Guest Column: A Gardener’s Guide to Growing Your Consulting Practice

A Gardener’s Guide to Growing Your Consulting Practice

Robbie Kellman Baxter & Linda Popky

Now that you’ve all made and discarded our New Year’s Resolutions, it’s time to get serious about building your consulting practice in 2013.

Consider taking a page from the gardener’s notebook.  No matter what time of year, serious gardeners are always working on their gardens in one shape or form…

…pruning back plants to allow them to blossom more fully.

…pulling out weeds and plants that haven’t thrived, to make room for those that have.

…planting new specimens to see what will take.

They usually work from a calendar, thinking about the same issues at the same time each year. It gives them a framework to plan and measure progress through the year. They know that a seedling just put in the ground won’t bear fruit until it matures, and that day will never come if it isn’t fertilized, watered and kept safe from harm.

As disciplined marketers, we need to do the same thing with our consulting practices.

Can you do any of these activities at any time of the year? Absolutely. But we find that it helps to have a plan so that you don’t try to harvest right after you’ve planted. Developing a rhythm around the business of your consulting practice can help you grow and thrive.

Here’s our recommendations for an annual marketing calendar, designed to grow your business and produce rich harvests in the future.

January/February: Start with a Plan.

January is the time to start with the basics. For a gardener, it’s how many acres do you have to tend or where are your gardens positioned?  For us as consultants, it starts with how much resource are you committed to investing in your business this year?

For the consultant, the beginning of the year is the time to think about the scope of what you want to accomplish this year, including what you absolutely need to do to be successful. It’s also the time to get a sense of how much you have to invest in new programs, like a podcast series, or a major overhaul of your website.

Some years, a gardener may have lost everything to a frost, and major replanting is required.  Other years, the garden may be working well and all that’s needed is a bit of trim here and there, and being careful not get in your own way.

Consider your most important objectives What’s still working? What areas need additional thought and consideration? Where is there new ground to cover?

March:  Fix Your Sprinklers; Mend Your Fences.

As a gardener, you want to make sure that pests can’t come in and damage your plot—especially when your seedlings are young and vulnerable. March is also the time to make sure all the support systems—like sprinklers and irrigation—are working correctly and your tools are in good shape and ready to dig into this year’s tasks.

For consultants, this is the time to get your support systems up to par. Update your contact databases and LinkedIn connections. Be sure you have up-to-date photos, and videos, if possible. Ensure your tools, like your website and marketing materials, are sharpened and ready for action.

April:  Spring Planting.

It’s time to get those seedlings in the ground and start the growth season. For a consultant, that means it’s time to launch your new businesses, marketing campaigns or product offerings.

Depending on your resources, most solo consultants probably only have enough energy to launch one or two new things at a time, so choose carefully and monitor these saplings closely.  For example, this is the time to begin testing your new lead generation campaign, or to create a flight of speeches on a new topic.

May: Nurture and Feed

Just like the gardeners fertilize and nurture their gardens, consultants need to continue to nurture and feed prospects and clients.  Is there a relevant article you can send to a particular prospect? Can you offer to review a client’s existing programs and offer input as to where they can make changes? Nurturing is about providing value, and just like sun and water, it needs to happen on an ongoing basis to be effective.

June/July:  Maintenance:

In the summer, the gardener is kept busy just making sure all of the growing plants are planted, watered, staked, fertilized and protected from bad weather.

As a consultant, keeping your garden looking as healthy as it did last year is plenty of work.  Devote your summer to consistently managing your existing programs, doing small website updates, making sure your blog is current, reaching out on a regular basis to your economic buyers and influencers, and nurturing all of the seedlings you’ve planted over the past years.

While it’s important to always be trying new things in your garden, it’s even more important to make sure that the plants that provide structure to your garden–the things you’ve invested in building over the years–stay healthy and continue to flower.

August: Weeding.

With proper nourishment and care, a well-tended garden will be growing like crazy at the height of the summer months.

Contrary to popular thought, summer is *not* the time for a consultant to stop marketing. In fact, many of those activities you started in the spring will now be close to the stage where they bear fruit. Don’t neglect them now! At the same time, nip in the bud those activities that are like creeping vines taking up space– before they get too out of control.

September: Deliver, Deliver, Deliver!

As fall approaches, the gardener keeps a close eye on those plants in his garden, which are close to harvest. It’s also time to start planting those bulbs that will yield floral blooms early next spring.

As a consultant, you’ll want reach out to your clients to make sure they are happy, and maybe even take a break from marketing to be sure you are truly delighting your clients.  It’s a great time to reach out and plant the seed with prospects for next year.

October:  Harvest.

Harvest: Time to reap the fruit of all your hard work.

As a consultant, you should be consistently asking for endorsement quotes and referrals. But it’s especially important when you are basking in the glory of projects well done. Make this a priority.

November: Heavy Pruning.

Every gardener knows that cutting back is a must in order to improve the overall health of the garden, and to make room for better plants.

Review your year and think about what hasn’t worked.  Which clients haven’t been profitable or enjoyable? Which clients should you “prune back,” or even “weed out”? What programs haven’t delivered new leads, projects or other sources of value?   Don’t just clip them back—reach deep and pull out the roots, so you have room for other programs to flourish in the future.

December: Rejoice and Renew.

Gardeners look forward to reviewing seed catalogs to see what’s new, and enjoying schmoozing with their neighbors to compare experience.

So do consultants.  Enjoy the fruits of your efforts, but never take your eye off of the potential for the future. Consider new products, new markets, or doubling down on investments from prior years. Reach out to friends and colleagues to hear what has been working for them. Review your favorite business publications to get new ideas.

However, just because it’s the holidays, don’t stop marketing! Some of the most effective outreach efforts happen during the holiday season when many others have temporarily deserted their marketing efforts.

A Final Thought

While we’ve outlined activities for each month, what’s really important is that you commit to tending your marketing “garden” all year round. Missed January or February? Not a problem. Jump in where you can. It’s always spring somewhere!

Robbie Kellman Baxter is president of  Peninsula Strategies (http://www.peninsulastrategies.com), a strategy consulting firm which helps organizations improve performance through marketing discipline. One of Alan Weiss’ Master Mentors, she can be reached at 650-322-5655 or rbaxter@peninsulastrategies.com.

Linda Popky is a member of the Million Dollar Consulting (R) Mentor Hall of Fame, a Master Mentor, and a licensee of Alan Weiss’ seminars and workshops. The president of Leverage2Market Associates, Inc. (http://www.leverage2market.com), Linda can be reached at (650) 281-4854 or linda@popky.com.

© 2013 Linda Popky and Robbie Kellman Baxter. All Rights Reserved

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