Following our recent live broadcast with panelists Adam Kantor and Evangelos (Giggs) Gikas where we discussed the challenges around marketing yourself as a new independent brand, here are a few snapshots of advice given by the panel.
1. What has been the biggest challenge you faced when it came to establishing a new, relatively unknown, personal brand?
Adam: “For me it’s always come down to trust. Regardless of how you talk about branding and marketing, it’s whether or not your client trusts you enough to take care of them and deliver and solve their problems. As an independent consultant, it’s critical to, at an early stage, building that early relationship and win your client’s trust to keep their interests first, to tell them the honest, hard things, and to build that long-term strategic-advisor role that allows them to feel comfortable to come to you on a regular basis.”
2. How do consultants successfully move out from under a globally-recognised consulting brand?
Giggs: “Echoing what Adam has said, forging relationships has always been very important for me. When the good times are good, you don’t necessarily need that much. But when things are tough, and inevitably they do become tough in business, that’s when you need good strong relationships with your entire network - and that extends to your customers and your supplier network – where you are able feed off each other, and where you build a mutual trust. You need to actively step out, network and seek to build these relationships. Just like any personal relationships, you need to keep the flame going. Secondly, you need to play to your strengths: look at how you can compete as an individual consultant in other areas. Look at what other advantages you offer that larger consultancies may not – is it your speed, your efficiency, your agility, your cost? And largely – always be focussed on constantly building your portfolio. You’ll need to work hard to keep staying relevant.”
3. What’s your advice when it comes to consultants who struggle to narrow down their field of expertise, and battle with the “I need to be everything to everyone” challenge?
Adam: “I can sympathise with that challenge. I struggled with that same process when I first started consulting independently. You can’t sell everything to everyone. It just doesn’t work. For me, when I started out, I tried to treat my own personal marketing just like any other project I would manage for any of my clients. I looked at it strategically and tried to understand and analyse myself to identify the skills that I felt comfortable selling to my clients. And still today, I try to understand the things I can do, and the things I really shouldn’t touch at all. And that helps me refine my own thinking. I also try and cross reference that with the industries that I’m industry in, the clients that I could reach. I realise that, just like any other project, I need to produce an output document for myself with a clear strategic plan. There may be new skills that I need to learn as industries change and evolve, there may be new knowledge that I need to focus on – but it’s about having a clear strategy about what I bring to the marketplace that I feel comfortable with.”
4. Where do consultants, who may not necessarily have the marketing knowledge, start? What are the practicalities of getting started.
Giggs: “The longer your runway is, the fussier you can be. In terms of getting started with marketing specifically – initially, when you’re branching out on your own – you become the product, the brand, the company. So you have to network, you have to reach out, you have to look at your personal contacts. You refer people and you be referred. It’s constantly about putting yourself out there. Sometimes you feel vulnerable – because you are the brand and the logo until the business grows. So you have to know your strengths and the strengths of your service and constantly promote it – and use the relevant channels to do that – whether it be social, or creating collateral – whatever you do, make sure it’s professional. Rather do less and undertake less, but do it well. You’ll be tempted to try and tackle it all. But keep focussed – the perception of you out there, regardless of whether you work out of your home, or a garage (as in the silicon valley era), needs to remain professional. I’d also add that you need to know yourself, your habits, your temperament, but always be prepared to learn. You’ll get stuck if you don’t keep learning. You may be nimble and agile, but you may not have the largest support network, so you need to keep your knowledge up. And finally, when you run your own business – you’re no longer just a specialist in that domain – but you’re also now a marketer, a sales person, an operations person – and that’s part of the learning. You have to do more to keep yourself afloat. You are more than just delivering the service that you’re executing on."
Adam: “To build upon what Giggs said – you are the product. You’ll always be the product. So, because of this, just about every interaction you have from that moment on, you’re representing your business and your brand and you will be shocked at where business opportunities come from! I’ve had opportunities come from just drinks with colleagues, which weren’t intended to be business opportunities, but turned into opportunities for me. Similarly, going into a pre-planned meeting is important, but you have to be ready to pivot. 2 of the biggest business meetings I’ve had, ended up being something different to what was originally intended. You need to be ready to scramble for a new idea.”
5. What’s your advice when building a new, personal sales pipeline for yourself?
Adam: “First of all – get a good accountant! Don’t try and do it all yourself, because you won’t be able to do it all yourself, and certainly not as good as they can. But moving on from that, most of my business has come through personal relationships. So it has been a long career of building up people who trust my advice – and if I can’t solve their problem, I try to help them by putting them in touch with the right person. So, I do meet up with a lot of people to just understand where they are, and what they’re up to. It may mean passing on work that isn’t right for me, but 1) that helps the potential client that may think of me in the future, and 2) it may help a consultant think of me in reverse.”
Giggs: “I know we’ve mentioned the word ‘networking’ already. But I cannot overemphasise that enough. It’s critical. I think an important part of networking is a relationship that works both ways. Your network will give, and you may be surprised by the generosity of your network because you’re all in it together. The more you are involved, the better your returns are going to be. I also think another example is that you are positioning yourself as an expert within the consulting space – so you should have a voice. And that voice could take different formats – whether it’s a blog, or a podcast, or twitter, or commentary on articles. There are lots of opportunities to be innovative. You want to position yourself as a thought leader - as a consultant, that’s one of the things you’re bringing to your client. Look for spill-over work from your network, even if it’s your supplier network. You do that until your sales funnel is established."
6. What’s the importance of a strong network and what do people do who may feel their network isn't strong enough?
Adam: “I think many times the problem is that people don’t catalogue their assets appropriately. People will often be surprised by how many people they’ve met along the way – and actually, when you reach out to old friends and colleagues, you'll realise that most people do just want to help. So, go back as far as you can and list out everyone that you’ve worked with – and more importantly – that has a good opinion of you, and believes that you have integrity. I think at its core, you want to be that person that they know will give them the answer they need, not necessarily the answer they want to hear. And then just start calling people. It’s hard – but it’s so important. Personally, I’ve had to develop my own skills to become more comfortable putting myself out there – in order to build my business. Don’t undervalue what you have as an asset.”
7. Final Thoughts
Adam: “Say yes! If it’s a bit of a stretch, or a ridiculous client, or something that’s different to what you’re used to – just say yes. That’s part of the benefit of working for yourself – you get to chart a path that is unique to you and better”
Giggs: “Simple, Sincere and Repetitive. We operated our business that way – it worked for me, my team and for our clients. Keep things simple, keep things sincere and then keep on doing it. You’ll improve as you repeat”.
About the AuthorMore Content by Katy Roberts