Many people who start their own consulting business don’t understand marketing, or how a good marketing plan can make or break their business. As a matter of fact, they often confuse marketing with advertising, which is just one tactic in the overall strategy.

Marketing is everything you do to promote your consulting practice. It’s the way you dress, your phone mannerisms, and your business card. It’s your written brochures, advertising, proposals and projects, follow-up, and much more. In consulting, you are the product as well as the promoter, so you need to constantly think about how to sell yourself and your practice to others.

Give and take

The most cost-effective way to do this is by developing a marketing communications plan that strengthens personal business relationships. The more you know about a prospect or customer, the more effective you can be in forming a relationship that ultimately leads to business.

Person-to-person marketing is really a two-way conversation between yourself and your prospects and customers. There’s give and take. You give information about your capabilities and credibility, and come away knowing more about their personality, business, and potential health and safety problems.

This process is also research, in a sense, providing you with information on your competition and the overall marketplace. Then you can position your services and marketing plan accordingly.

This is how it works: First, find a personal contact management software system like Sharkware, ACT!, or Goldmine. These programs manage your time, appointments, and scheduling, and also allow you to build a database of current and prospective clients. This kind of organization and market data are fundamental aggressive selling.

A database permits you to analyze and define your accounts to target your marketing. You need to zero in on businesses most likely to buy your services. Time is important, you don’t want to waste it on long shots.

Here’s a typical example of how your database can save time and channel your energy:

You meet John Z. at an industry meeting. When you return to the office, you enter him into your database as an "A" prospect. Immediately you send him information about your practice. You plan to followup with a phone call in seven to ten days, so you enter a designated follow-up time. In seven days, you reach John Z. as planned. He tells you nothing is needed at the moment. You promise to followup in a month, and note this in the system. A month later you call, and John Z. says there’s still nothing on the horizon but he wants you to keep in touch. You reevaluate this situation and make John Z. a "B" status prospect. These accounts might only be contacted quarterly. If a project does not materialize in three to six months, recategorize the prospect to a "C" listing. These people might be contacted twice a year.

Use our hypothetical example to set up a schedule of communications: "A" contacts deserve a higher frequency than "B", and "B" more than "C". Contacts can be phone calls, letters, postcards or a brochure reinforcing your service capabilities. These reinforcement pieces need to be focused and support your position in the marketplace.

Everything must pull in the same direction

The key is commitment. You’ve got to be committed to planning your work, and working your plan. Your goal is to establish a close relationship with your customer base, no matter what the size. By keeping in regular contact, you’ll be there when they need you.