It’s no secret that the workforce and the way work is done is changing. For the past few months, I’ve been focused on writing blogs about how consultants and other service-based entrepreneurs can create a niche for themselves in the evolving digital age. And more specifically, how can they capitalize on the $5 Billion dollars Canadian corporations spend on an annual basis on consultants and 3rd party service providers.
But it’s not enough just to hang out a shingle and tell the world you’re open for business. You have to be careful and calculated about how you decide what to specialize in and how you can stand out from the competition.
To that end, I invited four leading Canadian corporate experts to our June Trailblazer Forum live networking event to give our attendees real-world advice on what to do.
Ed Johnson, Retail and International Sourcing and Procurement Executive. Board Member and Finance Chair for Bangladesh Worker Safety and Corporate Standards Committee TFO Canada
Cassandra Dorrington: As President of CAMSC (Canadian Aboriginaland Minority Supplier Council) Cassandra leads the charge of championing business relationships and economic growth of the Canadian supply chain through the inclusion of Aboriginal and Minority suppliers.
Helena Pagano, SVP of Total Rewards, Sun Life Financial: Helena previously held the role of Managing Director and Head of Human Resources for Capital Markets and Investor & Treasury Services at RBC Capital Markets as well as several executives positions within TD Bank.
Michael Carter, Co-Founder and CEO Kahuso: A disruptive technology platform that connects accomplished executives with companies for part-time, interim, advisory and board opportunities. Michael is also graciously sponsored this event.
Following are the Top 10 highlights and key points from the event.
Top Tip # 1: Changing talent needs
Research indicates that by 2020, 40% of the world’s workforce will be freelance. Which means there is big shift away from role definition and into results definition. This leaves a big hole in talent for organizations that now have to change their business models in order attract and retain new agile talent and make their companies an appealing workplace.
Find your niche. If you know how to work with a multi-generational workforce, understand (and have real-world experience in) trends in environmental and social responsibility, or have experience with digital change and the adjustments needed to help people and machines work in partnership, now’s the time to present yourself as a niche solution provider.
Top Tip # 2: Do one thing well to differentiate yourself
Be ultra-specific about what you do. Yes, that means even narrowing your focus inside your niche. Companies prefer outside consultants who have singularly-focused experience in a particular area where they need a problem solved now. They look to “outside help” to provide perspective, direction and assistance to help them navigate change, new markets, people management, and more.
Top Tip # 3: Specialized Areas of Opportunity include:
HR consultants can find many gig possibilities in large organizations. For instance, in large HR departments, there is typically just HR person for several hundred employees. Obviously that person cannot manage all those people, so they have to outsource that work to an expert.
Oftentimes company executives look for an outside perspective and consultation on workplace issues they’d rather not discuss with in-house HR staff. There is a lot of opportunity for those experienced in this field. As well, if you specialize in helping people with anxiety and depression in the workplace, that is also of great value to organizations (and it’s a really hot topic these days).
There are myriad types of digital technologies being introduced into the workplace. Specializing in one of these areas, or hiring a good technology person to work with you could help you pioneer a disruptive technology solution.
Top Tip # 4: Understanding your value proposition
Determine your target audience and how you can best meet their needs. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. All that does is scatter your efforts and make what you do very confusing to potential clients. Remember that while there are opportunities with big companies, you need to investigate ways to create your marketing funnel and how much time you want to invest in navigating that complexity for the size of the prize at the end.
Realize that work doesn’t happen in a one-shot deal. Patience is a virtue. You have to keep nurturing your prospects, stay on their radar, so that when they have a pressing need, you’ll have a better chance of being the person they contact.
Top Tip # 5: Getting your foot in the door
Don’t make it all about you! 80% of consultants still come in to “product push”!
Whenever you reach out to a potential client, be curious and engage them with lots of questions – be consultative! Don’t simply state that you can do this or that for them based on what you know/your experience. Use the opportunity to educate and add value. Share with them the issues you’re seeing in the industry that could be affecting their company and even offer an insight into a proven strategy you’ve used to help teams make a change, adapt to technology, attract diverse talent, whatever it is you specialize in.
Top Tip # 6: Networking
Networking is critically important. The links you make with people start the ball rolling. When you become a trusted resource, word gets around. Also attend trade events. If someone is looking for a solution, they’re also looking for different ways to reach out and find service providers like you.
Top Tip # 7: First impressions count.
You have such a small moment of time to make your impact known. You want that impression to be memorable. Be relevant. Understand and even be ahead of emerging trends. Study the company’s business model which will also tell you what you’re worth to them in terms of value. And always check your ego at the door.
Top Tip # 8: Another note on target audience clarity
Different-sized companies have different needs. Finding out where organizations buy their services can be the pathway in. Remember, large organizations will be looking for your capacity to deliver, so make sure you can deliver what you say you can.
Top Tip # 9: Build a practical implementation plan.
Independent consultants have the advantage of being able to help clients implement. So often solutions are presented as the silver bullet with no execution plan. Make sure you are able to customize a turnkey solution that you can help the company implement with minimal hassle.
Top Tip # 10: Resiliency
Learn to be resilient because you will face a lot of rejection. Having a skill or specialty is great, but you also have to understand how to grow your business – these are two different skills. You also have to be honest with yourself about how you’ll make your business successful. After all, you will be President, CFO, marketing officer, etc. How will you realistically handle everything? And when will you know you need help?
Bonus Tip: Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty!
You’re going to be asked or need to do things that you probably haven’t done in 10 or 20 years, and it’s going to feel foreign to you. Being a consultant is not the same as an executive in an organization. You must adapt to being a business owner, clearly understand your target audience and the value you bring, and learn to sell to corporations with confidence!
© Kim Chernecki 2017
Kim Chernecki is the President and Founder of The Dream Business Creator (and parent company Freedom Street Inc). She is Canada’s leading expert who teaches consultants and small business owners on how they can strategically land and keep a steady roster of high-paying corporate clients. With over 25 years of experience as a top-rated sales performance executive, facilitator, coach and entrepreneur, Kim understands the corporate landscape from both sides of the desk. She has consulted with executives from 100+ leading North American and Fortune 1000 companies and has, herself, started up and grown eight successful, profitable businesses. Ready to create your dream consulting business? Learn more about Kim here. Or book your 30-minute complimentary consultation today!