How to Maintain Momentum as an Independent Executive
It is common for independent executives to put a hold on business development while working on engagements, then pick up efforts again when they’re nearing the end.
This can work well depending on the length of each engagement, but remember, it doesn’t take long for your sources to forget to refer you.
An Independent Executive Out of Sight is Out of Mind
It is commonly said that the best time to look for a job is when you currently have one. It is no different when building your business. This is one of the biggest pitfalls as you start to get work and are busy. Your business development efforts certainly will lessen, but do not put them on hold. The nature of independent executive work is that it is temporary. Continuing to work on lead sourcing will lessen the time lag between engagements, increase your ability to be more selective of the engagements you really want, and keep you top-of-mind throughout your network. It is common for executives to put a hold on business development while working on engagements, then pick up efforts again when they are two to four weeks from the end of work. Their schedules are a little more open at that point. This can work well, depending on the length of each engagement. Remember, however, it doesn’t take long for your sources to forget to refer you. It is also common for referral sources not to take the time to check on your availability and simply assume that you are too busy for new work.
Step back and think about how you would advise a client who says to you, “I’m too busy to bring in more business.” You may need to get creative and adjust the focus of your efforts and a few of your tactics, but there is always some amount of time every week that can be devoted to building up your pipeline of opportunities.
Pay Attention: Identifying and Leveraging Opportunities
Instead of instinctually saying, “that wouldn’t work for me,” pay attention and adopt the perspective, “how do I make that work for me?”
Write the Book on Your Independent Executive Experience
Of course, you can always end up writing a book on your experiences and expertise. With the ease of self-publishing and e-books, this is becoming more popular. Rather than beginning with the subject you want to write about, start with your target audience in mind. As counterintuitive as it may seem, your main goal for writing a book is not necessarily to be a bestseller or an expectation that it will change the lives of thousands. The goal is to enhance your other marketing and business development efforts. Rather than asking, “who would buy my book?” to select your target audience, think along the lines of, “which audience(s) do I want to speak in front of?” The answer to that question is your target audience. Now work backwards through topics that would be interesting and useful as a presentation, webinar, or speaker series. From there, we strongly recommend you work with an expert who can guide you through the outline, compilation, completion, and publishing process. There are a number of great sources out there who work exclusively with consultants writing books specifically for the purpose of marketing their services. If you have never written so much as an article in your life, you may want to have a ghostwriter write your book for you.
One of the biggest frustrations for independent executives is the challenge of getting in front of potential clients. Many of them are not out at the networking events. They are sitting at their desks, networking, or traveling. They are, however, large consumers of information. Give them something to read on their next flight.
Case Study: Writing Everyone’s Book on It
As part of his exit strategy from his advertising and public relations agency, Henry DeVries combined his love of writing and his desire to help teach consultants and coaches the science of attracting clients. Over a period of eight years, he invested significantly and tied in with Harvard Business School to scientifically research how to attract clients. His research revealed a proven way for independent executives to obtain a marketing return-on-investment of 400 percent to 2000 percent—write the book on it.
Henry founded Indie Books International and now focuses his efforts on helping independent consultants, coaches, and business owners with the preparation, publication, and promotion of a book that grows their businesses, puts money in the bank, and helps them make the difference they want to make. As Henry puts it, “We educate consultants and coaches that the publication of the book is the starting line, not the finish line.”
According to David H. Maister, a professor from the Harvard Business School who wrote Managing the Professional Service Firm, the typical sales and marketing hype that works for retailers and manufacturers is not only a waste of time and money for independent executives; it actually makes them less attractive to prospective clients.
“The number one challenge for independent executives is creating new clients,” says Henry. “Ironically, many independent executives feel marketing is too time-consuming, expensive, or undignified. Even if they try a marketing or business development program, most are frustrated by a lack of results. They even worry about whether marketing would ever work for them.”
According to Henry’s research, the best approach for independent executives is to demonstrate expertise by sharing valuable information through writing and speaking. “This I believe in my heart of hearts,” says Henry. “The number one marketing tool is a book, and the number one marketing strategy is a speech. Research shows independent executives can fill a pipeline with qualified prospects in as little as thirty days by offering advice to prospects on how to overcome their most pressing problems.”