If you’ve ever wanted to get into independent consulting, you’ve probably seen why it’s not all that easy. The hardest part is actually starting out – the chicken and egg problem isn’t all that easy to solve.
How do you get your first client, if you don’t have any past experiences to vouch for your credibility? Or, on the other hand, how do you prove your credibility if no one gives you a chance to show your worth?
In a lot of cases, entry-level consultants tend to start off as part of an agency, where they get to learn more about the business and industry. Then, they strike off on their own, having made enough of a name for themselves to get started.
Or, they have a giant network – all they have to do to get new clients is ask around for referrals through co-workers or acquaintances.
What happens if you don’t have either of the two, though? You can be a great professional & a consultant even if you haven’t worked in an agency or have a network.
So, how do get your first client as a consultant without any resources to get you going? Well, it can be easier than you’d think if you use content marketing.
Note: for the purpose of this article, we’re referring to consulting as pretty much anyone who’s offering services for a client. Think, strategy consultants, professional coaches, and even B2B startups.
So What’s Content Marketing, Exactly?
Content marketing, in a nutshell, means marketing your business through free content (articles, ebooks, podcasts), rather than advertising. Instead of pushing your product directly, you give out free information that could potentially be useful to your clients, solve a problem they have, or educate on a given topic. Which, in turn, can raise awareness about your product or service.
It’s a win-win for both sides – they get to find useful information for free, while your business gets a new prospective client.
Content Marketing has been pretty popular for the past few years – around 88% of B2B marketers already use content in their marketing strategies. And this isn’t all that surprising – companies that use content have conversion rates 6 times higher than their competition.
The problem is, though, a lot of people tend to do it wrong. They think that by simply making a blog is going to drown them in traffic, leads, and clients. After having a reader-less blog for a few months, they end up calling it quits.
If done right, though, content marketing can be an essential weapon in every consultant’s arsenal to bring in loyal, long-term clients.
Landing Clients through Content Marketing
So how, exactly, do you “do content marketing?”
Depending on your niche, industry, or goals, there are different approaches. You could, for example, be using SEO to rank on keywords important for your business. Or use content as a means of educating customers about your product.
To land your first client, though, what you’d want to be doing is…
- Create Relevant Content – Finding a pain-point for your ideal customer & creating a piece of content on the topic. Can be pretty much anything – an article, guide, podcast, etc. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll be focusing on outreach using written content, specifically.
- Do Content Outreach – Making sure that your article is seen. Emailing influencers, bloggers, submitting on Reddit, etc. You’d want anyone that could buy your service to have a look at the article.
- Upsell Your Services (Optional) – Chances are, if you do everything right, you’ll have clients asking YOU for your services. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t hurt to ask if the client needs help with something. This is done through setting up CTAs within your blog posts.
Now, let’s drill into the process step by step.
Creating Relevant Content
As a given, we’re going to assume you already have a blog set up. These days, this isn’t really rocket science – you can hop over to WordPress and start one for a very low cost. If you want an even easier start, you could just create a free Medium account and start with that.
While having a Medium blog means less customization and hence, less authority, it’s a good way to get the ball rolling.
Now, since you’re trying to upsell your services with content marketing, you’d need to write something relevant to your niche.
It should help your ideal customer & solve a problem. Essentially, what you’re trying to do is give away a part of your services for free, as a means of vouching for your credibility. It’ll act as a testimonial to your skills – if your article is THIS helpful, your services must be 10x so!
[expert tip: At a glance, it might seem like you’re giving away a big chunk of your services for free. While that may be true, you’ll still be getting clients that want additional help. ]
So, to get a good idea of what to write, ask yourself…
1. What’s the most common pain point for your clients?
2. What could have a significant effect on your client’s bottom line?
3. Do you have any methodologies you personally came up with? Something that isn’t already discussed on the web.
Or, you could be a bit more empirical about it – rather than make your own conclusions on what the client’s needs are, you can figure it out online.
The easiest way to do that is through either Reddit or Quora. Both are, technically, social media channels (we’ll get into more detail on them later) where you can find either a community based around your niche (Reddit) or questions and answers with professionals in the field (Quora).
So let’s say you’re writing an article on Google AdWords. You can find the appropriate communities on both Reddit and Quora.
For Reddit, you can check out the relevant Subreddit (community based on a topic) through search…
With Quora, you can either check out the most popular questions on the topic…
Let’s say you’re a local SEO consultant working with SMBs. Meaning, you help small-to-medium sized businesses rank on Google for their appropriate location.
While you could, in theory, grab the phone and start dialing, there are only so many people you could reach. The fact that most phone calls would end with “who gave you this number?” probably isn’t encouraging, either.
Instead, you’d want to create a guide to something that would interest your target market. Which could be anything like…
- Link-Building for Local Businesses
- Citation Checklist for SMBs
- Complete Guide to Local SEO
Even if your content is 100% relevant, though, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good.
Not all content is created equally. In fact, a lot of the content you see pumped out online don’t really help anything or anyone.
And, well, if the content is bad, the entire project is doomed to fail.
Any article that’s overly generic, overdone, etc. is easy to recognize. You want your audience to look at you as an authority, not a spammer.
The impression you’re looking for is, “wow, this guy knows what he’s talking about!” Since, well, if that’s not it, they’re not going to do business with you.
Listicles are usually guilty of this. “Top 10 Business Tips (£3 Will Make You Rich)!” isn’t fooling anyone. In fact, that kind of content will make you lose a lot of credibility. They’re not comprehensive (start to finish) and usually just nitpick minor irrelevant details.
So, for your article to be good, it has to be…
- Authoritative – Whatever topic you’re working on, it has to be 10x better than anything already done out there. The content has to be comprehensive, something you can be proud of.
- Personal – Something out of your own experience that adds value to the content. You need to be seen as an authority in your field – no one’s going to hire you as a consultant if you’re giving out advice based on something you’ve read online.
- Actionable – While theory doesn’t hurt from time to time, it usually doesn’t have any place in the business world. As a consultant, your main goal is to improve your client’s bottom line – and that’s their profits. If they can see your value in dollar bills, you’ve already won them over.
As a bonus, you’ll even do better if you don’t look at your article as a means of advertising. If you’re giving out value for the sake of giving, you’re more likely to be helpful for your clients – and in turn, earn their trust and loyalty.
Doing Content Outreach
Even if you’re the Shakespeare of your topic / field / industry, you’ll still be nobody unless you figure out a way to get people to see it.
Luckily, thanks to the power of social media, you can easily find where your ideal clients hang out. So, even before you publish your article on the blog, you’d want to create a distribution list.
More often than note, the list will include…
- Facebook / LinkedIn Groups – Where your clients hang out & help each other out. It could be, for example, a LinkedIn group for restaurant owners, or a Facebook group for freelance developers.
- Facebook Ads – It’s also a good idea to take advantage of the laser-focused advertising capabilities that come with Facebook. If you’ve nailed the customer pain-points with your article, it won’t be hard to get your ads to rail in traffic.
- Subreddits – Reddit can be extremely helpful for driving traffic as long as you get it right. It’s based on “subreddits,” which are essentially forums on any given topic.
- Quora QA – Since your article is based on your clientele’s pain points, it shouldn’t be hard to find people looking for the exact information you’re giving out in the article.
- Influencers & Experts – This is a more indirect approach – influencers are very unlikely to be your ideal clientele since they do just about the same thing you do. Their audience, however, can be more relevant (if you get them to share your article).
Once you’d got the article ready to publish, you can start a Google Sheets document and start gathering the links.
Facebook / LinkedIn Groups
This is the simplest distribution channel since all you have to do is re-post your content in different places. If the content is relevant, you’ll even end up getting a lot of positive feedback.
The downside here, though, is that not a lot of people actively follow these groups. So, unless you get a lot of likes and comments, there might not be a lot of traffic in it for you.
The best way to get this to work, though, is by giving out some value in the description of the article. If you just randomly post something in a group, it’ll probably get overlooked as spam.
If you try to start a discussion or include a brief summary of the article, you’re a lot more likely to get noticed.
There are several ways to find relevant Facebook / LinkedIn groups – the most obvious of which is search.
Another option is through Expert Roundups, which may or may not be possible, depending on the industry. So, you’d search for something like “[niche] best facebook groups” on Google.
Some groups tend to be very strict on their advertising policy and might see your distribution as spam. So, if you have the time, you’d want to start getting familiar with the groups before you start the distribution.
Share an article or two, write comments, be helpful – this way, you’ll be significantly increasing your chances of being heard.]
There’s a reason for Facebook being the most popular advertising platform – you can laser-focus your ideal customer by using the Facebook’s vast amounts of data.
So, if you have some advertising budget, it might be a good idea to run some ads on Facebook.
While mastering Facebook ads is hard, getting started is pretty simple. So first off, you go to Facebook Ads Manager & register an account. Then, you pick your marketing objective…
For the purpose of advertising your content, you’d want to go for the “traffic” option.
Then, you pick your target demographics. You’ll get to pick options such as…
Chances are, if you’re at this stage, you’ve already defined your target market, so this shouldn’t be too hard.
Then, you pick your daily ad spend, create the ad itself (copy, visuals, etc.) and launch.
Now to be fair, while the process of creating an ad is simple enough, mastering it isn’t. To learn everything about Facebook ads, you might want to check out this guide by Buffer.
Let’s say, for example, you’re a coach for new freelance writers. You’ve decided to write a personal account of how you got into the field, as well as in-depth personal tips & tricks.
Your target audience on Facebook would then be pretty much cut out for you…
Age Group: 25 – 40 (Old enough to have enough professional experience)
Average Income: X – Y (Enough for them to freely afford your services)
Interests: Writing, freelancing, creative writing etc.
As we’ve already mentioned, Reddit can be amazing for your business as long as you get it to work. It’s divided in “Subreddits,” which are essentially communities based on a certain interest or field.
Getting this right, though, is the hard part – if you advertise on Reddit, you’ll get downvoted, mocked & end up on the hall of fame on /HailCorporate/.
And to be fair, it’s rightfully so. Advertisers, more often than not, are using shady techniques as a means of getting hits.
If you’re planning on using Reddit, it should be less about your showing off business and more about contributing to the community. So, instead of just shilling your blog post, you’d want to customize it for the Reddit post format.
Meaning, you work without screenshots, get the paragraph formatting right, and mention a link to your original blog post at the end (Redditors want to read on Reddit, not your blog).
As a given, you’d want to find relevant Subreddits for your article. Those are pretty simple to find using the search on the website…
You’d want to go for smaller subreddits that are more niche (but have a more relevant user base) or the larger ones (if your article is generic enough). Think, /r/entrepreneurship (has every type of business owner) VS /r/smallbusiness (SMB-owner specifically).
Let’s say you’re a content marketing agency & are looking for clients to write blog posts for. Let’s say you tend to work with clients in some specific field. The article could be “Content Marketing for SMBs.”
In turn, the Subreddits you’d go for would be…
Since your article is written around the pain points of a client, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are people out there actively looking for that information.
And what’s a better source of first-hand information than Quora?
For the unaware, Quora is pretty much the same thing Yahoo Answers was in the 2000s. The main difference is that it’s more geared towards educational content than anything else.
Think entrepreneurship, startups, success, careers, etc.
And as with any technical topic, you’re bound to find questions surrounding your exact article. As we’ve already mentioned, you do that by finding topics through search.
Once you’ve found a bunch of questions, you bulk them up in your distribution sheet and create a short summary you can use as an answer with a link to the original article at the end.
Influencers and Experts
As we’ve mentioned before, influencers are probably not your ideal customer – but their audience can be. If you’re doing digital marketing consulting, for example, an influencer like Brian Dean sharing your article could mean a lot of credibility and traffic for your business.
You might be thinking, wouldn’t the expert sharing my content technically be helping their own competition? Well, not exactly – chances are, you offer different types of services (courses VS service, for example). So, there’s a good chance you’d be setting up a mutually beneficial relationship]
Getting the influencer to see or share the article, though, is the hard part. You can’t just drop them an email like they’re your old bud from college (unless they are, in that case, nice job!). They already get hundreds of emails asking them to share articles – you’ll have to figure out a way to stand out. The best way to do that is through relevance.
Even if your article is completely novel, you’re bound to find work on the same topic. So, you google for similar articles. Think, anything that you could add a comment or two to with your own.
Take out the contact information for the influencer & drop them an email. Think, something along the lines of…
“Hey, I recently read your article on X. I’ve published something similar on my blog, but I did some things differently. I added information more details on [topic]. Did you know that [interesting fact]? I’d appreciate it if you take a look at the article (and maybe share it with your audience, if you think it’s something they’d find interesting.)”
The key to making this work, though, is not to be too salesy. It shouldn’t look like you have some ulterior motive – you just want to share an interesting fact. If you manage to get shares and feedback on it, even better!
While this, more or less, describes the basics of influencer outreach, there’s a lot more to learn if you want to perfect your outreach game. Learn more about it with our complete guide here.
Upselling Your Services
Before you start with the distribution, you need to make sure that the traffic you get from the article learn about your services & convert.
There is a ton of ways to do this – usually through welcome mats, CTAs, etc. How you choose to handle is up to you. What we’d recommend, however, is being minimalist.
Have a single CTA within the article offering up your services as a consultant. This could either be custom-designed (more likely to work), or a simple text-based call to action at the end (your only option if you’re using Medium).
Chances are, if someone cares enough about your business, they’re going to reach out. Overwhelming their reading experience with ads will only cause them to drop off. At the end of the day, no one likes being sold to, but everyone loves freebies.
Once you’ve got everything at hand – the article published, the distribution list complete, email drafts written – you can start off the process.
If you got to this point, you’re pretty much set. All you have to do is keep up with all of the channels you’ve posted in and if possible, help out anyone in the comments.
Speaking of, once you’ve tried out our strategy on landing your first client, let us know how it went down in the comments! Questions, comments, personal experiences or tips are also welcome!