When working as a freelance consultant, you rely on your ability to identify and secure customers. Your existence depends on it. But having worked as a service provider for a reasonable portion of my career, I've learnt that business development and the process of finding and onboarding new customers, clients or partners is rarely what you think it might be.
While it may seem a fairly straightforward proposition, providing the kind of support to organisations that I do invariably involves a far more nuanced approach to business development than I admittedly thought it would be at the beginning of my career.
Thankfully, one thing which has definitely become easier is confidence in my abilities and the confidence to value it accordingly - both of which are hard-earned and born out of experience. But even with a well-founded belief in your skills and a proven track record in delivering results, there are often additional hurdles to overcome before you can get off the starting block.
Thus begins what I call the 'process of illumination'.
We all have doubts which need addressing. And whether working with startups or organisations operating in the not for profit space, there is an understandable cautiousness when it comes to parting with vital funds. So, part of the process of illumination is addressing these doubts, fears and reticence in order to progress the conversation further.
I've also always believed part of my role is to de-mystify what I do. I've never wanted to be 'gatekeeper', operating shrouded in mystery. Instead, I like to see myself as more of a tour guide. Of course, there are levels of depth when it comes to explaining what I do and how I do it, but I want the organisations I work with to have a good grasp of what they are paying for. Despite what some might think, 'pulling back the curtain' doesn't put the value of my offer at risk, either. Just because you know how something works doesn't mean you can recreate or do it yourself.
And I don't see that I'm selling to customers - but working collaboratively with partners, so we need to be on the same page and working together if we're going to see results. It's a lot easier to bring someone along with you on the journey if they not only have a good idea of the destination, but also the route being taken to get there.
The process of illumination as I refer to it is the means via which organisations who work with me understand the part my offer plays in them realising their goals. Just as important, though, is the process through which I gain a fuller understanding of their needs and whether I'm the right person to support them. I've learnt from experience there's nothing worse than swimming upstream with a customer with whom you don't see eye to eye.
If at the end of the process both parties don't feel confident enough to proceed, I'm always happy to signpost them to other providers or options that might better suit their needs. If, however, all goes to plan then getting the ball rolling is a hell of a lot easier. Trust me, I'm a professional!