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Episode 138: Knowing When to Do Marketing and Outreach—with Deb Zahn

Deb Zahn: I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. In this podcast, I am actually going to go into marketing and outreach. And so obviously marketing and outreach for the purpose of getting consulting clients, but I'm going to talk about what the difference is between the two, why they matter, and how they work together.

Now, before I dive into that, I did want to mention that you have an opportunity to learn a whole heck of a lot more about how to get consulting clients in my online course, Get More Consulting Business Faster. And it is exactly what it sounds like. It's where I share with you all the ways that I am able to bring in income and bring in the income I want and ultimately do the work I love and ultimately have the life that I want. So this course will teach you my process for how I get clients.

And it's got some really cool bonuses. So I encourage you to take a look at the show notes and check it out because in addition to the course, you're going to get access to a free minicourse that's going to help you to define some really key things in your consulting business, some of which we're going to going to talk about on this podcast, plus there's an opportunity to get some coaching from me. So check it out.

Let's dive into the topic at hand though. And I want to start with defining some terms because it's important before we get into outreach and marketing and how each of those help. Whatever it is your business goals are, we've got to define some terms so that we know what we're working with. The first is understanding the difference between a lead and a prospect. You've probably heard these terms get thrown around in different ways and you may not know what they mean. So I'm just going to define them.

A lead is a contact that you have not qualified. And qualified is sort of business-speak for saying that you don't know if they'd make a good client for you. You haven't actually done anything to sort out whether or not they would make the right client for you, and you would be the right consultant for them. So they're a lead.

A prospect on the other hand is someone that you've actually qualified. So that means that you've done something to ascertain that you would likely be a good fit for them and they would be a good fit for you. So it's worthy of extra time and attention to try and get them to become a client.

One of the key things that you're trying to do to get business is to generate leads through multiple means. I'm going to talk about what some of those are, and then turn those leads into prospects. So they actually work together. Once you turn those leads into prospects, which means you've qualified them and now they're a prospect, the goal then is obviously to turn those prospects into clients. And that's the process that we're talking about. And that's the definition of the two of those. So you have to understand those in order to understand how marketing and outreach actually work.

The distinction between them is really important, and it's twofold. The first is when you first start, most of your initial clients will likely come through people that already know you, they already respect you, they have a sense of what you do, but in order to ultimately have a sustainable and profitable consulting business, you're going to have to expand beyond that initial pool so that over the long term, you have a healthy pipeline. And that means that you have to create new leads and you have to get new prospects. You have to get other folks who are coming in the door with who you're going to be able to do wonderful things.

The other reason that the distinction is important is that you will do different things to generate leads than you would to cultivate prospects. And you want to make sure that you're applying the right strategies for the right purposes at the right time so that your effectiveness is really high because you don't want to spend a lot of time doing business development that doesn't actually yield anything. So understanding those distinctions and how they work together is really important.

So that then takes us back to marketing and outreach and kind of what's the difference between those. So I'm going to give a real simple definition. I've seen much more complex versions and I never really fully wrap my head around it. So I'm going to keep it really simple. So marketing, think of it as this is that you're turning acquaintances or strangers into leads. So these are folks that come in your pipeline, you're going to qualify them, hopefully turn a subset of them into prospects and then a subset of them will become clients. But these are folks who either don't know you or don't know you well, they haven't yet figured out if they should pay attention to you and you're turning them into leads so that you've got something to start with.

Outreach is where you're reaching out directly. So that's where you're going to reach out directly to leads, you're going to reach out to prospects and you're going to qualify them. And if you are a fit, if they're a fit for you and you're a fit for them, you're going to try and get business from them. So marketing is much more about laying the groundwork to get folks that you could potentially reach out to and then outreach is where you directly reach out to them.

Now, you can do outreach, and I'm going to talk about that, without marketing, and you're going to do a lot of that hopefully at the beginning of your consulting journey, but when you're doing marketing, marketing is not an end in and of itself. It's for the purpose of giving you the right folks for you to reach out to who are likely going to end up with you getting business. Now you might be asking yourself, well, Deb, do I have to do both or is there one that's more important than the other? And I've had a lot of guests who've talked about this and I'm going to give you my take on it.

I would say both are important, but when you apply which one depends on where you are in building your consulting business. So if you're just starting your consulting business and you don't yet have a full pipeline of work, I tend to emphasize outreach. And what I mean by outreach in this instance is separate and apart from marketing. It means reaching out to folks who are already in your network and getting access to your network’s network. So you have your networks of folks who know you, they like you, they potentially want to work with you. They might be a really good fit for you. You're going to do direct outreach to them, but then you also want anyone who's in your network to give you access to their network.

And at the beginning, that's the type of outreach that I tend to emphasize because it tends to have higher yields. Why? Because if you're reaching out to people who know you, they respect you, they know what you can do or they have a sense of what you can do, it's going to be easier to get business. The lead times for getting that business are often shorter because you don't really have to spend as much effort convincing folks of your fabulousness, right? Convincing them of the types of things that you can do because they already know you.

And it works the same when you're reaching out to people who are connected to the people in your network. So if they hear about you from someone that they trust and that person is vouching for you and they're lending you your credibility, then again, it's much easier to get business from them and it tends to be shorter lead times. It's much easier to even get a meeting with them, which is really the key to doing the outreach is you have to actually get in front of people either virtually or eventually when there's not a pandemic, in front of people and see if it makes sense for you folks to work together. That's the benefit of outreach. And that's the type of outreach that I think is important to do at the beginning.

Now, the one thing I want to say about doing outreach is it's not all good. So there is fruitful outreach and there's unfruitful outreach. You of course want to fall into the category of where it's fruitful, meaning that it's actually going to get you the results that you want. So for example, and I've seen this and it pains me when I see this is if you are reaching out to everyone in your network as if they are all the same and you're spending the same amount of time and energy on everyone and you're basically going out and saying the same exact thing to everybody and you're just really trying to get those big numbers in hopes that somebody's going to say yes to you.

What inevitably happens with that approach, and again, I've seen it many, many times, is that it'll keep you busy. So you'll be able to say, "Yeah, I was doing business development," but you're not necessarily going to get a lot of business because that's more of the throwing spaghetti against the wall approach. It's not deliberate, it's not thoughtful, and you're not targeted enough that you're going to get more yeses than you get nos, or then you get ghosted. So you want to really make sure that you are clear in how you're doing your business development.

One of the reasons you want to do that is because you're not getting paid to do business development. If you spend all of your time just trying to go out and get anybody to hire you, that's time that you're actually not generating revenue and getting income in your pocket. So you want to avoid as much as possible spinning your wheels. And spinning your wheels is a sad but common phenomenon, particularly when folks are in their first couple of years of consulting. And the problem with that is one, it doesn't get you the results, it doesn't get you the income you want, but it's also really discouraging.

So you might wrongly believe that you're not cut out to be a consultant because you're doing a whole bunch of stuff, but you're not getting any bites. You're not actually getting any clients. And you might think that's because of you. That people don't actually value you rather than your approach to doing outreach is not a fruitful approach. So you want to avoid that frustration. You want to avoid the spinning the wheels. And one of the best anecdotes...Not anecdotes, antidotes. See, I'm using a word that I don't use all the time, which is why I can't say it. One of the best ways, I'll say that, to stop the spinning is to get really clear about who you are, what you do, and who you're trying to do it with.

And because you can learn all the techniques and the strategies for getting clients. I teach those. I teach those in my course, but if you don't have the clarity and focus that you need about what you should be spending your time on, you're going to end up spinning your wheels. So what do I mean by that? What I mean by that, and you've heard me say this on other podcasts is taking the time to define your ideal client, so that's who you most want to be working with and what their attributes are and all of that good stuff, your market, and your niche because I do think particularly at the beginning, going narrow can be really helpful because then you're going to know what to do. And then ultimately once you define here's who I want to work with, here's where they are, then what's my value proposition? What is actually valuable to them that they are willing to pay for that I can do? What are those results that I can help them achieve?

And now I know what conversations to go have. That's going to help you know who should I be reaching out to? So now you're not going to be treating everybody as if they're the same. You're going to know exactly this makes sense for me to reach out to these folks. This is what I can say when I reach out to them that's actually going to be valuable to them when I talk to them. And you're going to get more yeses because of that.

Now you've probably heard me say this on other podcasts. I did not do that when I first started. I didn't even do close to that. I did the reaching out to everybody and their dog that I knew. And I had a good time. Like I had good meetings and lunches and drinks and all that stuff and I started to go down into that bad place that I talked about where I was feeling discouraged. And I felt like it was essentially a referendum about my ability to be a consultant and my value and my worth because why not just stop it at your value? Why not go all the way to your own self-worth? And that's what I did. I went all the way there and started to get really discouraged.

And it wasn't until I backed up and I said, who am I reaching out to for what purposes? And got that clarity about the type of business that I think I should get because of all of these really clear reasons that I've thought through. And then I knew who to reach out to and I knew what to do. So that was my cure for feeling like crap about myself. So what I would encourage the holiday season, give yourself the gift of clarity and that will enable you to focus on the contacts that actually makes sense, the folks in your network or the folks who are in your network’s network and you'll know who it makes sense to reach out to and you'll get higher results.

And that type of outreach at the beginning of your consulting business journey makes more sense than spending a whole bunch of time trying to get strangers to pay attention to you, let alone trying to get strangers to actually meet with you and to have those meetings go well because they care that you're actually in the room with them. Now, in my course, I do dive into how to identify the right folks to reach out to, my what I call medium hot and hot prospects and what to do with them when you reach out and how to prep and do all that good stuff, as well as how to reach out to your network and get access to other networks. So I go into all of those details in the course.

But the main thing for you to remember is it's often how new clients…and by that I mean generally in your first couple years when your pipeline maybe isn't as regularly full as you want it to be. It's how you get that initial work in your pipeline. I always emphasize that at the beginning. But consulting is a long game, right? It's not just about the next group of clients that you actually get in your pipeline, a sustainable and profitable consulting business means that you're going to look in the short term, you're going to pay attention to the midterm, but you're also thinking long term. You're thinking about who's going to be coming in your pipeline, not just immediately, but six months from now, 12 months from now. And that's what's going to enable you to make sure that your pipeline is flowing with the type of business that you want to be doing and it's filled with the clients that you want to be working with.

So if you think about marketing, it's that longer game. It's about the future of your pipeline of work. You need to pay attention to it now because there's often longer lead time. So from the moment someone becomes aware of you, right? However, it is you're doing your marking, and I'll get into that in a moment, from that first moment of contact to contract, it often can take a long time. And so it's important to actually start that early because most folks when they first become aware of you aren't immediately going to hire you. It happens, but it doesn't happen regularly. It's not something you can rely on. And so often you have to nurture those new relationships over time. You have to take them from a stranger who's now aware of you down a path to where they actually want to work with you. And I'll talk about what that is in a moment.

So the other thing I want to say is a lot of marketing right now when people hear marketing, they think of social media. And when I first started consulting, I was actually trying to remember if social media existed, which means I'm old. I think it did, but it's not something that was as regularly used as what folks use today. I didn't do it a lot when I started, but that doesn't mean I wasn't doing marketing because it's not the only way to do marketing. I was speaking at conferences. I was creating valuable content that I was known for. I was sharing that content. So I did other things that were in the marketing realm. And that's the thing to remember is to not just rely on one thing. You want to consider what the right marketing mix is that's going to get you in front of the right folks, get them to be aware of you in the right way and enable you to be able to nurture those relationships over time.

So that could be creating and sharing valuable content, things that are actually helpful to them, getting on podcasts. That's a great way to do it because again, that's another way to get access to a broader network than the one you have today and demonstrate your value doing your own podcast. It'd be a lot of work. I don't encourage everyone to do it, but it is a fantastic way for you to not only share your value, but also get in contact with people. As some of my other podcast guests have said, have people on as guests who might end up being clients, but you can also do guest blogs, speaking at events, things like that. And you want to think of what the right marketing mix is that yields essentially what the results that you want are.

And the goal is again, you want to target where your ideal clients are. So these are your right-fit clients, the ones who are more likely to hire you and you'll be able to do wonderful things for, and then you want to show up there and you want to give them a taste of what your value is so that they like you. And generally, the path that marketing folks talk about, and they talk about this in far more detail than I do, but the easy path to think of is you want folks to first know about you. So this is the know, like, and trust factor so that you want them to know about you. They have to become aware of you. Remember they're strangers or maybe they're acquaintances, but they don't know you at all in this context. Maybe they know you in another context. And so they need to know you who you are, what you do.

They also need to be able to like you. So that's where you move them from general awareness to now they're actually interested in you. Maybe they have a little desire to know more about you, but you've been able to connect with them in a way, perhaps sharing content or whatnot that they're like. You know what? I like how that person approaches things. I like the things that they know. I think they're hilarious. I've gotten work for reasons I shouldn't have gotten work. And all are revolving around people actually liking me, but that's where you want to nurture that. And you're going to do different things when you're marketing to generate the awareness and then generate people actually being interested in you and liking you.

And then the last one is you want them to trust you. You want them to trust you with their hopes and their aspirations. You want them to trust you with their problems and the things that are driving them crazy and worrying them, right? You will share a sort of different marketing info, you will do different marketing things at each of those stages. So you don't want to just do marketing or you're just saying all the time, "Hey, here's who I am and here's what I do." People might know you, but you're not actually moving them towards liking you and trusting you. And they have to do both of those things generally before they hire you.

So you also want to be doing marketing that gets them to actually like you. So that's where you might share educational content and things that are actually helpful and valuable to them and not just about who you are promoting yourself. And then trusting you is where they're going to get a better sense of if you're a right fit for them. So that's where you would share things like case studies that show, oh, look, somebody else had a problem similar to mine. This is what they did to enable them to help solve that problem or achieve that aspiration. Testimonials are great. Things that will push them over the edge of I'm interested and I'm kind of desiring to know more about this person, but push them over the edge into actually now I got to talk to this person because they're able to do the things that I care about and I trust, I trust my future. I trust the things I care about in their hands.

And so when you're doing marketing, you want to be able to hit all of those things because at any given time, you don't know if you're going to see something and it hits the right note with the right person. And suddenly that lead turns into somebody that you're actually going to have a conversation with.

So those are sort of the important ways to think about, but again, just like with outreach, there is good and there is bad marketing. So not all awareness is good awareness and not everything makes people like you or trust you. So you want to be really deliberate and thoughtful. And again, this is where getting crystal clear about your ideal client, your market and niche and your value proposition is so essential because that will form the basis of your marketing strategies. That will enable you to attract the right clients because you're able to communicate to them in ways that they care about who you are, what you do, and why they should care and why you might be a fit for them.

And a common mistake that I see that folks make when they're trying to use marketing to get clients or to generate leads and warm people up is they'll just throw anything out in marketing. And often the main mistake I see is that their social media posts or the things that they're posting don't actually match the clients they're trying to get business from or the type of business they're trying to get, or they're so all over the map that if I look at several of their social media posts and I cannot say, oh, yeah, yeah, this is who they want to work with and this is what they want to do because it's just all over the place, it's a scattershot approach, then it's not going to be effective. And again, it's going to take a lot of time, it's going to take a lot of energy and it's not going to have that yield that you want to have for all that time and energy you're putting in.

So you want to make sure that you have that focus and clarity. And then once you have that focus and clarity, you can say, OK, if this is who I want to work with, where are they? What do they care about? What are their pain points? What are the things they're actually trying to gain? What is it that I can do relative to that’s going to be valuable to them and where are they? That's when you start to then do marketing and start to do outreach that's going to be much more effective. Because just showing that you're knowledgeable isn't going to attract the right folks. And if it doesn't tie directly to the value that you can offer that ultimately you want to build your consulting business on, then you're going to at best have wasted your marketing time and energy. And at worse, you're going to confuse people in your market.

And confusing people in your market, it doesn't mean that they just look at it and they're like, "Oh, OK, whatever." Most people will look at it and say, "Well, I guess that's who they are," because it sends a really bad signal to essentially communicating I'm not clear. Would you like to hire me anyway? And generally, the answer to that is no. No, we would not because what we're seeing is confusion and we don't want to pay for confusion. Because often they have enough of that. They want to pay for clarity, and they want to pay for things moving forward. And if they don't see that when you're doing marketing, even if they're not fully conscious of it, it's still sending a signal that they're going to pick up and that's not going to help you.

So here is the other thing that I'd say about marketing. In the same way that you have to do both marketing and outreach, marketing is just one tool in your toolbox for getting clients. So it can never be the only one. And what I have also seen, particularly with the rise of social media, is that a lot of consultants try and just do marketing or just do social media marketing and I've seen very few be able to build a robust and sustainable consulting business unless their business is about social media marketing. Maybe that's a little bit easier because you're all the time demonstrating how good you are at it, but most consulting businesses cannot be something that's actually filling your pipeline if all you're doing is marketing.

And I know that it can be easy to use marketing as a crutch. So if that's where you're trying to get most of your business from and you're never actually doing some of the hard things because it makes you feel vulnerable, you're going to have a hard time getting clients. And I'm using the word vulnerable very particularly because if you think about it, it's really easy to do a social media post. You're alone, you're at home, you're in your pajamas. It's a lot harder to reach out to someone and talk to them about potentially giving you business because they could reject you to your face. And that's really difficult.

Now, again, there are strategies and techniques you can learn to do to be able to minimize that by getting in front of the right folks and talking about the right things and being well-prepared. But it's still much more vulnerable than doing marketing where you're back here and maybe you get discouraged if you don't get as much engagements or people aren't clicking and things like that, but you're still in your pajamas. You're still alone. You're not in front of somebody who's saying no to your face, but you have to. The purpose of marketing is to generate leads that you can then qualify and, if they're a fit for you, you can move them down the path to actually hiring you. That's the purpose of it.

So you actually have to do both. So in the same way, you're not just going to do one type of marketing, you're going to do a mix based on who your ideal client is, your market, your niche, your value, where they are, all that good stuff. You also must do outreach. It has to be part of the process that you're using to get folks in your pipeline. And I know that that can be daunting, and it can be scary when you're first starting out. So again, I'm going to go back to what my offer was at the beginning, which is if you need help figuring this out, so you need help getting that clarity that I just told you was going to make everything easier and doing the right things to get clients, then I do have a way that you can learn how to do that. It's my online course, Get More Consulting Business Faster, and it's where I essentially open my playbook.

So I bring in six, seven figures every single year. This is how I do it. And my goal is to reduce suffering. Someone asked me that recently later like "Deb, why do you do this?" And the phrase that jumped to my mind is I want to reduce suffering because I remember how frustrated and as I said, as much as it hit self-worth at the beginning, and I want you to skip that. I want you to skip those frustrating mistakes that I made, that tons of new consultants made, and I want you to be able to get to the good part. And the good part is getting paid well to do the work that you love for the clients you really want to work with.

And I am blessed to be able to do that, but that is not a passive blessing. That is also a blessing that I have helped create. And I continually do things to nurture and to make sure that I'm able to do that. Those are the things I'm going to share with you. And don't forget, I got some good bonuses because I know having the ability to get some coaching from me and ask really pointed questions that are going to help you solve an immediate problem or take immediate action, there are ways for you to do that. And you get my minicourse where you're going to define your ideal client, your market, your niche, and your value proposition. And that's going to be the building block for how you're going to be able to make the decisions about the type of marketing and outreach you're going to do. So that's what my offer is.

So that is the podcast for the day. Hopefully that was helpful. And I will be back next week with more good content for you.

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or if you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up and a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything. But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one is, if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those.

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So as always, you can go and get more wonderful information and tools at Thanks so much. I will talk to you on the next episode. Bye-bye.

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