
Friends and Family: They Already Love You
By now you get the idea: proactive thought about your clients, considering first how you can help them, is the best way to get more consulting gigs. There’s just no other viable way to build a thriving business.
If you haven’t asked before, your friends and family are probably willing and able to help you. You already know the categories of help you can offer, and the kind of help your friends can provide you:
- New projects: if you’re in a position to help – or even if you think it might be possible but you’re not sure – reach out and begin a conversation
- Internal referrals: does your friend or family member work at a company you might be able to help? Fantastic! Even if they’re not in a position to hire you directly, you can ask for a referral to the right person.
- External referrals: do they know anyone that you, too, would like to know? Ask! Again, it’s great if you go to LinkedIn first and ask for specific referrals. It also helps to give clear direction on the types of referrals you want: the types of problems you solve, for whom, and a bit about their job title and/or company.
Action List for Friends and Family
- Like an old high school yearbook, K.I.T. (keep in touch) with your friends and family, and let them know what you’re up to.
- Some of your friends and family may need your help directly, and many more will be in a position to give you internal and external referrals. Don’t confuse the two!
Subscribers: A Dormant Source of More Consulting Clients
Your current and past clients already trust you and have paid for your help. That’s why they’re at the top of the list. There’s another group of people who trust you, but may not have paid you anything.
That group is your email subscribers.
(Note: I know you may not have email subscribers. Even if that’s the case, read through this section to learn why it’s so powerful to have them.)
Unless you’ve scraped together or bought a list of email subscribers (and please don’t do that), whomever is on your list values your advice. What you say to them matters and has an impact. The difference between your email subscribers and your clients is that 100% of your clients are (or have been) interested in paying you money. Email subscribers may be there to soak up your wisdom for free, or maybe because they’re just discovering a problem you can help them fix, or maybe they’d like to do your job eventually.
Some of your email subscribers are potential clients, but many are there for the free information. That’s totally fine! Since they’re on your list and you’ve been so generous to give them useful, free information, you should tell them how you could help them, and how they could help you.
Without getting into the specifics of email marketing, here are a few ideas you could use to get more consulting projects by asking your email subscribers:
- New projects: sending a simple email like ”Is there anything I can do to help you?” is a good start. The key, once again, is to start a conversation. Instead of asking directly, you might write up a case study with a result you’ve recently gotten for a client and send that to your list, then follow up with the people who read it.
- Referrals: depending on your offering, you might ask directly for referrals, or incentivize referrals. I’m not a big fan of paying for referrals, because I only refer people who should be introduced based on who they are and what they want to accomplish. Still, I’ve seen a lot of productized services have a referral (or affiliate) program whereby they pay for referrals that turn into work.
- Forwards: there’s a good chance that people on your list know other people who would benefit from what you have to say. Insert a call to action asking them to forward along your email to friends or colleagues so you can organically expand your reach. This won’t turn into more projects today, but it raises your profile in the long run.
Action List for Subscribers
- If you don’t have an email list now, consider starting one!
- Send a case study or other results-driven information to your list periodically, then follow up with the people who read it.
- Focus on starting conversations, not selling. The goal is to find out if you can help, then if there might be a business reason to continue the conversation.
What to Do Next to Get More Consulting Clients
Here’s a riddle for you: if you could only do one thing today, but you have 5,000,000 options, what should you do? If you’ve ever felt that way, you’re not alone.
But if you’re looking to drum up some more consulting clients the quickest way possible, I recommend you follow this process.
Do This, In This Order
- Grab my free Leftover Strategy Spreadsheet to start building your list of people to contact. Then…
- Stay in close contact with your current clients to identify additional ways you can help the. Once you’ve done this, you can…
- Periodically give something to your past clients to keep the lines of communication open. Start a conversation with them every 3-6 months to see if there’s anything you can do to help. After you’ve spoken to your past clients, then…
- Make sure your friends and family know what you do, who you do it for, and how it helps them. Introductions and referrals are more likely to come if they know why they should introduce you, and to whom. Now that you’ve opened up conversations with your friends and family, last up is…
- Show your subscribers what you’re all about through results, writing, and content that’ll help them understand what you can do for them and people they know.
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