How I Learned to Get Consulting Leads

I love consulting. I make a good living, I’m rewarded by seeing companies succeed — I’ve seen clients go through two acquisition exits, multiple million-dollar funding rounds, 10x growth in revenue, and more — and I get enough inquiries through this blog and referrals that I don’t face pipeline droughts.

But getting to this point wasn’t easy. In fact, it took a year. The journey taught me a lesson about customer acquisition that I’ve since applied for myself and my clients. What follows is the short but unfiltered story.

Month 0

There was a long winter after I quit my job. Nevermind that it was summer — what followed was three months in which my savings depleted like the fat of a hibernating animal. I was to become an independent consultant.

I spent those three months doing what I thought one does to find clients: network. I went to meetups every week and gave my elevator pitch to anyone who’d listen. It didn’t occur to me at the time that everyone else was there for the same reason. I was pitching marketing services to a lawyer who was pitching legal services to an MBA “ideas person” who was there to pitch ideas to a… It went on and on, and it was ridiculous.

Month 3

After three months, my savings were running low and I dreadfully considered going back to a normal job.

Then, a friend I made at one of these meetups referred me to a startup that could use my help. A few calls and a meeting later, we had a deal.

It didn’t lead to other clients, but I got two important things from that project: cash and confidence. It was enough money for another three months of runway.

Maybe that was the formula, I thought; meet smart people and take time to form relationships. I spent the next two months taking that approach and it failed, too. The issue is painfully obvious in hindsight: founders don’t have time to schmooze at random meetups.

Month 6

Major progress doesn’t happen gradually, it happens in sudden leaps.

The next leap came from an inconspicuous comment I made on Hacker News, which led to an email inquiry, which turned into a project, which turned into a long-term consulting relationship. (They’re still a client today, two years later.)

Things were looking better (in that I had a monthly income), but I still needed to find a consistent and predictable method of getting clients.

The positive outcome of my comment taught me two things:

  1. Busy people — founders and CEO’s — may not have time for meetups, but they sure as hell read HN (or their industry’s equivalent).
  2. Sales pitches are repulsive, but helpful information is attractive.

Thus my next experiment: blogging. Specifically, writing content that could be interesting to prospective clients.

Month 10

I published my first post — with help from a friend, himself a consulting startup CTO — about a side project, and shared it on HN on a Saturday morning in March of 2014.

To my surprise, it received enough votes to get onto the front page and proceeded to receive ~7,500 unique visitors over the weekend. I thought to myself: If I can bring enough people to an article, some number of them may click through to the homepage, and a small percentage of those might become prospective clients.

Although the majority of HN readers are not in a position to hire consultants and therefore would not convert (ie, contact me about consulting), I only needed a handful of good prospects for this to be a success.

That initial post had nothing to do with marketing, so I don’t think I got any consulting inquiries from it, but the volume of traffic was encouraging. I set out to write at least one new post per month.

Getting to the front page of HN is part substance and part chance, so I didn’t give up when my next two articles flopped, and kept writing.

Month 12

In June of 2014 — a full year after I quit my job — I wrote about a lesson I learned from running an A/B experiment. It received 10,000 unique visits over 3 days. Two weeks later I published another post; it received 15,000 unique visitors over 3 days.

A small percentage of those readers clicked through to my consulting page, and a small percentage of those contacted me for help. Within two weeks I was fully booked for the next six months. I broke through.

Lesson Learned

The strategy of blogging to fill the top of the funnel continues to be effective, for me and my clients.

But the conclusion isn’t that you should blog. The actionable lesson here — for companies, marketers, and consultants — is there’s no magic formula, so experiment faster until you find what works for you.

Originally published at on October 21, 2015.