In the early part of the last century, only a small percentage of the world’s working population was paid to make decisions. In this century, the non-decision-makers will be in the minority. Coaches, therapists, financial advisors are analogous to consultants because they get paid to listen to or advise their clients. As the information age and broadband technologies force more data our way, the decision-makers become the most important way to make sense of it all. At the core of the decision-makers are the consultants, advisors, coaches, and other professionals getting paid to make decisions. These are the people that we pay exorbitant amounts of cash to, just so they can help alleviate the stress of making the decisions on our own. The irony is that, as expensive as advisors are, they are often faced with enormous challenges to increase their own incomes. The answer to this conundrum often lies in making a significant investment in knowledge and education.
In each of these categories are an even smaller group of decision-makers…the opinion leaders. Some have organized themselves into highly professional groups while others roam the indecision universe selling snake oils and elixirs. Amongst the professionals are some truly exceptional people. On the amateur list are the stragglers from those businesses that have long since disappeared. Below are some pointers that will help you distinguish which group you will be placed in by your clients.
Apart from being generally smart people, the professional listeners and experts have a few things in common. Aspiring decision-makers may find these points useful in getting a better rate and ensuring they stay on the professional list.
- A consultant has two ways of increasing their one-on-one income: more hours or higher hourly rates (this does not account for passive income from other sources). The first option generally leads to unhappy loved ones and an early death. Obviously, in that case, the consultant needs to continually push for the highest possible rates on each job. Currently the top consultants are pushing up the rates based on their specialty and experience. You have to remain as expensive as possible without scaring clients away. Each new project or client is an opportunity to review your rate structure. Start as high as possible and negotiate down if necessary–remember you cannot negotiate back up.
- A consultant is paid to solve problems. This is the primary difference between a contractor and a consultant. By positioning yourself as the big league thought leader, you can become more than just a problem solver; you become a trusted advisor to your client. Gaining a client’s trust is the highest achievement a coach or consultant can aspire to. In order to be the thought leader in your area, you must know your facts before you start negotiations. You must also continually educate yourself and your client. The more you know, the more likely you will earn your client’s respect, gain their trust, and increase their willingness to pay you a higher rate.
- By specializing in one or more areas, you can start to carve yourself a niche. It also makes identifying clients/prospects much easier if you know what you can deliver with confidence. Specializing is good, not just because it enables you to increase your rates, but from a focus point-of-view as well. Consider the difference between what you pay your local general practitioner versus the specialist surgeon. However, a word of caution for coaches: don’t overspecialize because this will make you less likely to see the bigger picture. Losing perspective of the problem at hand is a common mistake.
- Making a mark is an important part of developing a reputation. If you know something that’s worth talking about, then write an article or speak at a conference. Let people hear what you know and leverage this to build new relationships. This is an excellent way to improve your visibility and potentially connect with future clients.
- Delivering the best work possible is the best advertising you can do (and the cheapest). Your work, or the resulting case studies, speaks loads of your capabilities and quality. The success of delivering on what you stand for gives you a great opportunity to also make your mark. In parallel with this is the ability to constantly stay on the radar by leveraging your successes in the press.
- Create a story. People are more interested in hearing an interesting account of how a consultant got their wings. Do you have an interesting story about how you solved a problem or had some positive impact on your client? These stories give consultants and coaches real personalities, increasing the chance of gaining new clientele.
- In my experience, there is a natural evolution from one successful project to another, but only if you satisfy these points. In most cases, you have to let your work be the spokesman for your business development efforts. Most freelance consultants and coaches won’t have too much time to market and advertise their skills. By working along the lines described in the points above, you can get closer to being ‘in-demand’. Better still, find a mentor or coach that can keep you focused on delivering your best work and getting the most out of your time.