Last week I worked with a new client that was struggling to define their positioning strategy. It includes many different elements, but in this case the key to making progress was to identify their support network. Here's what this is, and how it impacts your consulting practice.
Your professional network is composed of all of the people you have engaged in the past. Maybe you've worked with them, maybe not. You may have met them in person, or just exchanged emails and messages on social media.
Your support network is a segment of that list. It includes all of the people who are not prospects but can help you build a strong reputation - and, by consequence, generate new opportunities.
If you're familiar with the CCS framework, you understand that creating demand for your offerings is the first pillar of growth. You can't sell to prospects who are not interested in what you do. And you won't have the chance to deliver results for clients if they don't hire you first.
Do you need a strong brand (reputation) to generate demand for your services? After working with several young consultants in the past I know the answer is a clear no.
If you have an effective marketing strategy (hyper-specific positioning, go-to-market plan, trust-building initiatives) and a flawless implementation of that plan (marketing engine), you will succeed. People will be interested. Some of the conversations will result in new clients.
Knocking on doors works when you do it right. But it's undeniable that having some people to knock on your door makes everything easier.
The client that was struggling to define his positioning is not a young consultant - the partners have decades of experience. What they never realized was that their market position is their reputation. It is how people perceive them and their work.
Leveraging their support network is an effective solution to the positioning problem. After all, they are the people who will help them refine and broadcast their reputation:
- They can put you in front of their audience and help you raise awareness.
- They can share your work since it’s relevant to their audience.
- They sell a complementary product or service and can refer you to their clients.
- They are fans of your work and promote it spontaneously.
Ultimately, your support network can help in two ways:
- To narrow your positioning: My client has strong relationships with multiple executives and companies in the food and beverage industry, which was key to their decision of specializing vertically.
- To cultivate a strong brand and reputation: The client has identified several digital influencers in the industry, and now has a clear plan of action to build and nurture a relationship with them. These people will join his support network in the future.
Your previous clients and engagements may join it over time, but remember that nurturing your support network is something you can do intentionally. Running a solo or small consulting practice is not a reason to neglect it. Who can help you on the journey?
Don't forget that, after all, you're in the relationship business.