“Every consultation feels like a first date”, bemoaned Rachel, “so I’m not enjoying the process of trying to get new clients.”
Can you identify? You don’t know what to say in your initial conversation with a prospective client; it feels awkward and bumpy, the other person is hesitant and unsure. It feels like the stakes are high because this could be the start of a beautiful relationship, or it could lead to a sense of failure or rejection.
Is there a magic formula for a perfect consultation?
Well, from guiding hundreds of consultations, here’s the closest to perfect I’ve found. Let me take you behind the scenes and walk you through a format that takes away the guesswork and enables you to easily enrol the clients you’re best suited to help.
Set a time limit
I put aside 30-45 minutes for an initial free consultation. This is enough time to get your important questions answered and allow the other person to ask theirs. Make it your job to keep to time. One effective strategy is to reiterate the allocated time upfront: “I’m looking forward to finding out as much as I can about you in half an hour”. If you lose this timeliness, you lose the structure and momentum that characterize a good consultation.
Not too much chit-chat
You’re not finding out if this person is your new best friend, you’re establishing whether you’d have a productive working relationship. So, welcome them warmly to the conversation and ask them just a question or two to establish rapport. I ask where they’re located and how they heard about me – both useful pieces of information.
Where they are now
To decide if you can help this person, spend time discovering their current situation. So, my questions are: what motivated them to train (as a coach/massage therapist/acupuncturist etc), what they’re most passionate about in this area of work, what sense do they already have of their niche, package, pricing and marketing methods, and what are their main challenges.
What would be your version of these?
Where they want to be
I then ask three questions which lie at the heart of the consultation:
“What would it be like for you if this business never got off the ground?”
Your version might be “…if this pain never went away”, “…if you never met your soulmate”, “…if you never wrote your book”, or “…if you remain this stressed forever.”
You want to find out why addressing their current situation matters to them. Then,
“What if you were fully successful – what’s the big dream?”
You want to get a sense of where they’re ultimately aiming at. Then, reel the big vision back to a realistic timeframe; for example, I ask:
“Where can you see yourself at the end of three/six months?”
This is to calibrate with the length of support you’re offering and make sure you’re on the same page, with realistic and achievable expectations.
Join the dots
You’ve heard where they are and where they want to be. You could jump in and tell them how you’ll get them from A to B – but there’s a more effective way of doing the same thing. I ask:
“As you’re considering where you are now and where you want to get to, how do you imagine this group programme / 1-1 coaching will help you get there?”
This is the most useful question in the whole conversation. It gives them the chance to tell you what they’ve understood about your service so you can confirm that they’ve understood correctly, or tidy up any misunderstandings. It also helps you understand what elements of your service are most appealing to them so that you can emphasize these in your work together (e.g. accountability, objectivity, bespoke attention).
Do you see how this question removes the need for you to do any “selling”? I’m imagining you greatly relieved by this! By answering this powerful question, they make the link between the journey they want to take and the support you offer. Introducing this one question into your consultations can help you relax and enjoy the process a whole lot more.
Once they’ve explained what they hope to get from the service, I finally ask:
“Why not just do this with a friend / on your own / with a book?”
Again, I’m checking which features of the service they most value and I’m checking this is the right level of accountability and professional support for them.
I pause to look back at my notes and check in with my intuition because I want to be authentic when I say, “Yes, I can help you” or “I’m not sure this is the right match”. I’ll probably highlight one or two aspects they’re looking for and explain exactly how I’d hope to help – for example, “You’re not clear on your niche and would like to be so we’ll start with an exercise called Two Islands that gets you a lot of clarity about this; people are often amazed at how quickly they can identify a profitable niche when they do this.”
Once I’ve shared my perspective on whether I think we’re a match, I’ll then ask how it all sounds to them and invite their questions. Trust that if you’re the right match for this person, your honest answers will delight them.
So, that’s as close as you can get to a “script” for a perfect consultation. You’ll see this allows you to get the information both you and your prospective client need to decide if you’ll take this journey together. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with each new person you speak with, and that doesn’t take away the magic of each unique interaction.
What’s it like to get a structure to guide your initial consultation with a prospective client? What else has helped you have effective consultations? And how about success (and horror) stories from when you’ve been on the other side of a conversation, enquiring into working with someone?
Leave a comment below, let us know.
How do you get people to have that initial consultation with you?
And what to do when they say “yes” to your support – or “no”?
There’s a full chapter on this in the book Turn Your Passion to Profit: a step-by-step guide to getting your business off the ground. Check out p142 – 163 (Step 7: Flow) – get your copy here > >
If you’re keen for 1-1 support and want to experience first-hand what this consultation process feels like, read the details and fill out the form on this page > > – I’d love to hear from you.
Also, keep an eye out for the brand new Getting Clients Starter Kit, available in conjunction with the website relaunch. You’ll get access to three audio classes plus accompanying transcripts covering three key business starter topics: niching, pricing and how to help more strangers become paying clients.
© Corrina Gordon-Barnes 2013