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Evernote is perfect for taking notes , screenshots, links, and more no matter where you are, across any of your devices. Whether you find an article relevant to a client or colleague during your morning browse, have inspiration strike you for optimizing a process as you commute, or encounter a bug with a program in your toolkit, Evernote will let you document it, file it to easily find again, and even ship into other apps with Zapier integrations.

Freshbooks makes accounting easy for small businesses. Never again do you have to laboriously track your hours to later manually calculate your pay and then create an invoice — Freshbooks allows you to track your time, create professional invoices, track your expenses, see project overviews and more, all within the same app. Even if you save backups to physical drives, how often do you change those backups?

How much work would you lose if your computer stopped working right this second? Their free accounts also come with 15GB of storage space, which is more than enough for most of the files in recent memory. Collaboration in real-time made easy. With both a native desktop app and plugins for Chrome and Microsoft Office, Grammarly automatically highlights and suggests corrections for almost every spelling and grammar mistake you make.

Think of it as your first round basic proofreader, only it checks as you write and does all of it automatically. Inbox by Google is a fantastic way to organize your Gmail account. With handy features like easily bulk archiving instead of outright deleting , pinning important emails, and snoozing items to pop up again later, the debate of Inbox vs Gmail holds little competition. Process Street is the best process documentation software on the market. Documented processes give consistency, efficiency, and accuracy to any business which uses them.

The current king of project management, Trello provides a fantastic way to organize your tasks and projects using kanban boards. Imagine you have a notice board in your office to pin tasks to. You might have the board divided into columns to better organize whatever notes you put up there. Zapier is a vital addition to the toolkit of anyone consultant or otherwise who wants to do less work themselves. Instead of having to manually carry out predictable tasks yourself such as data management, creating documents, sending emails, and following up with clients, Zapier can automatically complete them.

Find him on Twitter here. Thanks for sharing your great tips, this is very helpful for everyone that is looking for a business consultant. Good piece of information. Thank you for this blog. This is really helpful for me and people too. Just what I was looking for. Thanks again. Keep sharing. We're hiring. Business , Process Street , Software , Technology.

Blogs and websites First up we have a couple of blogs and websites you can check out to brush up your knowledge on consulting, efficiency, and businesses in general. Entrepreneur If you want to know more about starting, running, and managing your own business, there are few better places to do so than Entrepreneur. Management Consulted Management Consulted have written and continue to publish about anything and everything consultant related. Then the Process Street Blog is for you. Women In Consulting Rather than being just a blog, Women In Consulting provides both helpful articles for consultants and a strong community to help each other network and grow.

Zapier With automation, productivity, workflow, and app tips abound, the Zapier blog is a great resource for increasing your efficiency and smoothing out your workflows. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande While it may sound as if it were some sort of incredibly dry political document, The Checklist Manifesto is anything but. The E-Myth by Michael E. Work The System is your answer. Podcasts Dead air is more often than not nothing but a wasted opportunity. You may find ads or articles written by them.

Check the Internet, of course, and also make friends of your local librarians. They can direct you to resources you may not have known existed. If they participate in a trade show, visit their booth and talk to their sales reps. Check the newspapers for press releases and news stories. Can you obtain additional information from former employees, customers, suppliers, other competitors, or your employees?

Each of these has very different levels of reliability and you need to consider that fact. Remember that every bit of information will help. Know your competition. Read the direct mail pieces from your competition. Visit their booths at trade shows. Attend their presentations at conferences. Read their ads and articles in your trade journal. Training magazine and the American Society for Training and Development conduct research each year that might provide data for some of you. It goes beyond just knowing what they need to knowing what they desire, what motivates them, and how satisfied they are.

Client research will give you insight into what your clients will purchase and why. If you have been in business for any period of time, you should have some customer data from evaluation forms, testimonial letters, client satisfaction reports, or just informal comments from your clients. You may want to take time now to conduct a more formal client needs assessment or customer satisfaction survey. Are you thinking about conducting a needs assessment?

You do not have to have sophisticated software to track the results. What is more important is to ensure consistency. Ask the same questions in the same way to a large enough sample of clients. Answers to open-ended questions are always delightful to read and provide ideas and insight. The problem is quantifying the responses so that you have some baseline established for comparison the next time. The solution is to use a complementary mix of both kinds of questions—open-ended and quantitative. What might you ask about?

Top 50 Business Consulting Firms

First, how well does your company meet customer expectations and, second, how important is it to the customer? For example, you may ask about how well you do on speed and meeting deadlines. Clients may rate you as excellent, but they may say that speed is only slightly important. That may be hard to imagine in this day of speed, but it may be a message that suggests that your clients want you to spend more time with them, rather than being totally focused on the job.

You might also hire an external resource to conduct focus groups for you. If you decide to do this, think about a time when many of your clients might be in the same area at the same time—at an industry convention, for example. One last idea is one that I prefer because it is personal and we are a small company: I write a letter to our clients letting them know that we are gathering information that will help us improve our services.

I enclose a second sheet with four questions and ask them to take a couple of minutes to complete it and place it in the self-addressed stamped envelope that is also enclosed. We thank them and let them know that they do not need to sign the page, but that we would like to talk to them if they are interested. Never stop asking your clients questions. They are the best source of information for ensuring that you offer and deliver the things that they want. Contact your local college or university to utilize business students to design and conduct the research.

Your position is how you are presently perceived by your clients and competitors. Where you appear on these dimensions is your position. To determine position you need two pieces of information. First, what is unique about the products and services you deliver? Second, what is unique about what your competition offers?

Positioning and Your Niche Your niche is related to your position; however, it is where you wish to be perceived. You need to identify what your clients need that is not readily available to them. Your niche is the place you wish to occupy that will set you apart from most of your competition. Your niche is the unique position you hold when compared to the rest of your competition.

Your niche is your unique combination of components that gives you an unfair advantage over your competition. They print business cards, begin to network with potential clients, land a few contracts, and then when they need to move out to the next circle of clients, they have difficulty finding work.

Part of the reason is that they have not established something unique that they offer. Sometimes that seems scary to new companies that worry that a narrow niche will not generate enough business to sustain them. If you are a small company, it is usually easier to create your own position than to compete against larger companies for theirs. We had no idea whether the niche we had chosen was unique. This was a time when the giants were selling training programs accompanied by videotapes and training manuals. Videotapes were created with a huge budget and training materials were designed generically to use in many organizations.

Trainers were scripted and activities were timed. It was a time before PCs and easy tailoring. In fact, I remember using a Kroy headline machine that was like a giant typewriter on which we typed titles on clear tape and pasted them on paper to create large title pages and headers for overhead transparencies. Desktop publishing was a dream of the future. A small company like ebb associates could focus on one client at a time and offer a special service, customizing exactly what the client needed.

We offered the service and clients hired us. How did we know there was a need? As a trainer, I had heard complaints from participants for years that they could not transfer what they learned in training sessions. How, they would demand, could they be expected to transfer examples from a candy bar manufacturer back to their job as an environmentalist?

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The training gurus of the time were adamant that the required skills were the same, so the transfer of skills should be natural. We decided that no matter who was right, learning would not transfer to the workplace if the learner did not believe it would. And it appeared that a small company like ours could accomplish fast delivery of the service.

This was a recipe for success and it launched ebb associates quickly. You, too, can position yourself and create your own niche. Use this process to discover where your competition is, what potential clients want, and how you determine your own niche. The position grid in Exhibit 3. Exhibit 3. Think about positioning as a way for you to clearly identify what you do better than your competition.

Are you the low-cost alternative? Are you the premium quality leader? Are you the full-service provider? When you talk to your clients, they compare you to other consulting groups. What comparisons do they use? The following process will assist with your thinking. Use the instructions below and complete the form provided in Exhibit 3.

Positioning Process 1. Identify your competitors. Identify attributes for each competitor. Identify the attributes that are used for selecting consultants. Position your competition on this grid. Identify your unique advantages and place yourself on the grid. Identify anything your clients might desire that competitors do not provide. Describe your proposed niche in one phrase. Yes, you will list all the consultants who live in your geographic area, but remember also those who come from out of town, out of state, perhaps even out of the country.

Also remember universities, colleges, and other schools that may conduct classes or offer services that may take potential clients away from you. Remember, too, the professors who have sideline businesses that compete with you. Sometimes your professional association may offer similar services. You may use some of the information that you gathered on your Competitor Comparison Form in Exhibit 3. That might include how the service is delivered: fast, inexpensively, high quality, and so on. Describe the basis of the service: research based, experience based, creative, customized, repeatable.

Consider also how the competitors are perceived, such as their image, size, or reputation. Examine the attributes you defined in the second step and determine which ones clients seem to use most often to select consultants. You will use these in the next step to create a grid for consultants in your area.

For example, one axis might be high quality or price. A second axis might be to whom services are provided with executives at one end and line workers at the other. Now select the attributes as names for the two axes. Estimate where the consultants you listed in step one would be positioned. Identify your unique strengths and place yourself on the grid.

If this is the case, you may want to revisit your vision and mission. If you think you just need to do some tweaking, move to the next step. Is anything missing? Do you hear clients requesting attributes that are not being met? Is it a potential niche for you? Last, describe your proposed niche. What benefits do you offer your clients? This can be a takeoff of your elevator speech describing what you do in sixty seconds or less , but may be shorter and has a marketing twist to it.

It may also include the industry you work in. Next you must back it up with action by delivering what you say you will. To drive your position home to clients, you will sell your niche. Identify individual clients that you do not serve that you believe could use the attributes you offer. Identify industries that you do not serve that you believe could use the services and attributes you offer.

Did you describe the size of client you would like to serve? If you think you might be questioned by potential clients about why you could do the job better, there are many answers. Over the years I have found these reasons to be important to my clients. First, we are faster. We are small, so there is no bureaucracy or delays. They will get fast turnaround time and quick responses. Because we are small, we handle fewer clients at one time and the client will not be competing with numerous other clients. Third, we are less expensive. In addition there is no huge overhead, partner perks, or extensive administrative support to pay for.

Fourth, the client will have the best expertise. The client will work with a principle and not deal with a handoff to a junior employee. We provide experts on an asneeded basis. So the client does not pay the overhead for expertise that is not used. So you should start thinking now about large companies that you may have avoided in the past due to their size.

Know where the large ones are so that you can cast your marketing net to catch them. The next chapter addresses your image—another critical aspect of your total assessment before you begin to design your marketing plan. The assessment of your competitors revealed a great deal about them. Completing those tasks also revealed a great deal about you and your consulting practice. What did you learn about yourself and the services you offer while assessing your competitors?

Most consultants offer similar services. What advantages do you offer over your competitors? List characteristics of your current customers and your desired customers. How do they differ? What does this tell you about your marketing plans now? What might you do differently to attract the desired customers?

What is unique about what you offer? How many of your competitors offer a similar service or product? Do you know whether clients would pay more for this special attribute? Identify at least five potential clients who are large—much larger than the ones you now serve.

W hen consultants think about marketing, often the first thing that comes to mind is a brochure. Quite honestly many consultants are successful without ever designing a brochure. You should be aware that many other items send messages to your clients as well. You will want to ensure that all of your messages, on paper or in person, are consistently professional.

Developing a powerful, consistent marketing message that establishes the image you desire is critical. Doing so provides repetition for potential clients, and repetition is what helps people remember you. You send marketing messages by means of who you are, what you do, and what your marketing materials look like. This is done inadvertently. A consultant 53 may start out with a white business card with black ink—practical and inexpensive.

She later finds folders in a nice shade of blue. A couple of months into the business she has enough money to have stationery professionally designed. The designer convinces the consultant that gray stationery with burgundy ink looks very professional.

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  6. Repetition and consistency are the keys to ensuring that potential clients remember you. If clients see the same colors and logo often enough they will remember you. Sometimes they may not remember your name, or your business name, or what you do, but they will remember you. Consistency means that all your paper products look like they belong together.

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    Consistency means that you project an image that is congruent with the work you do. Every time a note from you crosses a desk, every time someone looks at your business card, every time someone sees your logo on your holiday gift he or she will think of you. You are your company. Your company is you. The image you project is the image your company will be known for.

    What do you need to consider? Appearance Consider your appearance, not just what you wear, but everything that adds to or detracts from your professional image. Arrive at your first meeting with a new client early enough to stop at the restroom to take a look in the mirror. Dandruff on your new blue suit? Wind-swept hair? Need a lipstick touch-up? Take care of it. And what should you wear? The best rule is to try to match your appearance to that of your potential client. When in doubt wear the better of your two choices. In addition, keep your briefcase organized and nearly empty.

    Also consider using a leather portfolio for taking notes. And certainly think twice before using one with any advertising on its cover. A friend of mine consults with pharmaceutical companies. He had lined up a meeting with the vice president of sales in a company that he had not worked with.

    His greeting was professional, his handshake was firm, and during small talk he learned that they had something in common. Both liked to fly fish in the same stream in a neighboring state. The vice president was staring at his portfolio. It was the portfolio that the other pharmaceutical company had given away at its last trade show.

    Style Next consider your style and any mannerisms that project who you are. Always shake hands firmly. Introduce yourself to others and look people in the eye. Address people by name. Attend every meeting well-prepared. Know what questions you wish to ask and listen well. Remember, if you are doing most of the talking you have most likely lost the sale.

    Activities Outside of Work Next consider your life outside of work. How much of your time do you spend meeting and greeting others outside of your work life?

    Are you known as a family man who attends piano recitals and soccer games? Are you a mother who balances her career and home life and still has time to give to Rotary? Are you a member of a service organization? This says something about you. Does your professional organization depend on you to assist them at conferences or local chapter meetings?

    Giving back to the community or your professional organization is not just a noble thing to do; it enhances your image as well. This kind of involvement is a valuable marketing tool—showing that you are in a respected advisory role. Even more important, however, is the image you project to others about who you are—someone who cares about your community and your professional organization, as well as someone whose advice is sought and respected by others. Your business cards, stationery, brochures, and other paper products all tell your present clients and potential clients something about you and your business.

    They project an image—be sure it is the one you want. They are bland and uninspiring and usually printed on mediocre paper, although a professional image need not be expensive. It is also the least expensive, yet the most important marketing tool you have. It will cost you in the end. Have it printed on heavy card stock—at least 80 pound. Use a professional to help you design your business card and your stationery. Printing will be additional. There are many philosophies about business cards. Again, you will need to determine the image you are trying to project. I prefer something that sends a quiet, professional message.

    Thus we use gray ink on light gray paper and all lowercase letters. Some of you will want to add an accent color. You could try some of the new tactile papers or stick with the classics: laid or linen. If you can, consider at least two ink colors to add impact.

    Be sure to include all the pertinent information and then proof it several times and give it to someone else to proof. Use the name you want to be called on your business card, for example, Bill instead of William. Imagine you have handed your card out at the last conference you attended, along with 13, other participants. You gave business cards to one hundred participants and now they are sifting through the cards they collected.

    What is going to make someone stop and look at your card a little longer? Heavier card stock? A unique paper or color? A great logo? They are the best marketing tool you have. You should challenge yourself to give away as many as possible. The easy way to do that is to ask others for a business card and then hand them yours. You might even hand the person two—one for a friend. If you might use your letterhead as the front page of a bound proposal, ensure that the left margin will be wide enough to accommodate the binding system you use.


    Once you have figured out your business cards, the rest is easy. Select paper stock like the card stock you used for your business cards. Have your designer create letterhead, envelopes, note cards to jot off a quick note , and mailing labels. Note that you will probably be able to save money by having your business cards and stationery printed at the same time. Pay as much attention to your envelopes as to the other items. You can use this as a note card inside an envelope or as a postcard and use the back for the address.

    Presentation Materials If you use presentation materials at seminars, speaking engagements, or even sales calls, print them on the best paper you can get your hands on and, of course, remember to put your company name and complete contact information on the cover. Make it easy for potential clients to reach you. If you have a logo, it should also be on the cover. The Name You have probably selected a name for your company. There are no rules about naming your company.

    You should consider two things. Your name should be easy to remember and it should project the image you desire. The name of your company should also tell a prospective client something about what you do. The name can also project size. Even if you have a dozen employees, the name does not project that fact.

    Will they include more people than you? However, it also suggests that Connie is the owner. Another consideration is that the second one tells you what the company does. Be sure that the names do not limit you for future growth. Some company names are related to the location. Again, just be sure you do not limit yourself. Also remember that your name will be a marketing tool, and even though you want something that is easy to remember, you do not want to be too cute. Select a name and add a graphic that adds to your marketing image, rather than detracts from it.

    Your logo may be more important than the name. And although they did not remember the company, they remembered the logo and knew with whom they wanted to work. If you are not satisfied with your name, it is never too late to change it. At the time, I thought I could not change it since I had a client list and a good reputation. Now after being in business for almost a quarter of a century, I look back in amazement about how small the reach of that reputation actually was and how much easier it would have been to change it then, rather than now.

    In fact, although I am not contemplating a name change, I now see it as a potential marketing opportunity! Like the name of your company, your logo should say something about your consulting business. It should be easy to find a designer who can create your logo for you as well as design your business cards and stationery.

    Your logo should be displayed proudly on your business cards, letterhead, envelopes, mailing labels, fax sheets, invoices, presentation materials, folders, table tents, t-shirts, newsletters, and advertising specialty items. Have your designer provide you with your logo in a format for your desktop.

    You will be surprised at how many opportunities arise for you to use it. Let me expand on advertising specialty items. They are the pens or calendars that you receive during the holidays. If you decide to send one of these items to your clients, have fun with it. Then create a card to go with it.

    Hope this lights up your New Year. Choose carefully and these will build your image quickly. We use them on the outside of folders for seminars and on some marketing materials. Brochures A brochure is a big step for most consultants. It was worth it. Many consultants never have a brochure.

    Potential clients often asked if I had something about the company that they could read. Again, this is one more time people will be reminded of you, so it must send the same message as the rest of your materials. A brochure is a critical piece of your entire marketing package, and it will most likely be the most expensive.

    Therefore you should hire a professional designer— preferably the same one who designed your business cards. In fact, if you can afford it, design all your stationery and your brochure at the same time.

    Blogs and websites

    Select a designer who takes the time to ask questions about what you do and how you do it. Be certain the designer is knowledgeable of marketing and sales strategy. In addition the designer must be a good writer, or work with a good writer. It is a good sign if the designer is interested in helping you and your consulting practice overall, as opposed to simply wanting to design a brochure.

    Most likely they will need to be updated by the time you get through one thousand. A brochure is a serious decision for a consultant. It sends one of the strongest and longest-lasting marketing messages. It should represent you and your business in the best way possible. Less Expensive than a Brochure What if you are just starting out and you cannot afford to hire a designer to assist you? You could go to your local college and hire a design or marketing student. Professors are often looking for projects for their classes. One thing to remember, if you do have a student or the entire class working on your brochure, logo, business card, or whatever, you will need to be the expert in the content.

    Unlike a professional designer, you cannot count on students to pull out of you the powerful message you want to send. Professional designers will ensure that they are heading in the right direction by discussing options and gathering input from you along the way. Students or a class may not have the kind of experience and expertise needed to deliver an acceptable product that delights you. You may choose a tri-fold design or a single page. Keep a single page short. Nevertheless, remember to put all essential information on the front, that is, who you are, what you do, and how to reach you.

    Busy prospects may skim the front and make an instant decision. The following hints will help you produce a useful tool. Add credibility by including your credentials, certifications, and awards. If you include a photo, you might consider an action shot instead of simply a head shot. Testimonials can be used effectively here. If you are just getting started as a consultant, ask your former employer to write a testimonial letter.

    You may also be able to obtain testimonials from people for whom you are doing small start-up projects or even pro bono work. Add photos and a brochure to complete your package if you have them available. You cannot start too soon. You could print the pocket folders or purchase one off the shelf and buy stickers imprinted with your logo to add to the front. Stickers can be a part of your entire stationery design plan. They are probably the best in the business.

    Give them a call for a catalog and samples. Your promotional package will be used by publicity folks. In fact, they expect you to have a promotional package. If you are speaking or presenting a seminar covered by the media, you will want to take it along. You could probably get by without one. However, I do mention it here because with a slight variation it could serve you well until your brochure is printed. As your business grows, your image will evolve.

    If you cannot afford a complete marketing package at once, plan ahead and try to maintain one look as much as you can. This will ensure a singular image. It describes you and your business to all who might hire you. Yet all too often a consultant will dash one off with little thought and no plan for updating it.

    Your bio should tell the potential client that you have the experience and expertise for the job. You are writing this for the client. So what do clients want to know? Clients will want to know what companies you have worked with and whether those companies are in the same industry. Clients want to know whether you are a recognized expert and in what areas. Clients will want to know what experience you have had.

    Clients will also use your bio to determine whether there is a fit between their task and your skills. This is one of those times you need to brag about yourself, but not exaggerate. Be sure to include publications, awards, memberships, patents, speaking engagements, and citations.

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    Plan to update your bio at least annually. Perhaps you should pull your bio out now and see if it conveys what it should.

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    If you are a new consultant, you may rely on your internal work and other experience to start a bio. Consulting is a significant and growing business. Once you've gotten your first consulting client, and delivered excellent work for them, bringing in more clients only gets easier.

    No one will stop you from calling yourself a consultant and startup can cost as little as printing business cards and getting a business license. On the flip side of the coin, consulting is fiercely competitive. Today, clients have instant access to legions of experts at the click of a mouse, and they have found low-cost, offshore alternatives for many consulting projects. The beauty of this market, though, is that many of the large, lumbering consulting firms focus on thin slices of the market.

    That creates an opportunity for smaller firms and individual consultants who know how to use guerrilla methods to snag their share of a profitable business. As a new consultant, you should be able to generate a project—or maybe several—through your networks of friends, past employers, and colleagues. After all, research shows that clients use their networks to select consultants more than any other method, and they, no doubt, know someone who knows you. Before you ask your contacts—or anyone else—to hire you as a consultant for that first project, ensure your success by taking a longer view of your business.

    Work hard to land that first client, but also put the marketing and consulting fundamentals in place that will secure your future as a consultant. Prospective clients rarely look for consultants until they have a pressing need. They made it happen. The point is that, when most clients are in the market for help, they wanted it yesterday. And they want the best consultants they can find, at an affordable price.

    So, take the time to define what makes you the best consultant for the specific types of clients you want to work with. The less specific you are, the less likely it is clients will think of you when they need help. Why would clients turn to you for their most important projects?

    Be prepared to answer these questions during your first conversation with them:. You may only have that one minute to make a first impression on a client, so make it count.