How do you market yourself as a consultant? How is consulting different than being an employee? These are some of the most burning questions new consultants have, and four seasoned EM consultants were on hand to answer those questions and more at our “New Consultants Workshop” at Open Canopy in Redwood City and online December 5th.
The panel included Azadeh Rasmussen, Independent Marketing Consultant and EM Account Lead; Tara Verner, CEO and Founder, Bee Direct Marketing; Mark Harnett, Strategic Acquisition Marketing Consultant, Drak Marketing, and Dan Gehant, Founder, Copper Insights Holistic Digital Marketing. Lynn Bruno, an EM Consultant and Founder of Virtual Ink Marketing served as moderator.
Here’s an excerpt of the panelists’ remarks; if you'd like to watch the whole session (approximately 1 hour), see the video below.
Q: Let’s start with the most common question for new consultants, "How do I market myself?"
For me, the marketing is that I build trust and relationships with folks, and that starts to show a return over time. It took a while to get going. Relationships take time. Trust takes time. But once those things have been set, that's been what's driving how I market myself.
I mostly work with people I know. Ken (EM’s Founder) gave me some great advice when I was starting out. I was in a mad dash to figure out how many clients I could have. He said, "I just like to work with people I like to work with."
I think that is such great advice. You spend so much time working. You might as well enjoy it. You do great work for the people that you like, and it just becomes a cycle.
The other thing he told me is, "You don't have to take everything. If something is not quite your right fit, pass it on. You're helping other people." The contract I have right now I got through a woman who I gave a contract for a year. So I think just by helping people, they will come back to you, and it also feels good.
For me, relationships have been a big driver. If I think back to how I got into the world of consulting, it all started with when I was leaving a permanent job at Old Navy. I can trace back everything that I have done to relationships that I had there. Those people end up moving on. They go to different companies. They hear about you. They hear about your work. Referrals have been a really big part of my success.
I will say that I have also not been afraid to reach out to people via LinkedIn. There are some people that I don't see all the time or don't keep in touch with all the time, but we had a good rapport when we worked together.
I have many times just sent emails and said, "Hey, it's been a long time since we've talked. How are you doing? I'm available if you have anything or you just want to catch up for a cup of coffee." Coffee dates are a good excuse to get together. Sometimes something comes up with those, and sometimes it doesn't, and that's okay.
My big piece of advice would be don't be afraid to send emails through LinkedIn to contacts and market yourself that way.
I worked at 10 or 15 different companies and so developed a network, and a lot of people knew my skillset in online marketing. As I moved into consulting, the big part is letting them know that you are available and looking. It's keeping in touch every now and then in emails or a LinkedIn message when they get promoted or change jobs. LinkedIn is pretty good about prompting you when there’s news about people in your network.
It’s just my personality as well--when I see something that I think is interesting, I'll send those articles on, and it often gets a good reception. I'll say, "This might interest you." Again, it's keeping you in their mind.
The engagement I started last week is my third with the same VP of marketing. I followed him as he changed companies, and it's pretty good because we work together well and we know each other's style.
Q: Let’s talk about how you work as a consultant versus an employee, and how you uniquely bring value in that independent consultant role because I feel it is a little bit different. How do you really lean into that?
I know that Ken and team like to describe the type of people in the EM community as GSD types, getting stuff done. One of the ways of doing that is removing yourself from some of the inevitable office drama and politics. I think that's been a really good strategy for me -- going in to do the work and being very objective and not having any emotional ties to anything that's happening, and being very focused on the task at hand.
I've had experience working within a lot of large organizations, and you get very good at seeing very quickly how you can make things better. I think that's part of the value that I've been able to bring in. I've been able to go in and quickly say, "Okay. We need to do X, Y, and Z."
I think because of the nature of being a consultant you tend to have a little bit more credibility, if you will. Experience, and credibility and trust.
I was thinking about emotional connection, getting things done, and a unique perspective.
As far as emotional connection, when I used to work at places, I would get very impassioned about what I was doing, and if I felt the company was doing the wrong thing, I'd feel badly. As a consultant, I have let go a little bit. If the client is doing something I've done before and it's not going to work, I voice my opinion. If they still want to do it, I say, "That's fine." Then I get it done. But I'm able to disconnect from that. I have given them my perspective, but they can do what they want to do, and I'll help them get it done.
In terms of getting stuff done, it's amazing how much you can get done. My clients are in meetings all the time, and they think they're just so busy. One of them said they had 10 hours a week of work for me. I thought I was going to be slammed. I got stuff done in three hours a week or five just because it's so much easier when you're concentrating.
Unique perspective because when you work with different clients, you see things done in different ways and you can bring advice to your clients. For example, my current client really needs to clean his database, and I was able to say, "Hey, this is what my other client's doing, and you should consider doing this and that." It's much more credible when it's coming from a third party and another company.
Something I enjoy about consulting is I feel like you're a confidant to your client. If they want some career advice or there was something going on, it was fun for me to be able to be a sounding board for them.
Every engagement has been unique. When you go in eyes wide open trying to read your client and understand what they said they need versus what you hear them needing, that oftentimes allows you to deliver something that might not be the perfect bulleted deliverable that they were expecting.
I had one client who said they wanted an audit, and they wanted to do keyword research, and they wanted to look at the competitive landscape. Once I got in and met with them for the kickoff, I realized they needed to be educated on the whole arc of SEO and how everything connects with their other marketing channels. What I ended up doing was more of a working session once a week with them where I did the regular presentation, but I did a lot of Q&A, a lot of handholding. It was a different engagement. Because I took that different approach, I felt like they got a lot of value.
Oftentimes, when you're in a company, you don't realize what you're missing, so coming from the outside lets you see, "Oh, there's a gap here, and I can fill that and service them in a way that they didn't realize they needed."
You let go of the drama and skip the meetings. Because you're not all in for every company you can say, "This is a terrible idea. You shouldn't do this." If they dislike what you're saying and end your engagement, it's okay because there's another one coming.
You can state strong opinions because you're not trying to cover your ass and keep your job. There's much less risk because you've got a bunch of other stuff going on. At the end of the day, most people will appreciate that more. It's refreshing, I find, when you just let the chips fall where they may.
Q: So many people tie their identity into their employer. Did any of you have any difficulty making that shift?
There are still some pangs. There's a Christmas party next week. There's a pang, but it's not that big.
I do feel that way sometimes, and I notice it depends on the kind of company I'm working for. Sometimes I find I like working for small companies where I'm maybe the only marketer. I'm a consultant, but I feel really integral to the team.