Working as an independent consultant requires the ability to sell yourself and market your skills, in addition to possessing great depths of knowledge in specific areas of expertise. And even if you’re a marketing, public relations or sales expert, the irony is, it’s much more difficult to promote yourself than it is to promote a company’s products or services.
So, are there any simple answers? Not really, but it might be helpful to share some ideas that work well for many entrepreneurs.
Your Image or Brand
First, adjust your thinking to see yourself as a commodity, an image, a brand if you will. That helps. Asking yourself questions such as “what makes me different from everyone else offering the services I’m offering” or “what should I be known for” and “if I were trademarking myself (thinking of yourself as a product), what would the trademark be for” are thought-provoking.
Use the ideas you come up with to create an image for yourself. This is not to say that you should come up with fictitious skills or strengths. That will just backfire. Think about the best way to package the skills you do have, to present yourself in the best light.
Once you define your image, communicate it consistently in everything you produce. From your business cards to your brochures or fact sheets, to your website and your profile on websites such as LinkedIn, make certain that you are projecting the image you want to convey to those who might be interested in contracting with you to provide services. And remember to have your website address and email address appear in every email, every printed piece and of course, make sure they are printed on your business card.
Connecting In Person
Now that you are armed with the tools you need, the keyword is network. Networking is different from selling. Networking means that wherever you go and whoever you talk to, you take the opportunity to find out about what other people are doing for a living; tell people what you’re doing, and determine whether there is synergy. You should communicate the image that you’ve developed as well as your enthusiasm and energy.
Networking should not make you or the people you’re talking with uncomfortable. It is just directed conversation and once you get the hang of it, it will become almost automatic and very easy for you to do.
Networking involves NEVER going anywhere without a supply of business cards. That includes the grocery store, the gym and the bank — not just meetings, appointments and trade shows. You never know who you will run into or who they might know that could be helpful to you in building your contacts. And keep a supply of your brochures, pamphlets and/or resumes in the car. Notice that I said in the car. If you have materials handy and someone asks for them, it’s much more effective if you can provide them on demand. If they don’t ask for them, that’s okay too. You can send something later as a follow-up, assuming you exchanged business cards.
Take advantage of networking online too with websites such as LinkedIn, professional Facebook groups, etc. A Google search will help you uncover all the possibilities.
There’s a difference between networking, which should be casual and low key, and sales, which is more purposeful with a specific end goal in mind. There is certainly a place for selling but that’s another topic.