Finding ways to earn more, work less, grow faster are always the big goals for creating true freedom in your business and in your life. Here’s part 2 on the topic of how to increase your consulting income without taking on more clients, where we turn to creating a velvet rope marketing strategy.
After 15 years in business, I’ve learned a few strategies for growing a consulting practice that doesn’t involve taking on more clients.
In this second part of our three-part series, I’m going to reveal a neat way to get über selective with who you take on as a client alongside increasing the efficiency of your operational processes. It’s called a Velvet Rope Marketing Strategy.PREFER TO LISTEN?
Finding ways to earn more, work less, grow faster are always the big goals for creating true freedom in your business and in your life. This is very close to my heart.
Because after leaning heavily on the consulting part of my business, a few years ago, I was starting to suffer from burnout doing back-to-back projects or travelling up and down the breadth of the country visiting clients on-site, I knew that more clients was not sustainable and was certainly not desirable.
From doing internal audits for companies to observing from the outside, I’ve looked at how businesses operated. I’ve looked at their customer journeys. I looked at what they did for marketing and their end-to-end sales processes.
Last week I talked through four things you can focus on to leverage your client work:
1, Focus on doing fewer things for more clients.
2, Focus on doing more things with your existing clients.
3, Focus on doing work at the top of the tree.
4, Focus on working in collaboration with others.
In all the work I do, both for large corporate organisations and small businesses and working with solo consultants, coaches and other practitioners, my mission is simple: to work out all the different ways to leverage your time, expertise and systems to earn more while working less. You want to work smarter not harder, right?
And after all the research I’ve done, running hundreds of strategy calls and evaluating business processes, I have a few answers for how that can be achieved. Because, of course, it isn’t one thing. There’s no one business model or marketing system that fits every business and works for everyone right out of the gate, or the digital box.
Yet when you look at all the marketing stuff out there, all these ‘gurus’ purporting the next best thing – on the one hand, this feeds our shiny object syndrome, our desire for a quick fix, the one tactic that will save the day.
And on the other hand, it speaks to our logical brain that says you need a complicated funnel in place to nurture the know, like, trust – and while both are laudable goals, it’s annoying. And frustrating!
What you want is something fast that works, right? So I always advise you to (a) start with your warmest market and shortest path, and (b) start with an introductory pilot and introductory pricing to validate the offer and reduce the cost barrier.
However, once you’re past the product market fit stage, you’ll be looking to ramp things up, and that means your leads will be a little bit colder and they’ll need to find out more about you before they’re ready to buy.
Once you have consistent marketing and sales flow going, you’ll want to do the opposite of what you did to start with. That means (a) pre-qualify your prospects, and (b) build out the value in your program and increase your prices.
Depending on what stage you’re at, I can’t tell you ONE thing that will work. But I can tell you 10 things that can work, probably 50 things. And I can help you figure out which is the right choice for you, and your business, out of everything you could do.
And my approach to business acceleration is helping people identify what stage they are at, what is standing in the way of growth, and what steps to take to implement a strategy that builds on solid foundations, is workable, dependable and ultimately scalable.
And that brings me to the next part that we’ll dive into in this episode – using a velvet rope strategy – which allows you to pre-qualify people before they enter and have them feel special.
For instance, you can put an application process in place to ensure you’re only working with high quality clients who respect your values and approach to the work. And that usually means you can increase your fees and start charging what you’re worth.
As you’ll know, velvet ropes are used to control the flow of guests at events. And velvet rope marketing has become an important way to attract better clients using exclusivity.
Think about those velvet ropes you see at night clubs and other party facilities to keep out the riff raff aha. And from the client’s point of view, a velvet rope signifies something is exclusive, elite and getting past it is a privilege, that not everyone gets in.
And that’s what you want so you avoid the overload and overwhelm of working with clients that vex you and with clients that overstretch you.
I’ve personally been on this pursuit of life balance for a good while. Even though I’m a self-confessed workaholic, I love my freedom to choose what, when and with whom I work.
And it’s been my mission to help other consultants, coaches and practice-based professionals do the same, to drastically raise their revenue while avoiding entrepreneurial burnout and without adding more clients.
I’ve talked before about creating a good business plan for working smarter not harder, and getting support to implement it and keep you accountable.
Today, I’m going to share with you some questions that help you with business planning, focused on choice, value and prices, and how this impacts client work in your practice.
Let’s start with prices and move towards what’s often called a Velvet Rope strategy that helps you say no to the wrong clients who pay you too little and cost you too much!
So first off …let’s explore ways of increasing your fees.
#1 Increasing Your Fees
In my own business, as I’m sure is the case for many of you, I wanted to earn what I was worth and create financial independence. But in the beginning, the only way I thought I could do that was by taking on more clients or increasing my fees.
I did both. And as we explored last week, working at the top of the tree and attracting higher fees actually meant fewer clients, working collaboratively meant fewer hours – which meant I’d immediately leveraged my time, earning the same income for the same or less work – that was the first revelation!
So… I still wanted to increase my income without increasing my workload – I needed to figure out the how? How could I increase my consulting income without taking on more clients?
At first, I had no idea. So I put my fees up again. (At this point, I was earning 3-4 times what other business consultants/coaches/advisers were pulling in.)
Things became a little patchy and with fewer clients paying more, my business was more prone to risk if one cancelled or pulled out. So creating a more dependable income became the new success game.
I got to researching the whole concept of leverage in business – and realised there were tangible ways to transition to a more scalable model – from traditional consulting hierarchies and systematisation to more transformative online one-to-many offerings.
This is where my operational improvement experience came into its own. So we turn next to the second way to velvet rope your business: systematising your operational processes.
#2 Systematising Your Operations
Working within, and consulting with, large corporate organisations, small to medium sizes businesses, and solo practitioners has given me a great view of business processes, planning procedures, collaboration across functional teams.
Even for solo professionals, there’s often misalignment in how key operations are set up, and how they’re managed – and yes, even when it’s just one person doing everything.
With all the various online systems at our disposal these days, it should be easy to get everything streamlined, right? Sadly, it’s not.
A lot of the time, what we have in place both systems and processes, tools and teams, has grown organically. We add things on, yet rarely take things away.
A big part of the consulting work we do is process review and lean management. And it’s not really the kind that you see or hear about in manufacturing plants.
What I do is much more working with service-based business, so our focus in on end-to-end customer journey, the engage-educate-enrol process I talk about often.
You can increase the capacity of a business quite substantially when you document exactly what you do, take a good hard look, and get rid of historical or wasteful elements of a process. We do this across teams to get things aligned and seamless, especially from the customer’s point of view and experience.
But you can also do it for your own business, which is really useful if you’re looking to outsource or hire people to take some of the administrative load off you.
Have a look at one or two of your key overarching processes, such as for marketing and sales: how you acquire a new client, how you onboard a client; or for client management: how you monitor a project or evaluate the outcomes.
Documenting your standard operating procedures (SOPs) is a great way to look under the hood and do a bit of tuning.
At a deeper level, you can start looking at the sequence of communication a client gets – we call this the end-to-end customer experience. It may start with your website or landing page, or your social media – when they opt-in or book a call, it continues with your email marketing, the follow up for appointments or when you invite them to events, and right through to bookings and payments, onboarding and customer support or client management.
Putting some effort into your SOPs ensures accuracy and efficiency. A couple of tips that impact your revenue here are:
- Good customer service and support can be a huge factor in retaining clients. If you have a VA who helps you in the admin, make sure they understand your standards and give them the proper training, especially if they are client-facing.
- Make sure you always take a deposit on booking, and have a clear cancellation policy. This way if someone pulls out, you’re not entirely out of pocket or left with a gap in your delivery schedule and income. It’s also a way to ensure you attract clients who don’t mess you around, both a deterrent and being clear on your policies.
- Think hard about the time you’re spending on social media. Although it can be free marketing for your business, and you would be missing a trick not to use it, time is money. Keep your hours to specific tasks, promotions or campaigns so you’re very intentional about everything you put out there, and use only those platforms where you’re most on brand, in your element and with your ideal target audience.
Let’s now move to the third way you can find leverage and increase your income without increasing your client load.
#3 Cutting Out Unnecessary Costs
In a consulting or coaching practice, cutting out unnecessary operating costs can be a huge contributor to increasing your net income. It’s important to pay attention to the highest operational costs and reduce the ones that are not vital to your business.
1 – Review and /or cut unnecessary marketing expenses, as this will impact the profit margins from the income you make from the clients you do work with.
Small businesses often get their marketing and ads spend very wrong; they either spend too much without much sense of the return on investment or they don’t spend enough as they fail to track properly what’s working and what to invest more in or stop doing.
If you’re running ads that aren’t converting, time to cut that expense, at least until you work out where the problem lies.
2 – If you’re not tracking customer journey data analytics, a good way to find out what’s working in the time and effort you spend to get a client, ask them in the first discovery call or appointment to share how they found out about you! You may hear some surprises!
That social media rotation you ran ends up being way more work and way less worthwhile than the 100 quid you spent on a local newspaper ad or the three guest spots you did on those obscure podcasts you got invited onto.
Determine the top ways that people find out about you and your business. This direct feedback can help you boost revenue by cutting costs where you need to based on the ROI.
3 – The same goes for operating costs. Maintaining an accurate list of all operating costs can help when the time comes to reduce spending and streamline services.
Although for service providers working from home, overheads seem very low, your operating costs can really add up. Look at what you are spend on marketing, your own professional development, digital tools, and outsourcing.
The total amount in any given month or year shouldn’t be a shock, you should be planning that spend based on forecasted sales.
I can’t tell you the sense of liberation I felt when I deleted all the courses, guides, videos I’d purchased over the years. Not only were most a waste of money and time, these things cost you in non-financial ways too because they defocus you and have you spinning round trying all kinds of things that don’t move the needle in your business income.
4 – Another way to reducing time and money spent is to move to electronic records, bookings and customer relationship systems.
Right, so all of those things go in the efficiency pile.
Now let’s now move on from increasing prices and cost savings, because those are not the only ways to work smarter not harder.
One really big change I made early on in my consulting business, which I continue to do in my mentoring and coaching programmes, is to make sure I’m only working with clients who are the right fit.
So the most important component of a velvet rope strategy is about how you filter, sift and sort potential clients. It’s all about…
#4 Attracting Better Clients
When you’re getting yourself established in your field, and working on positioning and branding, your approach to getting clients is likely to be more about direct outreach than attraction marketing.
In building your audience and as your list or followers grows, the key is to engage, nurture and favour those who are most responsive. They’re opening your emails, liking your posts, commenting on your stuff.
Now, I’m not big in social media, it’s never been where my ideal clients hang out. But they do find me and get on my email list and I can see the ones who are most active, so I can send some special messages just to them – so selected targeting for exclusive offers to my most engaged people, my VIPs.
These super fans are likely your perfect people, the ones who have the highest brand affinity with you and will be eager to hear from you on a daily basis and share what you do with others.
As you gain visibility for what you do – becoming distinctive and slightly famous, as I write about in my book Leveraged Consulting in the Digital Age – you’ll find you get approached by people who are not always a good fit.
You want to avoid getting pulled back into doing too many different things for too many different clients, which can happen when you start saying yes more than you say no. Be discerning about what opportunities are right for you.
One of my clients is in this good position. She’s really good at what she does and wows everyone in an audience with her message and unique way of talking about risk and innovation.
Particularly stand-out because she works mainly in the financial sector, she’s a colourful character that gets attention. Her issue was not one of getting enough offers, it was of knowing what are the right things to say yes to.
With the backdrop of the vision and values driving her whole business, we worked on a set of criteria that would help her know and communicate who’s a good fit for what she does, what she’s willing to do, for how much.
You can qualify and disqualify people at any or every stage of your marketing and sales process. It helps you to stay authentic and on-message for your ideal clientele, and specifically it helps ensure you:
- Avoid trying to please everyone in your branding, content and offers
- Attract your velvet clients and can make it an experience for them
- Dump your vexing clients and prune your client list
- Identify your mid-range clients and dump them or develop them to be more ideally suited to your way of working.
The more we show who we are up front, the more obvious it becomes who is a best fit. Many will self-select out if we are not for them.
The second stage in this is having an application process – the more in demand you are, the more rigorous this needs to be! Your velvet rope ensures access to you is something your prospects have to qualify for.
We also are qualifying people even further during the sales conversation. We get a sense of who they are, what they’re all about, how they think, how they express their feelings.
And we should be willing at that point to call people out on their excuses, because I’m not a fan of working with negative/critical people who always find a reason not to do something.
I’m all for working with people with an open, growth mindset who want to work together to figure out how they can do something, not why xyz won’t work!
Which brings us to how to create the velvet rope policies that go in front of access to your product, program or service.
How to Create Your Velvet Rope Policies
Here’s a quick exercise you can do to get started with your criteria, that you need to work from to accomplish the results we just went through. There are FIVE STEPS.
And remember, if you’re listening to this on the move, you can read the article version of this episode to get the steps down.
STEP 1: WHAT ARE YOUR IDEAL CLIENTS LIKE?
List the QUALITIES, VALUES & PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS you would like your IDEAL CLIENTS to possess.
Let me break it down for you – think about your ideal potential client in terms of:
- What type of people you love being around?
- What do they like to do?
- What do they talk about?
- Who do they associate with?
- What kinds of values do they hold dear?
- How do they learn?
- Are they smiling, outgoing, creative types?
STEP 2: WHAT’S GREAT ABOUT YOUR CURRENT IDEAL CLIENTS?
Think about your current clients or most recent clients:
- Who do you love interacting with the most?
- Who do you look forward to calls with?
- Who are the clients who don’t feel like work to you?
- Who is it you sometimes just can’t believe you get paid to work with?
Write down their names, and dig deep into why they’re ideal – not just their personalities or work ethics, but their dreams, goals and attitude.
Being able to help clients see themselves more fully is an important part of what I do as a coach and mentor — including helping them develop a growth mindset and gain more entrepreneurial resilience.
I screen for folks who are willing to change their perspective, and who are open to learning. Because I always let them know I am known for being very open, honest and no-nonsense.
My friend Danny Iny who I coach on his company’s ACES program says as coaches we need to be tough on the business, gentle on the entrepreneur. That’s so right.
You don’t want to work with people who are always on the offensive or defensive. You want to screen out people who aren’t open to hearing others’ views.
When you look at your current ideal clients, make sure you get a clear picture of these people in your head. Your selection criteria come from the TOP FIVE REASONS YOU LOVE working with them.
STEP 3: WHO DO YOU DO YOUR BEST WORK WITH?
When you are with your best clients, you are at your best too. So now you need to go deeper…
Out of your ideal clients you love to work with, who possess the qualities, values, and personal characteristics you love – look for the cream of the crop.
Who you can do your best work with and guarantee to get amazing results for these clients?
As you are working on steps 1 and 2, think about examples of great results for both you and your clients when you are at your best. Write your thoughts down. Let this list spur more ideas for the list in step 1 and 2, and vice versa.
To do my best, my clients must have these qualities and when I’m at my best, I see these great results.
STEP 4: DUMP YOUR MOST VEXING CLIENTS
Next you’re going to want to identify the types of clients you DON’T WANT. You want to pin down the characteristics or behaviours you won’t tolerate.
What kinds of people should not be getting past the velvet rope that protects you and your business?
In Book Yourself Solid, Michael Port calls these the Duds. I’m not a fan of that term, I just call them Vexing.
Take a good, hard look at your current clients. Be absolutely honest with yourself. Who among your current clients fits the profile you’ve just created of people who should not have gotten past your velvet rope?
Are you willing to fire these more vexing clients? It’s a bold action and requires courage, but it’s incredibly empowering and enabling too – a big reward for a moment of awkwardness.
The feeling of pride and boundaries will motivate you to continue pruning your client base until the less than ideal clients have all been removed.
Now look, if you don’t have clients yet, you can start your velvet rope strategy from a clean slate. To create your criteria, think about co-workers, friends, or even service providers that you’ve worked with in the past.
And if you have clients and all of them are vexing and you can’t fire them all, just start by easing just one of them out first, see how it feels, and move forward from there.
So here’s the next exercise you can do.
STEP 5: DIVIDE YOUR CLIENTS INTO VEXING OR VELVET CLIENTS
If some are mid-way between the two, create another list and call them Mid-Range or if you like rank and filing type things, give every client a score between 1 = Super Vexing and 5 = Super Velvet and you can sort on score.
Draw on both present and past experiences — who inspired you and who made you dread each call with them? Don’t hold back or leave anyone out.
And remember, those who are mid-range, you can help them move towards the Velvet end by developing them into more ideal clients. But also, take some of the responsibility for why they are that way.
Think on ways in which you may, even inadvertently, have contributed to some of your clients being less than ideal. As well as through the coaching relationship your processes, policies, procedures can all help or hinder vexing behaviours.
Managing your prospects expectations of what you expect from them is important too. Making sure you light their fire for the work you do, keep them challenged, and stay excited.
You have to stay committed to believing in the work and believe in them even when they falter themselves, is all part of helping them develop into ideal clients and build resilience.
As you make your velvet rope policies more obvious, you should end up with fewer non-ideal clients. And you may find your mid-range clients either step up their game or fall away naturally.
What’s super important here is that when you’re fully clear about your standards of presence, when you fully demonstrate your values and your views, you’ll naturally attract and draw to yourself those you’re best suited to work with, and you’ll push away those you’re not meant to work with.
Working with clients – you want to attract the great clients and push away the not-so-great clients. And this is particularly the case for your high-end services and programs, that we talked about last week, where the engagement is longer, and the end result or gains you promise to deliver are more complex.
In an increasingly competitive marketplace where your prospects have infinite options and see hundreds of marketing messages every day, the use of a velvet rope marketing strategy creates real and perceived exclusivity.
In turn, this selectivity translates into customer desirability that results in premium prices and increased customer lifetime value.
And that’s what we’ll look at in the next episode, part 3 of How to Increase Your Consulting Income Without Taking on More Clients – Scalable Delivery that Feels Bespoke – when we’ll be getting into how to achieve that important balance of profitability, scalability and sustainability.
Now if you want some help working out the best velvet rope strategy for your business, and how to implement it, then go ahead and book a free strategy discovery call. I’d love to get into this with you!