Snag Your First Paying Client
as an Independent Consultant – Part 1
You’re taking the bold leap to independent consulting and solopreneurship. You have amazing ideas that you can’t wait to publicize. You know it’s risky, you know it’s hard work, you know it creates flexible options, and you know it can be fulfilling… BUT the scariest idea is getting that FIRST paying client.
Who are they and where will they come from? How will they find you and how do they reach the decision to pay?
First, you have to see the big picture of how you will interact with a potential client. We all know that the journey from “aware your product exists” to “paying client” is more complex than ‘show them your amazing product and watch as they open their wallet‘. Your first critical task is to identify potential clients and create the right pathway to support them in becoming clients.
Here is a typical client journey that an independent consultant, like you, should aim for:
- AWARE: people who know your product exists
Everyone starts off unaware of your product. Even if another company offers your type of product, your specific product is unknown. Your first step is to build awareness. Many solopreneurs skip ahead to the sales process, but few people want to buy a product they’ve never heard of.
Deploy as many awareness campaigns as you can. Focus on reaching people who experience The Problem (the general pain point that your product solves) and want The Benefit (their condition when the problem is solved). Remember to track whether your campaigns are working!
- RELEVANT: people who have a problem your product solves
Focus your messaging on how well you solve The Problem. That’s what clients care about. Features are nice, but people really gravitate toward the picture of the world where their problem is gone (The Benefit). Do they need it solved today or 6 months from now? Clarify how their world will improve with The Problem removed. What is life like with The Benefit? Find and speak to the audience that cares most about solving The Problem and obtaining The Benefit right now.
- CURIOUS: people who investigate your product or content
Now you have people who experience The Problem and want to make it disappear. Don’t try to sell just yet! This is the time to generate curiosity about your product. Make people want to ask questions and dive deeper. Invite them to explore.
Share your thoughts in a blog, be a guest on a podcast, distribute a newsletter, host a webinar, post on social media, write an e-book, publish a white paper, speak at an event, record a presentation, etc. Go beyond simplistic steps and explain your thinking. Give them a peek at your personality! In corporations, that kind of self-expression is limited, but as a solopreneur consultant, your personality is a critical distinguisher. Use it! That’s part of your unique product offering.
- ENGAGED: people who interact with you or your content
Your audience’s curiosity is piqued. They’re doing a bit of research on your product. They’re reading your content, listening to your presentation, or attending your free webinar. Capitalize on their initial interest and encourage them to engage. Prompt them to ask questions, leave comments, send you an email, take a screenshot of an infographic, “like” a post, reshare your content, etc.
The interaction helps build a relationship while adding nuance, clarity, and depth. The detail establishes your credibility and expertise, allowing your audience to trust that your product is a quality solution to The Problem.
- CONVINCED: people who want to purchase your type of product
Here is a tricky step. Your audience loves your content and finds you credible. They’re convinced! Right? Not quite yet! They see your connection to The Problem, but they hesitate. Why? While they understand that your type of product could solve The Problem – a general issue that many others can experience, they don’t yet feel sure that your specific product will solve Their Problem (the client’s distinct issue). Each potential client has a unique mixture of situational factors surrounding Their Problem.
This is where developing a quality product comes into play. What exactly is the service you offer? Are there resources? A connected community? Industry tie-ins? Do the service components clearly add up to The Benefit? Meaningful descriptions, testimonials, and examples are also key. The audience needs to know that your particular approach to solving The Problem matches their circumstances enough to solve Their Problem and reach The Benefit.
- CONVERTED: people who purchase and pay for your product
Speaking of matching circumstances… the conversion step needs great attention and care. Many consultants get stuck here. Your audience sees your connection to Their Problem and they trust your expertise, but they haven’t purchased the product. Lots of outside factors can disrupt this process. Most are not in your control (ie. potential client is limited to specific purchase dates by company policy), but some can be changed (ie. your payment processing webpage is broken). Is your product needed today or next year? Is your product overpriced or underpriced? Are payment plans expected in your industry?
Focus here on digging into your potential client’s situational context to connect them to The Benefit. A consultation call is a powerful go-to to close this step. Ask questions to make sure you understand The Benefit that is meaningful to your audience. Once there, clarify how your product is a pathway to The Benefit.
- ACTIVE: people who use your product correctly
Congratulations, you have a new paying client! Conversion is only a short-term win, though. Keep planning! When building a truly sustainable consultancy, you have to plan past the purchase. Ultimately, there should be an opportunity for the client to repurchase in the future.
The first step toward that reality is making sure they maximize your product. Using it wrong or abandoning it leads to unhappy clients who don’t repurchase, who write angry reviews, and who actively warn their networks to avoid your product. No one wants that.
First, map out the Active Client Experience and then focus on delivering a spectacular, high-quality product. You want clients that are Wow-ed, not just satisfied. They should be so excited about your product experience that they want to tell their friends about it, write a glowing review, give you constructive feedback, provide a testimonial, broadcast their experience on social media, renew their contract, etc. Happy clients = business boosters. THIS is how you build a sustainable, consistent client base. Making clients feel like you did them a favor by allowing them to purchase and benefit from your product.
Be sure to collect feedback from the client to discover issues to immediately troubleshoot or wins to celebrate. Explicitly ask for testimonials and referrals. They can’t read your mind, so make clear how you want them to support you.
- ENDED: people who finish using your product
Reaching this step is truly an accomplishment. The client paid for your product and used it appropriately. Now you want to walk them through the Ending. What does the end-of-use for your product look like? Is there an off-ramp or send-off? Have you requested a referral or testimonial yet? What should the parting experience be?
In addition to closing out the client’s current engagement with you, set the stage to re-engage them. Is there a product-relevant community they could participate in? Are there peer-supports or product alumni resources? Follow-up check-ins? Ongoing publications?
Would the client benefit from repurchasing or upgrading in the next month? Next quarter? Next year? Next 5 years? Next 10 years? Every brick you put in place to support your business should include considerations of how it helps you and your clients, now and in the future.
Curious about how to get started down this path? The following Briefs share strategies and tactics for navigating the early stages of the client journey:
- Part 1 – Targeted Client Journey
- Part 2 – First Clients Strategy #1: Get Client Referrals from Your Network
- Part 3 – First Clients Strategy #2: Get Work or Testimonials from Past Employers and Coworkers
- Part 4 – First Clients Strategy #3: Get Leads from Fresh Outreach
- Part 5 – First Clients Strategy #4: Engage Leads with Blog or Social Media Content