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Organizational Development English Library

O.D. Institute Newsletter

 August 2005


Marketing Your Consulting Practice

Terry Armstrong, RODC

Since 1995 I have offered a workshop on consulting at the Academy of Management.  For the last four years I have presented this course with David Jamieson and it always fills quickly.  One of the perennial questions asked is “How do I market my practice?”  Most of the people who come to this workshop have a lot of knowledge and skill in their field, which ranges from strategy to OD.  Most are competent academics and managers and some have even done consulting as an employee in a consulting firm.  However, many do not have a clear idea of their market.  Without a clear idea of the practice it is virtually impossible to begin marketing.  There are a number of ways to determine one’s practice.  Between us we have over sixty years of consulting and besides managing our own small practices we have consulted to a number of firms both large and small who want to improve their marketing – who doesn’t?

It is amazing how many small and medium size consulting firms aren’t laser clear about their market.  Sole proprietors and academics that are freelance consultants are often the worst.  When we ask:” What kind of consulting do you do we often hear such things as: “O.D., HR. Strategy or Management Consulting.”  Even though David and I have both been consulting for a lifetime it doesn’t help us much to know that a person is doing O.D. consulting – thousands of people are.  What we need to know is the person’s consulting mission and how it differs from the competition, Sure there are brand name consultants who are well known, others associated with signature institutions or have published a book who don’t have to be so clear, but for the rest of us being laser clear about what we offer clients is essential.

Here are some examples of successful marketing messages:

I am a professor of OD at XXX University with a solo practice in Dayton, Ohio.  

We are a small regional consulting firm specializing in helping family businesses manage organizational issues.

The OD Group is a consortium of multi-talented consultants who transform high-growth start up firms into ongoing successful businesses.

XYZ Company facilitates strategic planning meetings for non-profit companies in the Boston area.

ABC Professionals is a diversified consulting firm with a worldwide network of 3,000 change management professionals who help multi-national companies manage global change projects.

    You can instantly tell that these are very different kinds of consulting firms/practices.  Of course, all five messages need to be flushed out some more in order to turn out brochures and other marketing documents.  But getting a clear focus on your unique market is the first and most essential step.

    We need to think about our markets and marketing message not so much for our clients but for ourselves.  The more clarity the better!  Too often we find that individuals and firms are fearful of being too clear.  They are afraid that their message may turn some people off.  Indeed it may, but just as it turns some people off it will turns others on.  It communicates quickly if the firm can help them or not.  Like the first line in a good novel it lets the potential client know if they want more information.  It hooks them or it doesn’t.

    When I find resistance to writing a tight marketing message I often ask.  “Well, whom do you want for a client?”

    Sometimes people answer quite specifically like.  “I want to facilitate daylong teambuilding sessions with local organizations on the weekends.”  That may not be the most exciting marketing message in the world, but it certainly is a practical one and it does what a marketing message is suppose to do  -- help identify clients and let clients know what you do.  What organizations in the area might be in need of team facilitation on the weekends?  There won’t be many but there are probably a few.  Non-profit organizations and small companies who have “Scrooge” for a boss come to mind.  There might even be several large organizations who can only free up people on the weekends for some reason and are willing to pay employees overtime just to get them to a team building meeting on a Saturday.  It also differentiates from those organizations that only do daylong teambuilding sessions during the week.  

    Narrowing of scope helps target your market.  Unless you have a very large marketing budget it is generally best to leave the mass market to the big boys and I am not even sure there is a mass market in consulting.  Through the last 35 years I’ve had a lot of different clients in a wide range of industries around the world but gained all of these clients through targeted marketing.  Sure I’ve called on clients that turned me down because my firm wasn’t big enough, I didn’t understand their industry, my fees were too high or they simply preferred to use someone else.  Surprisingly, a number of firms that initially turned me down later searched out my services, because I was clear about what I do and what kind of clients I want to work with.  Over the years my marketing message has changed, as my abilities and knowledge have grown.

    Marketing your consulting practice is simple.  Be very clear about what you do have a unique market niche and let people know about your practice in every conceivable way.  If you don’t find a niche immediately play around with your basic idea, buy a “Creative Whack Pack” and get creative.

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