I was recently asked about being a consultant, particularly concerning the challenges of remote selling. There is plenty to be said on the subject. For one thing, there is already a wealth of literature out there about how to build a consulting business, and the good news is that the principles are the same. Regardless of whether you pick up a stack of books or do your research online, you’ll find that no matter the economic circumstances, you can excel in your field.
For some the word “consultant” has a negative connotation, mostly because they have been burned in the past. However, if you have a legitimate body of work, subject matter expertise, a good track record, and great word of mouth, you should be able to dispel those anxieties. The most pressing thing you need to figure out is how to differentiate yourself from your competition. What is your competitive advantage? Exactly what would you consider yourself to be a subject matter expert in?
If you have answers to these questions, then your services are worthy and marketable. When I first started consulting decades ago, I used to charge $100 an hour. My girlfriend at the time said, “Why are you charging $100? My accountant charges $225, and he’s a lot less smart than you are.” So, I changed my rate to $225, and you know what? Nobody complained. There’s a rule in the business that states that if at least 10% of the people you work with don’t think your rates are a bit high, your rates are probably not high enough! You should always be pricing for value rather than just your costs plus overhead.
There’s an anecdote about a man taking his car into a mechanic, who fixes the problem with a single tap on the engine. The man asks how much that maneuver cost so he could pay him, and the mechanic responds “$100.” The man replies, “Isn’t that a bit much? You just tapped on the engine once.” The mechanic says, “I know. I charge $1 for the tap and $99 for knowing where to tap.” Think about it, you’re likely not only providing activity, but also solutions that are grounded in great expertise.
Another piece of the puzzle is building a brand. You need to have a social media presence. You need to have a website where people can see your credentials and press releases. It also doesn’t hurt to have positive feedback from customers you have worked with as well as lists of your clients and partnerships. This is one reason that references who send you referrals are important - not only to increase your supply of promising prospects, but also to provide you with testimonials that will give others the confidence to do business with you.
Above all, remember that you’re offering a solution. A lot of people in the energy solutions space get classified as “consultants” instead salespeople because efficiency isn’t always tangible. Bottom line, if you’re doing it right, you’re offering benefits that transcend the product or service that you’re selling. As a result, you need to focus on the value you create as opposed to the bits, bytes and blinking lights of whatever you eventually recommend that they install or deploy.