7 Tips to Help Consultants, Independent Sales Reps and Other Solo-preneurs Work More Profitably and Productively –

There are many individuals who choose to work as consultants, sole proprietors, home based business owners, independent agents and representatives who could be termed “coffee shop consultants.” So-named because many of their meetings occur in coffee shops, restaurants and other non-office settings, Coffee Shop Consultants share some unique problems as a result.

These professionals often devote many hours to providing free analysis and consultation services to other business professionals which go unpaid, for a variety of reasons. They also face the challenge of conducting meetings and doing business without a traditional office space. For these reasons, I wanted to provide consultants and other independent professionals with some tips that can help them become more profitable and productive, no matter where their “office hours” occur.

1. Treat Coffee Shop Meetings As Though They Are Professional Appointments (Because They Are)
As a consultant or independent agent, representative or sole proprietor, your time is your most valuable asset. Treat all meetings, even those that occur with acquaintances in coffee shops, like professional appointments. Set a time to meet, and stick to it. Set a time for your appointment to end, and stick to that, too.

Analysis and consultation does not have to be a ‘free’ service, just because you meet in a coffee shop. If the information that you provide to clients has value, it should not be given away for free; you may need to set a fee not only for services delivered after a consultation, but for your consultation findings themselves.

One way to recoup a return on some of the unpaid hours that inevitably go into most consultations of this kind is to provide a summary of your findings and recommendations, but charge a fee for a full report, business plan or the specific strategies and tactics a client would need to undertake in order to implement your recommendations. This gives you the ability to demonstrate to a potential client that your expertise has value, without giving all of your information (which is your product, in reality) away for free.

If you do provide free consultations and recommendations for clients initially, then you should establish an hourly fee for subsequent consultations. If you do not, you run the risk of giving away even more valuable time for free; and, as the old saying goes, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” Remember that information is at least part of your “product” and learn to value it. If you don’t, no one else will, either!

2. Set Expectations
Both you and your client (or prospective client) should have an idea of what you want to accomplish at your coffee shop consultation. You should be meeting for a purpose and for the most part, you should try to constrain your meeting to those topics. This will help you to keep your meeting within the time frame you allotted and it will prevent you from giving away consulting expertise which clients should be paying for.

3. Do Your Homework
Based on the expectations set and the purpose of your coffee shop consultation, if you do some research ahead of time you will be more prepared for the meeting with your client (or prospective client). This kind of preparation can help you to present yourself even more professionally and will reinforce your role as an expert in your field; both of which give you more ability to put a monetary value on your time and business.

Pre-meeting homework might be accomplished by internet research, reviewing press releases, websites or other corporate collateral or reports, contacting mutual acquaintances for information or referrals, or even conducting pre-meeting surveys or questionnaires from meeting participants or employees of their organization.

4. Establish Your Own Desired Outcomes
Unfortunately, many times the only one who receives value from a coffee shop consultation is the individual on the receiving end of the information. When information itself is part of your product – the value that you provide to clients – and when you give this product away for free, sometimes it leads no where.

Make pursuit of specific outcomes part of your consultation strategy! When you agree to a coffee shop consultation, make sure that you are clear on what you have to gain from the meeting, as well as what you are expected to give. Keep a prospect or client record for each meeting which includes your own desired outcomes, the calls to action that you make, the proposals for services that you provide, etc.

5. Write Up An Agenda
Prior to any scheduled coffee shop consultation, write up a meeting agenda for yourself which will enable you to stick to your schedule and give you the ability to meet both the client’s expectations and to accomplish your own goals for the meeting. Make a checklist. Write down all of the most important talking points that you want to cover and leave room in the schedule for a discussion of proposal, paid service options and next steps.

6. Ask Open-Ended Questions
Open-ended questions can help you identify other needs that your prospective client may have that you can fill. They can also help you to better understand their preferences so that you can tailor your proposal or presentation to meet their unique needs and wants.

7. Know What the Next Step IsConsultants and independent agents often leave money on the table simply because they do not have a plan and a schedule for how they will follow up after the meeting. Next steps might include the production of a proposal or even a paid report, an in-house seminar or workshop, provision of specific services or sale of products, policies or accounts, etc. Even setting up a second meeting can be the appropriate next step in some cases where there is a long buying cycle or where you need time to do research in order to provide your prospective client with a proposal.

Before the end of your meeting, tell the prospective client or customer what the next step is and when it will be taken (if the next step is on your part) and then do it! If after your meeting the ball is in the client’s court, ask when it would be appropriate for you to follow up with them, and make sure to do it. Keep some of the responsibility for the ‘next step’ on your side of the table (meaning, don’t leave it up to the prospective client to contact you next) so that you retain the right to touch base with them relative to your coffee shop consultation.