This post also appeared in my Work In Progress blog for Forbes.com:
Many longtime career professionals join the ranks of freelancers and consultants to stay active during a prolonged search, to build experience for a career change, or to fulfill an entrepreneurial dream. Experienced professionals bring a wealth of expertise, industry knowledge, and contacts to their new business, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. You may be very talented at doing whatever service it is you are pitching, but can you get projects? Here are 5 questions to explore if you are not getting as much work as you expected:
Do people know you are in business, and do they know what business that is? Your network might still think of you as an executive at Time Warner or Pfizer or whatever large corporation and not realize you want consulting work. Even if they know you are open for business, do they know what business leads to refer? Have you educated them on what your ideal project and/or client is?
Are people comfortable referring or hiring you? Establish your credibility as a consultant/ freelancer/ expert in your space by writing, speaking, and getting quoted in the press. You don’t have a big company brand anymore to bestow upon you instant recognition. You have to proactively build your presence as an individual or new business.
Are you overly focused on social media or other technology and not exploring all marketing avenues? Just like the jobseeker who spends all day on Monster.com and thinks that is an exhaustive search, some business owners spend all day updating their website, blogging, or posting to social media and think that’s all the marketing they need to do. Social media and technology are important tools, but not sufficient in themselves. When you are starting out, offline contact is critical to building trust. You need to network and meet people.
Do you go where your customers are? If your offering is media training for financial services executives, do you network in circles of financial services executives or other media trainers? While it is nice to have the camaraderie of fellow business owners, make sure all your networking isn’t just with entrepreneur groups. You can learn there, but you can’t sell there (unless your product is targeted at entrepreneurs). Make sure you go where your customer is, not just what feels good. This is true online, as well – ensure that the blogs and communities you interact with are filled with customers, not peers.
Do you maintain your sales and marketing even when you’re busy? A big mistake is to sell, sell, sell and then drop everything to complete a project you just sold. When that project ends, you have to sell like crazy again and start from scratch. Instead, you need to make sure that you still call on prospects even when you have work to do. When you’re an employee, you can just focus on doing the job. When you are a consultant, you have to do the job and sell the next one.