Folks that follow me on Twitter know that this year has been a particularly difficult one for my business. Projects are smaller in scope, delayed, canceled due to lack of funds or not closing at all. Lots of requests for advice and proposals. Not nearly as many closed deals. This is not unusual — everyone is feeling the pinch of the economy — but it is much harder to tough it out when you are an independent strategic consultant who primarily works on a project basis, rather than long term retainers.
To the point that I am re-evaluating my business model, selectively applying for marketing and social media positions, and hoping my brain doesn’t explode.
So here’s where I turn the tables, and ask you, my readers, for some advice. What should I do?
Issue 1: Have I been too generous with my advice? I give away a lot on this blog and have been stung by my one-hour free offer a few times this year. People taking advantage of the free advice with absolutely no intention of exploring a longer-term business relationship. Should I retract the offer?
Issue 2: It’s hard for an independent consultant to compete with agencies for social media projects. The agency has depth on the bench, can go to the well of existing clients and has a cushion, even if small these days, for business development. But, is this really true, or am I giving a few defeats too much weight? There has to be a creative way to break through so I can pitch my ideas to the larger companies who do have budget right now.
I just have to find the formula, because, goodness knows, I have no shortage of ideas on how companies can integrate social media into their marketing plans to achieve tangible, measurable results. And not just by throwing a party or giving away free stuff.
I’ve been noodling on an idea that would be just perfect for Interval International, the timeshare exchange company, and last night when the rain was drumming on the roof, I came up with:
- a program for a travel catalog like Travelsmith or Magellan’s;
- a possible approach for a manufacturer of reusable water bottles, for example CamelBak or SIGG;
- a few ideas for big box retailer like Best Buy. As everyone in the social media twitterverse probably knows, Best Buy is hiring a social media marketing manager;
- some thoughts for a book chain that has bricks & mortar stores — think Borders or Barnes & Noble.
The issues are: how do I get the opportunity to pitch the idea, and then how do I protect myself from the firm just doing it themselves? Because that has happened more than a few times with larger companies in the five years I’ve been consulting. There are no hard and fast answers, but I cannot afford to develop a great proposal for a firm, only to see them execute it on their own six months later. Not anymore.
Issue 3: Small business. Is there an opportunity to help smaller local businesses get started with social media? Typically, they cannot afford to retain a consultant to develop a program or even a blog for them but most could benefit from setting up a Facebook page.
So, I’ve developed a Social Media Start-up Session for small firms. I can price it aggressively because the business owner is doing the work; I’m just helping her think through the issues and pointing her in the right direction.
I’m doing some hard thinking this weekend. If you have any thoughts, please drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would really appreciate your opinion and advice.