20th January, 2023
Consulting as a career for Community Managers - why and how to start
Even during this season of layoffs, Bri Leever has received a 500% raise!
Well, she gave it to herself because as a community consultant she has complete control over her prices.
Bri is the founder of Ember Consulting where she helps companies as their Brand Community Strategist working to create a community out of their superfans. Every new client she lands at her consultancy:
- validates the demand for her services
- creates an opportunity to get better at her craft
- and thus, raise her prices for the next client owing to the increased value that she provides
Compared to 2020, when she started consulting, her rates have now increased 5 times! That’s her secret for
surviving thriving in a difficult economy.
Building your own consulting business can be a great way to make sure that no single employer has the ability to pull the rug out from under you. Not only that, it can be very lucrative too because cash-strapped founders will be more likely to hire a part-time consultant than a full-time employee to reduce the risk. So, how can you start?
You can listen to Bri’s advice based on her own journey on the Beginner Maps podcast or continue reading for a quick summary:
Why consulting is less risky than a full-time job
First, let us debunk the most common hesitation that people have when they think of starting a consulting business -
Isn’t it risky?
You can only answer this question in a comparative manner. Running a consulting business is less risky than doing a full-time job. Bri even says that the stability of a full-time job is a mirage:
“The stability of a full-time job is a mirage because there are so many things that can happen at your company that are completely outside of your control that have massive implications on your full-time income.
We can clearly see through this mirage in the current economy with layoffs happening everywhere. Having one full-time employer that controls all of your time and all of your income is the riskiest option of all.
With a healthy consulting business, you will have 2-4 clients at any given time. This means that any one employer can impact only 25-50% of your income at any given time.
The obvious risk here is that now you need 2-4 people to “employ” you for you to make a full-time equivalent income. But by not having all your eggs in one basket, you reduce the existential risk.
How to get your first few clients
Did you know - there are more job openings that don’t get posted online than those that do?
That’s what Bill and Dave write in their book, Designing Your Life. It is one of Bri’s most favourite books. They write that if you want to get a job, or in your case a part-time consulting gig, it’s a better idea to focus your energy on reaching out to people who are in the career path that you want to pursue and ask them for a virtual coffee.
Bri did this for 90 days when she was starting her journey. During this time, she did over 100 coffee chats. And it worked!
She got 7 clients that made 1.5 years of full-time consulting work from those chats.
Today, she thinks that anyone can replicate her success because it is just a numbers game. All you need to do is get on the phone with 100 people.
Here’s the playbook she shared during our interview -
100 coffees in 90 days playbook
- Start with the people who know you and care about your progress. Make a list of everyone who you know who may be tangentially connected to your professional life. You’ll probably be able to come up with ~40 names this way. Reach out to them.
- Be vulnerable when reaching out. This is roughly what Bri said in her reachout message - “I’m not sure what my next step is. I would love to hear about your career journey and share a little bit about what I’m thinking to get your reflections.”
- At the end of your call, it is important to ask them, “Is there anyone you know that would be interesting for me to talk to?” Then, shut up, be silent and let them sit in the tension. It can be awkward but that’s where the magic happens. Most of your opportunities lie in the 2nd and 3rd degree connections. This will help you expand your list.
- When you come to end of your list, don’t be hesitant in repeating people. One of the clients that Bri got was when she got on a call with a friend for a second time.
- Make a “follow up funnel” that no one is allowed to escape. Once you’ve been on a call with someone and given them a call to action, be sure to follow up with them 4 times before going radio silent:
- 1 day later
- 1 week later
- 1 month later
- 1 year later
Cold reachouts on LinkedIn can work too but with a lesser degree of success. So do it only after you’ve exhausted your personal network.
Bri uses Asana to manage all of these follow ups. You can use whichever project management tool works for you.
Final piece of advice – keep the timeline for this challenge compact. This means don’t spread it over a year because you want to use the momentum to your advantage. Keep it close to 100 days.
How to price your project
Once you have an interested client, you’ll need to think about your pricing. How much will you charge for your services?
Bri started by asking herself how much she needed to make monthly and divided it with the number of clients she wanted to service simultaneously. It’s okay to keep it simple and start with a low price.
The key for pricing is to avoid hourly pricing model and raise your prices after every project.
Avoid Hourly Pricing
Avoid pricing models like “$xxxx for 10 hrs per week” of my time.
That’s because it creates a bad incentive structure for both you and your client. It incentivises you to work longer to earn more money for the same work. And that means, your client gets their deliverables in a longer time.
Better to go with project-based pricing. Align on a fixed set of deliverables with your client and charge for that. It shouldn’t matter whether it takes you 10 hrs to get it done or 30.
Raise your prices after every project
After each project, you will have grown and learned substantially from that experience. This means that you will bring even more value to the table for the next project you do. By raising your prices you reflect your increasing confidence in the value of your services.
From her first project in June 2020 till now, Bri has raised her prices over 500%.
How to get next clients
Bri vouches that the 100 coffee chats exercise will help you get started but as a consultant you need to create a steady stream of new clients. This means you can never stop pursuing new clients.
Here are a few things that Bri does currently that has led to her getting a new client, most unconventional first:
- Masterminds Group - Bri has a masterminds group with other community consultants. It would be easy to see them as her competition but she decided to make them her community. Today, they refer clients to each other based on who is a better fit for that particular client based on their niche.
- Networking - She still spends time meeting others. In fact, she never charges for an initial consultation. If a stranger wants to talk to her to pick her brain, she is usually ready to make time for them.
- Educating people - Finally, Bri does a lot to educate people with her own hard-earned lessons about building communities and being a solopreneur. She posts daily on LinkedIn, has a weekly newsletter, a Youtube channel and a podcast. This is apart from the guest interviews like this one where she openly shares her own story.
She also uses Groove for networking. In fact, she found one of her clients while coworking with them on Groove!
“It’s like networking even though a real long lead networking because it's like you're not actually really networking, but somehow you are. I don't know. It's magic. I love it.”
Building a healthy consulting business is difficult. Especially because the idea of having more than one employer is culturally foreign to most of us. But diversifying your income is an important step to take if you want to reduce the fragility of your career, income and life, in general.
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- one video interview with an awesome community professional discussing how they broke in
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