Where the rubber meets the road

Have you ever been convinced that you knew where you were going only to belatedly discover that you really had no clue? When you're lost, looking at a map—assuming you have one—can quickly get you back on route. Your Marketing Road Map shows you how to keep your consulting practice on the route to profitability.

Without the Road Map, marketing your consulting services can be erratic, unpredictable, and hard to manage. When client and project demands overwhelm you, marketing will fall to the bottom of the list. It's simply a matter of priorities.

Preparing your Road Map is a strategic, tactical, and creative venture. It begins with your ideas on how to present your practice to the market and attract clients, and sets a schedule for each marketing activity.

The creation of your Road Map can't be haphazard; it requires precision. You must commit to specific marketing activities and to the times you plan to use them. The more tightly you build your plan, the stronger your marketing campaign will be. You must plan each entry well before executing it. You also must coordinate it with all other activities that it may affect or influence. As you prepare the Road Map, include these four steps:

1. Identify the resources that you'll need to design and implement each marketing activity. If your Road Map calls for a bimonthly zine and three industry speeches, account for the time, effort, and costs of those activities.

2. Forecast how the various marketing tactics you plan to use will create profit for your practice. What value, for example, do you estimate your practice will get if you attend a trade show and sponsor a booth? Estimate the number of inquiries, leads, and even projects that might result. Your forecast will be imprecise, but it will give you a rough idea of your plan's relative impact.

3. Determine the message you want to convey with your marketing tactics. Think backward from a sale of your services. What might clients be looking for as they search for you? Where will they look, and what will they hope to find? Craft your message around what clients are looking for, not what you provide.

4. Develop a mechanism for measuring the effectiveness of each element of the Road Map. Consultants who fail to measure marketing effectiveness frequently waste money and effort.

Although your Road Map sets time frames, it is more than a schedule. It is also a vital creative exercise that will stretch your thinking and force you to examine the full implications of your marketing strategy. Explore all possibilities, brainstorm, and let your imagination run wild. Don't hold back. Be adventurous and unrealistic.

Then come back to earth, but bring with you some of the ideas you conjured up and find new and interesting ways to express them in your marketing materials. Most consultants' marketing is about as interesting as watching paint dry, so you should have little difficulty breaking the mold and catching the attention of those you'd like to work with.

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