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  • Writer's pictureDeb Zahn

Getting Consulting Clients: Your Value as a Consultant is Not Your Resume

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

For professionals who are trying to get hired for a job, a resume is key. People hiring employees want to know where you worked before, what your title was, and what you did.

When you become a consultant…well, I hate to break it to you, but no one cares about your resume, no matter how impressive it is.

You Are What You Can Do, Not What You Have Done

The deal is that you are no longer applying for jobs. You are seeking business, which is profoundly different. It doesn’t mean that your past is unimportant. It only means that prospective clients care about what you can do for them, not your former jobs.

That is a tough switch for many professionals to make. And it causes some of the most common mistakes consultants make. Mistakes like sending emails to their network that regurgitate their resume and would be 3-4 pages if you printed it out. Or they have meetings with prospective clients and launch into a description of their past jobs and titles. Rarely do these approaches yield any business because the focus is not where it should be: on the client.

It was a tough change for me when I started consulting. I made those same mistakes. In fact, I wasn’t successful at getting my first client until I could articulate how I could help them avoid threats and risks and take advantage of emerging opportunities in our market.

The market I am in was on the brink of a major shift. No one knew exactly how it was going to take hold, when it would unfold, or what the implications would be. But something big was going to happen, and I had to frame my value relative to it if I was going to get clients. Once I embraced that, getting clients got so much easier. I would talk about the market shift, warn against the risks of not staying out ahead of it, highlight potential opportunities they could pursue because of it, and share how I could help them do all of that.

What is Your Value as a Consultant?

The best way to define your value is to look at it from a client’s perspective. This is why defining your ideal consulting client is so important! It answers the question: Who am I valuable to?

Then ask yourself questions about the client. What problems do they need solved? What threats do they need addressed? These are called their pain points. They are what often will spur them to action and, importantly, make them want to hire someone to help them.

But that’s not all. Also ask what goals and aspirations they want to achieve. What are the opportunities they want to seize or create? These are their gain points and what will also often drive them to hire a consultant.

Then consider what you can do relative to their pain and gain points. Consider what you think they may be willing to pay a consultant to help them with, and what would make you the best consultant for them to hire.

In short, you need to define your value proposition.

Your value proposition is one sentence, maybe two. It’s clear, substantive, and compelling. Your value proposition is a description of what you can help a client in a specific market and niche achieve. Your value proposition should include a brief description of what you offer that will achieve the client’s desired outcomes and why you are uniquely qualified to help them achieve those outcomes.

If you’re not sure what I mean by brief, let me put it this way: it should fit on the front of a t-shirt and be easily read with social distancing.

Much More than a Sales Pitch

Your value proposition will work for you in other ways, beyond attracting clients. It will also help you make decisions that will enable you build a sustainable business. Once you have your value proposition, you can develop marketing and outreach strategies and messages that will resonate with the clients you plan to pursue for business. You’ll know how you need to stay on top of their markets, needs, and demands, which will keep your value high. It also will help you know when a client is not a great match for the specific value you provide, and, therefore, you should say no to working with them.

Your Value Proposition Should Adapt and Evolve

Once you do your value proposition, it can be tempting to hold fast to it. But hold off on getting it tattooed just yet...

Once you create your value proposition and have ensured it’s succinct, clear, and laser targeted, you need to test it and refine it to make sure it yields the results you want. Grab a few people in your market and test it out on them. Get their feedback and then refine your language, your niche, your offer, or all of it. Don’t ever be afraid to refine. Refinement is a consulting superpower so embrace it! Next, test your value proposition with prospective clients. Pay attention to how they respond (or don’t) and what the outcome is. Then refine it again.

You also should adapt it when you are meeting with prospective clients so it is a fit with their particular circumstances and pain and gain points. When you do your homework before meeting with them the first time, use that information to make adjustments. Never relax into a generic description that feels "close enough" to you. The prospective client should feel like you created it just for them. They should feel like you—of all consultants—really get them. Because clients hire consultants who get them and offer value that is specific to them.

Over time, your value proposition should evolve to match what’s happening in your market and niche; your developing expertise, knowledge, and skills; and shifts in who your ideal client is. Normalize updating it regularly and as needed.

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