O.D. Institute Newsletter
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
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
Here are some examples of successful marketing messages:
a professor of OD at XXX University with a solo practice in
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
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
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
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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