A 4-Step Plan to Grow Your Consulting Business While Working Full-Time

The internet is full of bad advice for growing your consulting business (whether or not you’re doing it full time). Stuff like:

  • “Run Facebook ads.”
  • “Send cold emails.”
  • “Post twice a day on social media.”
  • “Start blogging once a week.”

The last thing you want to do while juggling a full-time job and consulting is to dump ad money down the Facebook drain.

But making a shiny new website and updating your LinkedIn with a cute “Let’s get in touch” message at the end of your bio won’t get potential clients banging down your door, either.

Growing a successful consulting business obviously takes time — time to find a strategy, execute, measure results, and repeat. But time is in short supply when you show up to your 9-5 and execute whatever client work you have. That means whatever strategy you use for marketing your consulting business needs to be fast and effective.

That’s what I’m here to talk about today.

This post goes in depth on a four-step plan to get your next 10 clients … or however many you need to quit your day job.

I’m going to walk you through:

Sound good? Cool. One more thing before we jump in:

You’re an adult, and I’m not your babysitter, so do what you want. But sometimes people struggle with the balance between their day jobs and their side businesses.

    • Don’t consult for direct competitors of your current employer.
    • Don’t do your consulting work on company time.
    • Do check your employment contract to make sure they can’t fire you for consulting on the side.

And if you’re really worried, have a lawyer review your employment agreement to make sure you’re not on the wrong side of a non-compete clause, creating a conflict of interest, etc.

But enough about that. Let’s dig into that four-step plan I promised.

Note: Want to skyrocket revenue over the next 90 days? Book a complimentary call with one of our certified coaches. We’ll look under the hood of your business and pick two to three growth opportunities just for you.

Step 1: Pick a Short-Term Specialty

Consultants hate niching down like a vampire hates garlic. But you know what? Garlic’s good for you.

I am NOT saying you have to go from offering “marketing advice for small businesses” to “marketing advice for print shops” and never expand to different clientele. But I am saying you should test it for 90 days.

Step One is about finding one, highly specific offer you can make to prospective clients. This exercise only takes 30 minutes (or less) but will give you months of clarity in your business. Don’t skip it.

So how do you find that one, highly specific offer?

You start by evaluating your current clients. If you don’t have any, then go read this article to find your first clients and scale. But if you’ve already worked with five to 10 people, then you can use the plan I’m about to show you.

Think about the clients you’ve worked with so far:

  • Who did you like working with the most?
  • What did you do for them?
  • Was the money you made worth the time you spent?
  • Were they happy with the results you got for them?

The perfect clientele is a trifecta: (1) Made good money, (2) cool to work with, and (3) client was satisfied.

Out of the consulting gigs you’ve worked so far, choose one that was profitable, you enjoyed, and your client was happy with.

For some of you, this process is as simple as relaxing on your porch and reflecting on the last few months. If you need something more tangible to make your decision, try copying this example from an imaginary efficiency consultant:

What should your short-term specialization be? (And whether to pursue based on multiple factors)

In this example, helping tech startups organize their growing teams is the best offer to start with because it has the best combination of revenue, personal satisfaction, and client satisfaction.

Step 2: Figure Out EXACTLY How Many Clients You Need

After Step 1, you have:

  1. What kind of business or person you’ll target with your offer.
  2. What, specifically, you will do for them.

Step 2 is also short but super effective at giving you a clear plan to move forward. Here’s the goal for Step 2: Figure out how many clients you need to quit your full-time job.

Here’s the formula:

Take the income you want plus your expenses divided by the money you make per client = the number of clients needed.

You can do this for your desired yearly income or monthly income. I think monthly income is easier.

For example, let’s say you need to make $120,000 per year or $10,000 per month to replace your full-time job. If you charge $10,000 per client, you only need 12 clients in one year (assuming expenses are zero).

If you charge $2,000 per client, then you need 5 clients per month. Unless you have $1,000 in expenses every month, in which case you’ll need a 6th client every other month to meet your bottom line.

Also keep in mind whether you do one-off engagements vs. repeating revenue. If your package pricing is $1,000 every month per client and your goal is $10,000 per month, you need ten clients to hit that goal.

One more thing — don’t pull these numbers out of thin air. What did you charge for the offer you’re now specializing in? Your fee should be the same (or a bit higher, if you have good reason to think you could have charged more).

Step 3: Make a Plan to Find Clients

Not everyone will come up with the same number for Step 2. But when you’re done, you’ll have:

  1. Target audience.
  2. Chosen offer.
  3. Price for the chosen offer.
  4. Target # of clients to quit your job.

Step 3 is to make a client acquisition plan. We’ll run through an example plan to find 10 clients. You can adjust it based on whether you need more or fewer clients.

This plan has three phases. We’ll explore each one in detail, but here is the summary:

  • Phase 1: Word of mouth/referrals. If you’ve already provided your chosen service to a few clients, then you should be able to find one or two more just from referrals. If this is your first time getting clients, read this post on how to find clients instead.
  • Phase 2: Go on a podcast tour. This will get you somewhere around seven more clients if you have a high-ticket offer. For lower-priced consulting, you’ll get more than seven clients from this exercise.
  • Phase 3: Do webinars with your best podcast partners. This will get you at least two more clients.

Remember that the exact numbers you get may be different from the plan. This is just an estimate to get you on the right track.

Phase 1: Get Referrals From Existing Clients

Don’t make this complicated. It’s the simplest of the three phases in your plan to get 10 clients.

Let’s say you’ve chosen to offer compliance consulting to pediatricians. You’ll audit their systems to make sure everything is HIPAA compliant, while helping them do so as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

Email or call every pediatrician’s office you’ve offered this service to. And say something like this:

Hey Sally, I really enjoyed working with you. It was great that we were able to [get key result for them]. I’d love to help other pediatricians in the same way I helped you. Do you know anyone who might be interested?

And if they say Yes, ask them to make an introduction:

Awesome, thanks Sally! Is it too much trouble to ask you for an introduction? I’m sure it would mean a lot more coming from you than if I reached out as some random weirdo on the internet. 🙂

Customize these notes to make it feel natural for you. But the basic step that most consultants skip is to just ask. It’s good to remind them of the results you got for them (if you have something concrete to point to), but the key is just to ask. If all goes well, you could end up with your next client this way.

The specificity of your offer is important here. You’re not offering vague help; you’re asking past clients to refer you specifically to people similar to them for the work you did.

How exactly the math shakes out depends on things like how many clients you’ve done this for, how good you are at closing sales calls, and how strong your relationship is with your client base. For example, if your close rate on referred clients is 33%, and you’ve done this work for two clients, then you need each one to introduce you to three people to get two new clients.

Phase 2: Go on a Podcast Tour

We just wrote a whole article on how to do a podcast tour because it’s such a good (and easy) way to find clients, whether you’re a consultant, freelancer, or course creator.

What is a podcast tour?

It’s where you find podcast hosts who cater to your target audience and get on their shows.

Say you’re the efficiency consultant who’s targeting rapidly growing tech startups from our earlier example. You want their founders to know who you are and what you do. So you Google “podcasts for tech startups” and see this:

"Podcasts for tech startups" Google results page 1

Boom. 💥

Most interview-format podcast hosts are dying to find people to talk to on their shows. They have an ever-present need for new content. You and your knowledge about organizing tech startup teams are their new content.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Make a list of 50 podcasts with audiences that overlap with your target audience. The goal is for their listeners to be your best-fit clients.
  2. Pitch the podcast hosts.
  3. Go on every show that says yes, which should be around 50%, if you follow our process.
  4. Mention your consulting service in the first five minutes of the show.
  5. Make sure the episode includes a link to your site and a call-to-action for your offer.
  6. Watch the new business roll in.

Diana Wu David, one of our coaching clients, did this to sell thousands of copies of her book and drove over $8,000 in revenue to her online course.

In our write-up, she explains exactly what she did. Stuff like:

  • Her dead-simple outreach script.
  • Specific tactics to get listeners to learn about your product and follow you.
  • Why podcasts will drive leads to your business for months (and even years) after they air.

P.S. Going on a podcast tour is one example of our favorite marketing strategy: Using partnerships to get in front of other people’s audiences. You can learn more about partnership marketing, why it works so well, and how to do it here.

Phase 3: Hold Webinars with Your Best Podcast Partners

Phase 2 will take most of your 90-day trial period. After you’ve gone on 20-30 podcasts, you should have at least seven more clients. That number could be higher or lower depending on your specific target audience and how strong your offer is.

But assuming you get seven, that leaves two more to reach our job-quitting goal of ten consulting clients. And that means it’s time to break out the webinar.

"How to take your course or coaching to $10K per month without spending a dime on ads or posting content all over the place" was Bryan's monthly webinar that drove dozens of leads.
Me offering a monthly webinar that drove dozens of leads.

If you’ve never done a webinar before, that’s fine. We put together a full post on how to run a webinar, from pitching your partner to scripts for the call. Think of it as a teaching opportunity: You get in front of your best-fit clients, teach them something really useful, and invite them to learn more by joining your email list and scheduling a one-on-one call with you.

If sales calls aren’t your forte (and let’s be honest, most of us make horrible salespeople without some guidance and practice), read our guide on how to close a sales call. We give you our team’s best practices and step-by-step instructions to close a coaching or consulting lead after a podcast or webinar presentation.

If you follow our step-by-step instructions for running a webinar and closing the sale, that should bring you at least two more consulting clients. But we’ve seen these drive plenty more sales depending on price point, audience engagement, etc.

Step 4: Execute the Plan! (And Avoid These Mistakes)

Now you have a complete plan to find your next 10+ clients. Go do the thing. And when you exhaust your temporary specialization, pick another one. Rinse and repeat.

But while you’re at it, avoid these rookie consultant mistakes:

  1. Relying on 1-2 clients for all your income.
  2. Leaving your current job before you have consistent income.
  3. Waiting for clients to come to you.
  4. Abandoning your temporary specialization too soon.

Mistake #1: Relying on One or Two Consulting Clients

If you can replace your day job income with a single consulting gig, do you really have a consultancy? Or are you the equivalent of a full-time employee with a new job title and self-employment taxes?

It’s tempting to take a big check from a big company and stop looking for more clients. But even the best clients don’t stick around forever. Do you really want to sit around waiting for one of your only clients to leave? Can you take an income hit of 50%… or 100%?

If you’re like me, the answer is absolutely not.

The best way to protect your income is to have four or more clients at any time. And to do enough marketing to add to that number whenever you need.

The methods I went through in this post are more than enough to keep a steady flow of clients coming through your door. Your job is to craft an offer with the right balance of price and fulfillment effort so that you can juggle a healthy roster of clients and stay sane. 🙃

If your consulting work is really time consuming, maybe it’s time to found a consulting firm or at least pick up some freelancers to help you manage the workflow.

Mistake #2: Quitting Your Day Job Before You Have Consistent, Repeatable Income

I’ve seen some people jump straight into building their own business before they even have client #1. No, it’s not a good idea to give yourself a $20,000 runway and “make it happen” if you’ve never done this before.

A full-time job is a blessing. I don’t care if you hate the hours, the manager is mean, or it bores you out of your mind. Take that biweekly check to the bank. And spend your evenings and weekends building your business sustainably. As soon as you have a few clients and know you can keep getting more, feel free to give your boss a two week notice.

Mistake #3: Waiting for Leads to Find You

In 2012, I thought I could get rich by quickly building an iPhone app. So I hired a developer, paid $2,000 for the work, and posted it on the app store. I never made back my $2,000.

Why?

Because putting my app on the store and crossing my fingers wasn’t a marketing strategy. Just like putting together a professional website and hoping for the email inquiries to roll in isn’t either.

I don’t care how perfect your LinkedIn page is; you won’t get enough consulting work to grow your business if you never do the work to get in front of your target audience. Occasional cold outreach isn’t going to cut it, either.

Follow the steps above and you will have consistent leads every month. But you won’t get them if you treat consulting as a low-priority side project.

Mistake #4: Expanding Your Specialty Too Soon

Some people are cool with the idea of a temporary specialty. They figure out one offer, and they calculate how many clients they need. But it all falls apart when they land their first two or three clients.

Why? Because they get too excited. And they want to try something new. So instead of systematically getting better at that one offer while moonlighting, they add in two or three more specialties and try to go after all of them at the same time. Then they burn out because they’re trying to do too much at once.

For example: Say you help real estate agents put together a lead generation strategy. Then a lawyer asks you for help, so now you do lead gen for lawyers, too. Then a different lawyer asks you to write an e-book for them, so now you offer that service on top of the other two … and so on until you’re offering five different things to five different clients.

"This is cool" (cartoon man easily holding a tray with one ball on it).

"OK bad idea, I'm overwhelmed" (cartoon man trying to balance a tray with 6 balls on it).

Don’t do that.

Give your chosen offer at least 90 days. Depending on how much time you have to spend on your regular job vs. your consulting business, it may take longer. Stick to the plan until you have enough clients from that offer to work full time.

Then, it’s up to you to decide when to add in another one. For some niches, you’ll only ever need the one. For others, you may need one or two more. Just make sure you’ve given yourself enough time to grow a stable consulting business before switching your focus.

Want to Skyrocket Revenue Over the Next 90 Days?

This plan will work for most independent consultants and course creators. But if you’d like a personalized plan, we can do that for you.

Book a complimentary call with one of our certified coaches. We’ll look under the hood of your business and pick two to three growth opportunities to skyrocket your revenue over the next 90 days.