Managing growth: tips for solo international consultants
For many Canadian companies, long-term growth means going international
– and international business is within the reach of even a solo
practitioner. I know: my consultancy is still a solo act … with
a profitable, growing export business and clients in Canada, the United
States, and Australia.
I’ve found that planning to grow through exporting poses some
special challenges for services companies, especially for solo consultants
or very small firms. My learning curve looks more like a learning rollercoaster!
Managing international business growth demands resource-effective ways
to attract and win business, and to perform the business that you win.
That’s “resource-effective,” not just “cost-effective.”
Sure, small services consultancies and solo practitioners constantly juggle
scarce financing. But we also keenly feel the limits of our time, our
stamina and our sanity when we’re growing.
Exporting services is quintessential relationship marketing. To meet
prospects, maintain relationships, and become the top-of-mind specialist,
you have to be present: present on the web and present in people’s
Inboxes, but most of all, present in person. As a Canadian living in the
US and serving Canadian clients, I am in Canada at least one week a month,
sometimes with fewer than 24 hours between getting back from one trip
and on a plane for the next. I worry and stress over how to keep the business
running while delivering my commitments.
Here are three ideas I’ve learned on how to grow and enjoy the
ride … and in the order I wish I’d learned them.
Tip 1: Create and engage your avatar.
It’s tough to keep the business development engine humming smoothly
when we’re hard-charging on a big project. We know full well that
the big project is going to end, but that’s always tomorrow’s
problem; the deadlines are right now!
When you’re already maxed out, ever wish you could clone yourself?
It’s not as far-fetched an idea as you might think. You can create
an avatar, a virtual you to busily promote tomorrow’s business,
answer questions, and refer new clients while you’re heads-down
on today’s contract. How?:
$ Got an e-newsletter?
A monthly e-newsletter is a virtual self-announcement of your latest
contract wins, letting people know your business is successful and growing.
Spotlight your clients’ successes (which also happen to demonstrate
your prowess). Share your own ideas, as well as the tips, links, and news
you pick up from your industry reading and contacts. Your contacts, prospects
and clients in international markets aren’t where you are, don’t
read what you read, and would have a hard time finding out these things
that you’re awash in!
The newsletter should give visibility to your clients – strengthening
their loyalty and interest in repeat business with you. It should be so
useful they’ll want to forward it to their friends, who might not
otherwise have heard of you. And it drives traffic to your website –
about which, more in a moment.
You can compose the core content and schedule several months’ worth
of issues while you have the time and you know you have a busy period
ahead. Then, a couple of days before scheduled publication, add a few
hot items that will give your readers that up-to-the-minute sense that
you’re an industry insider with the latest scoop.
$ Leverage your website!
When did you last update your website? I update mine every month, because
the newsletter hints at the latest content and nudges readers to click
through links in the newsletter to check out the details. You don’t
have to add much, but people like to return to a site to see what’s
new. When they arrive, your site reminds them of all the reasons why you’re
someone they want to do business with.
$ Let today’s clients attract tomorrow’s for you!
Draft a standard testimonial questionnaire, do short, post-project client
interviews, and ask permission to publish their comments. Then pull high-impact
quotations for your site, and highlight the most recent ones in your newsletter.
See how I do it at www.summitinsight.com.
Tip 2: Get a virtual back office
When you’re a solo proprietor, you do it all. If you don’t
have a strong base of retainer clients, you may not feel you can afford
a full-time or even part-time assistant, and it’s often not practical
when you have a home office.
But when you start to grow, and must spend time attracting new international
clients on top of serving your domestic market, time becomes the scarce
resource. Think of time as part of your working capital: as a highly paid
consultant, you want to spend it doing– well, highly paid things.
Nobody pays you to do database entry, mailing, and bookkeeping, but these
tasks have to be done.
I came back from business trips with hundreds of business cards to be
digitized … and facing the backlog of everything I couldn’t
do on my BlackBerry while I was on the road, plus– whoops, isn’t
that the next trip on the horizon? I thought I would never catch up, and
I was already working every night and weekend.
Enter the Virtual Assistant. I send her my business cards and other administrative
tasks that can be done at a distance. She handles data entry, labels and
mailing; with forwarding, she can take my calls. I’m in Washington,
DC. She happens to be in Dallas. Her work is accurate, swift, and an excellent
value. What price sanity? Now I know. I’ve started to reclaim my
nights and weekends.
Tip 3: Now put on those travellin’ shoes.
Sure, travel is stressful, whether you’re prospecting, serving
clients, or both. But with your avatar marketing for you, and someone
takin’ care of just the essential business tasks while you’re
away, you can grow that new international business with a lot less stress.
Judy Bradt’s Resource Tips
For a great great e-mail newsletter platforms: Constant Contact, because
it offers a great range of basic templates and quality support.