At least once a month, a new consultant reaches out to me looking for help to build an audience. What do you think I say to them?
Being a consultant myself, I ask them questions. When a prospect comes to you self-diagnosed, you must act just like a doctor - check their symptoms before prescribing any treatment. Chances are what they think they need is wrong, or at least biased and incomplete.
The Desired Outcome
So I ask them "Why?", and "What would an audience do for you?" The vast majority mention that this would help increase their visibility. Have a bigger distribution. Get more clients. And they're right.
Moving forward with the discovery, I shoot my next question: "But is there a specific reason why you want to build an audience? Because there are many other ways you can produce the same outcomes - get more clients - without having an audience."
That's when their faces change, and they realize they might be missing something.
Consultants often come to me with the goal of increasing their LinkedIn followers, growing their email list, or having more prospects tune in for their webinars. They’ve been told that that’s how you grow your consulting firm. They’ve been told wrong.
It’s not that building an audience won’t help you grow your practice. It will. Every consultancy partner would benefit from it. But if what you’re looking for is new clients, there are far faster, less energy-intensive ways to find them.
Running The Numbers
If you're like me and work with a handful of clients every year, your business is based on 1:1 relationships. Your time is spent making personal connections and creating demand with selected prospects. I don't need more than 30-40 conversations every year to keep my pipeline full and healthy.
Now let's say you sell online workshops. They are obviously priced cheaper than bespoke advisory services, and to generate a similar revenue you have a goal of bringing in 100 paid attendees/year.
Since your effectiveness drops abruptly when you move away from a high-touch offer into a more scalable one, the real impact of this is huge:
There are several ways you can leverage an audience to do that:
Now, instead of finding 40 people to talk to (like a standard advisory practice would), you need to find 30,000 to join your list. Or be one of the top 1% most successful creators on LinkedIn.
Sure, it might be easier to convince someone to subscribe to your newsletter than to directly approach target accounts and individuals. And you can certainly hit that revenue goal with higher conversion rates and a smaller audience. But I wouldn't bet my money on it.
There's No Right Answer
Would you rather talk to 40 people, or 30,000? Both work and are compelling in their own way. The decision will depend on your business model, personal preferences and ambitions, and market positioning.
Some consultants love to create and share their ideas in public, even if it takes time for their audience to grow and mature. Others might hate the pressure of consistent publishing and are not interested in learning how to work the algorithms.
Even those who love having an audience might not choose to run their consulting firm that way - which is the case for many of the consulting partners I know. They simply find it more appealing and understand that going directly to their ideal clients takes less time to market on a day-to-day basis and leads to results much faster. Even if that means reducing leverage and making the business more dependent on them.
Becoming a minor influencer is not a prerequisite for success. You might want to build a large audience, but you certainly don't need it to find clients.
“Most CEOs of boutiques are not natural marketers or salespeople. They are experts. Many are giants in their fields. In some cases, some are on TV, the best-seller list, and the speaking circuit. However, when I look at their P&Ls, I am shocked by how little revenue they bring in. How can this be? They would rather go to the dentist than make a sales call. They do not know how to go to market with their services.”
Are you building an audience because it's a cozy buffer against the vulnerability of direct sales?
Remember, you can't hide behind your content forever. In fact, going out and connecting one-on-one can transform your consultancy more powerfully and more quickly than any blog post. The story you tell yourself about the safety of audience-building might be holding you back from making a bigger impact.