What are the best marketing strategies for small consulting firms? You have three main options: First, build your network. Second, create content. Third, use advertising. 

Large firms use the same basic options, but they become more complex when applied at scale. How do you leverage these strategies when you run a small firm?

 Your core leverage will be in one of these three places. It's important to make a choice on where you're going to spend your core time, energy, and money. 

Let's talk about deciding which one of these three makes the most sense for you.

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Understand Your Marketing Options

If you're going to make a good decision, you should understand these options and make an appropriate comparison and contrast.

  1. Build a network. When we say, “build a network,” what are we talking about? We're talking about classic referrals, classic networking. If you go to entrepreneur.com, “How to start a consulting business,” they make recommendations. They say, "Get certified, get basic qualifications. Are you organized? Do you like to network?" It's one of the fundamental things that we know we should do, that is a starting place to build your consulting business: create a referral base, a partnership base, a prospect base of people.
  2. Create relevant content. To put this in context, let’s look at hubspot.com. Hubspot is a huge company that has built their entire momentum on content marketing. There's one article in particular here that says, "Why HubSpot Won't Exhibit at Trade Shows and Events Anymore.” But, this is the kind of thing we think we have to do, right? Go to trade shows, go to events. Well, HubSpot is not doing it anymore. Here's why: it's expensive. It creates their highest cost per lead and it requires a lot of man hours. What are they going to do instead? They're going to speak at events and specifically create more content, because their blog all by itself brings in 20% of their organic leads. They have found scalability inside this idea of creating content.
  3. Advertisement. This report was made by the Content Marketing Institute. It talks about the recent trends in content marketing. We specifically want to get down to the paid advertising section, which is going to tell us that 84% of B2B marketers use paid distribution channels for content marketing purposes, to promote their content, the stuff that they make. So we use that data to give us a sense of expectation.

As a Small Consulting Firm, You Have to Focus

How are you supposed to leverage your options when you just don't have unlimited resources? You have the same options, but you can choose to focus. 

  1. Build a high-value network. Don't prospect and network haphazardly. Build a network of high value people. In other words, there should be a really small list of people who are familiar with the problem you solve and who trust your company as the premier option to solve it. It's a high value network that you work on, cultivate and grow very specifically.
  2. Create relevant content. Sure, you can create 40,000 blog posts. How long will that take you, and how mad will you be when you're done with all of that effort? The greatest return on your energy, on your effort, on your time is creating the most hyper-relevant content you can, and making that content as specific as possible. That gives you leverage and scale.
  3. Run profitable advertisement. Don’t advertise just to get your name out there, just because someone else said it was clever. Focus on profitable advertising. What does profitable actually mean? What cost per lead can you afford? What cost per sale or cost per client can you afford? Use that insight to drive what “profitable” means. 

Consider the Promotional Assets You Have Already

Now we have to take some assessment of our assets. What do we currently have that would allow us to do this well? 

  • Do you currently have a network? Is that a strong place for your particular business? Are you comfortable prospecting? Do you already have a referral base? Are these things already in place in your business, right?
  • Regarding creating relevant content, you got three main formats: audio; video; and written. Which of these three is comfortable? Do you want to do this? Do you have the ability to do this? Is this the leverage you'd like to create in your marketplace?
  • If you choose to run profitable advertisement, it will require money up front. You have to spend some money in order to make some money. That's how advertising works. You also need some lead magnet that will attract clientele and convert them into being a high value prospect. That might be a trial, that might be a demo, that might be a consultation. Which of these do you currently have? How much of this are you prepared to spend? 

Again, to be clear, none of these are right or wrong. They're choices. And it's really important that you put yourself in the place of a decision-maker. Which of these three things do you want to leverage? Be honest about the assets you currently have that would give you that leverage. 

Build a Process and Iterate

No matter what option you choose, you will have to build. Sometimes you hear me use the word infrastructure. There is some infrastructure, some process, that you're going to have to put inside your business. And you're going to have to keep iterating until these things begin to show some real leverage.

Lots of experts-of-the-day encourage you to get started with networking, get started with content, get started with advertisement, but they don't always give you the horizon on how long it takes to get some real momentum. So, let me give you an answer right now. It's going to take you one year. Assume that you're not going to get any momentum from your network, from your content, or from your advertising for one full year. 

So with that being said, which one of these three makes the most sense? How prepared are you? How excited are you? Can you picture leverage in any one of these three options? It's going to take you some time to build the appropriate process, to get enough iterations so that you can customize these approaches for your particular situation.

Can you make marketing work FASTER?

Yes, you can, but in context. Can you speed things up and get value back in a quarter, a month, a week, or even a day? Sure. Some of these things you can apply and see results immediately. But that's a function of how many of these assets you already have in place. 

  • If you have experience in the industry, you already have a high value network. You can tap into that network and see value much more quickly. 
  • If you already have content created, or if you have experience creating content, then sure, you can create one new content piece and see value in the short term. 
  • If you've been running ads for a long time, if you know what that's like and you have some skill there already, then sure, you can run just one ad and see value a lot quicker.

But those expectations are only appropriate in response to the assets you bring to the table. Please don't let the expert of the day convince you that you can see value quickly if they haven't appropriately assessed your assets.

Decide How to Measure Success

The next thing to consider is measurement, improvement and profit. 

  • You need some strategy to measure the size and profitability of the network you're building. As you build your high value network, how are you going to measure incremental improvement? If the idea is to measure the improvement of your network, then there should be a new person added to your network every day, for example. If you're trying to measure the improvement of your network, the value of that person should increase every day. 
  • If you're measuring content, what are your metrics going to be? Number of content pieces created? Amount of traffic created? Number of leads created? 
  • How are you going to measure profitable advertising? Is it going to be cost per lead, per conversation, per sale, or per retainer?

With those metrics in place, now we can appreciate constant improvement. Because you won't get the best end result upfront. You're going to get better over time. 

So as you build your network, you must consider how you get better at building that network over time. As you think about building your content, how do you create more content, better content, better converting content over time? As you consider measuring your profitable advertising, how are you going to get your first set of leads? How can you get better leads and cheaper leads, more profitable leads over time? 

None of these three approaches is better than the others. At some point, you'll begin to create hybrid approaches where you mix all three, but the core leverage in your business will come from a commitment to one of these three things. So you need to decide for yourself where to start. You can only do that when you're honest with yourself about what assets you currently have, and how dedicated you are to creating that ultimate profitability.

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