In consulting, finding the right clients will literally make or break your business.
Clients are the lifeblood of your business and getting the right ones is hard, so you’ll want a good process in place for finding and evaluating them.
Good Clients vs. Bad Clients
Not all clients are created equal. Just because you find a potential client, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good fit. Good clients actually build your business. Bad clients are a waste of time and money.
Few good clients > Many bad clients
Respect your time
Trust your professional opinion
Have enough money
Pay on time
Friendly and easy to work with
Tight with paychecks
Make you eat many “non-billable” hours
Expect a lot for a little
Constantly question your decisions
Negative or argumentative
So where do you find new clients and how do you evaluate if they are a good fit?
Where to find Clients
1. Networking - This one is first because it’s the most important. Figure out where your clients hangout offline (Meetup and local events) and online (Facebook Groups, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram). You should also network with other people in your industry that can refer clients when they are too busy. Don’t expect to get a client at your first event (even though this can happen). The vast majority of the consultants I know find their jobs this way. Find the local meetup in your community and get involved. Once you are established in the community, you’ll know when new jobs come in and will have the first pickings. If you are already established in one community, consider finding another meetup where you can run into prospects. This isn’t a one time thing, it’s an all the time thing. Go to an event AT LEAST once a month!
2. Automated job postings - Many of the contracts we have found were from automated posts from groups or mailing lists we signed up for. For example, one of our local meetups, SD Ruby, has a Google Group and when anyone posts to the group, we receive an email. This method rocks because it notifies us right when the contract is posted. Rather than searching for contracts, the contracts are sent to you when they first become available. Seeing a contract first is a huge advantage because you can get in touch with the client before anyone else has filled the position. Great options for this include Google Groups for your industry or websites that send job notifications like LinkedIn, Indeed, or AngelList.
3. Recruiters - This route is a little harder to navigate, but has worked out great for us in the past. Only larger, serious companies work with recruiters. They can shortcut your way to finding larger contracts rather than sifting through clients that are too small. Again, you want contracts coming to you, rather than you having to search for contracts. LinkedIn is a great place to connect with recruiters. Just create or update your profile, search for [your industry] recruiter, and get connected. I guarantee you that you’ll start getting LinkedIn messages about potential job offers that you can turn into contracts.
Evaluating a Potential Client
Once you find a potential client, you’ll have to evaluate them. Much of this can be felt through a “gut feeling”. After a few meetings and emails with someone, you can start to get an idea of how they work. The key things you want to be looking for are:
Do they trust you and treat you like a professional?
Do they have enough money?
Do they respect your time?
Do they communicate well?
Do they have a clear idea of what they want accomplished?
There is no black/white or right/wrong answer to these questions. Some clients fall in the middle. However, if you can definitely tell that a client says things that put them in the bad client category, avoid them. Vice-versa, if you can tell a client respects your time, has the money, and communicates well, target them more aggressively to get the contract.