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Three “Must Have” skills to run a Consultancy – Marketing

Many practitioners in the SHEQ field are marketing themselves as Consultants, and while they are in fact good at what they do, a finer look at their business operation will reveal that they are contract workers “between contracts”. They have a good looking website, a list of services and everything needed to be a “Consultancy” but most of the time, they are one person doing everything.

To quote the words of a very well-known franchising consultant, “You need to work on your business; not in it. That makes a successful consultancy.” And for most SHEQ Consultants, these words still evade them. They are working “in” their own business, and not “on” it; not growing it, not promoting it, not building it into a multi-disciplinary turn-key operation. And while this may be the vision of the minority, the bulk of SHEQ consultants are “happy” in what they do, as long as the bills are paid. Besides, who wants hard work?

But for the visionaries and thought leaders, around 0,05% of the entire SHEQ fraternity, who do see themselves working “on” building up a business akin to the top 5 reputable Management Consulting firms in Africa, a few critical skills are paramount to success.

In this article we will focus on:

Marketing & Advertising

Without marketing and advertising skills, you are like a person in the dark, waving at the world. You know you are waving at the world, but the world do not see you doing it. It is important that the concepts of marketing and advertising is fully understood in order to put your business “out there” in the market place as a top performer.

Think of marketing as a pizza, and the slices as the processes which makes up your marketing strategy. But before we look at the slices, we need to find the buyers of the pizza. That is your market. That is where you will find your customers. In a highly competitive environment, your marketing strategy can make or break you in a number of ways. You can either position yourself with the masses, as an affordable solutions provider, or you can seperate yourself from the masses by being a specialist solutions provider, adding Value to your client’s business. Whichever position you choose, will determine your success (or failure). And positioning is a decision based on numberous factors; the biggest one being your own personal financial needs.

For most, this article may come too late, but for the start-ups, let’s look at the key considerations in developing a Marketing Strategy.

Market Research

Profitability is based on the old but valid principle of “supply and demand”. The greater the demand in an undersupplied market segment, the greater the profitability. It is often said to identify a gap in the market and supply your service or product to fill the gap. But what most people do not determine upfront, is whether there is an actual market inside that gap. One only needs to look at the Health & Safety segment of consulting, to realise there is a huge over-supply and the market is spoilt for choice, pushing the profitability down, and increasing competition for a piece of the cake that is increasingly becoming smaller.

The demand for SHEQ services is also split into two groups. There are two kinds of employers that will hire a SHEQ consultant, including those who opt to employ them permanently.

The first group wants their problems to “just go away”. They would seek out the “least cost solution” to make their SHEQ problems go away and get someone to do the work for them. These employers are often hiring because they have to. They are told by a client, to get it, or get out. And the latter is not good for sustainability. There is a great demand for low cost service providers in this group.

The second group are the employers who takes SHEQ seriously and wants the best possible service provider to assist them. They know they do not have the skills internally, and will pay a premium to get professional assistance from external sources. Most of these employers hire for short periods of time, although some opt to take on consultants on retainers.

Setting aside quality management related functions, most HSE consultants will be engaged for legal advice, splitting the demand for high-end HSE consultants into two. Clients would rather opt to consult legal advisors instead. While there are many HSE consultants with sufficient legal knowledge to interpret SHEQ law, and give advice, attorneys and advocates can take matters a few steps further when needed. The demand for HSE advisors at this level is far less, but the rates they charge often puts them in a different class.

Somewhere inbetween these poles are the rest of the employers, who would mostly opt to employ a person on a full-time basis. As a soft-skill, it helps some employers with their BBBEE Score card more than it helps employees and even though the candidate is an excellent practitioner, the motive of these employers remain questionable. Expect very little management support.

So, where will you fit in?

Your first step is to do your research to find your niche. Find the people who would “want” to consider your services at a premium. Alternatively, you can join the main stream of consultants offering pretty much the exact same service as the rest, yet still claims to be the “market leaders” (at following others).

Advertising

Once you have developed your service offering and identified your niche market, your next step would be to tell your market you are here to help them. Getting this message out, is called “advertising”. Contrary to popular perception, putting a three line advert in a Sunday newspaper, or a full double spread display advert in a SHEQ magazine or a display advert like on Sheqafrica.com, is NOT going to make your phone ring overnight. Forget it! You need to repeat and repeat the message until it is heard. Think of a street hawker selling produce. Do you hear them say “Fruit for sale!”.  No, they shout “Apples, Pere, lekke Banana vir al die sere!” repeatedly. To get your message to your market, you need to find them where they are. Who do you want to receive your message? Ideally, you would want the CEO or Managing Director to hear you, but these individuals normally employ tiers of professional assistant to intercept, and turn you down shortly after “May I speak with….” All hopes shatters; or not. Read on…

Media Planning

Media is the carrier of your marketing messages. We refer to it as Marketing Channels. It is how you communicate with potential clients. And there is not one single solution that will work on its own. When asked to advertise in a magazine or even on this website, most people will respond that advertising does not pay. Yet all of these nay sayers, drives around in an advertised car. They read this article on an advertised electronic device, connected to a advertised service provider. If advertsing does not pay, why is Coca-Cola, the world’s biggest soft-drink brand, still advertising?

Advertising is more than just offering a product at Half-price less 50% discount. Advertising is not just a written or displayed “sales pitch”. It is just one of the vehicles you use to deliver your message. Your message however, could be a lot of things, serving a number of purposes.

Planning the correct medium for your message is vital to the success rate of the process. Newspapers, direct mail, billboards, television, radio, and of course the Internet are all marketing mediums .In today’s world, the most popular form of advertising is on the internet, and in particular, social media pages like facebook and LinkedIn, yet statistics shows that only 0.05% of internet advertising turns into visitors to your website, from where it is further reduced to become a sales lead. And not all sales leads, end up in clients.

Pricing of your service

What is the going rate of a SHEQ Consultant? How do you determine your pricing strategy? What is your Value proposition? Let’s take a look…

The “going rate” is the perceived price of a product or service. In the consulting industry, professional rates are not regulated like with the medical professions. The reasons are two-fold. SHEQ Consulting is not an essential service, whilst medical and health care is an essential service. It is essential to preserve life, and in the absence of some form of control, abuse will take place. The deeper your trouble, the higher the price to fix it. The second reason is the prohibition on unfair competition like price fixing, collusion and cartels. SHEQ Consulting is pretty much a free for all. When we do an internet search for the answer, globally, the SHEQ consultants themselves cannot even answer it.

From a South African perspective, the latest issue of the Guide on Hourly fees for Consultants (unstandardised by professional councils and bodies) took effect on 1 April 2016 and ranges from R320 per hour to R3 590 per hour, depending on the salary band and pricing model. A search on gumtree.co.za reveals even lower rates.

But, at the risk of not getting the job, you have to decide your price based on one simple formula:

A + B + C / D = Rate per hour

  • A = Personal Income required +
  • B = business operating costs (overheads) +
  • C = profit margin devided by
  • D = Total available working hours

Most SHEQ Consultants fail because of a lack of proper pricing. See more under Financial Management in our upcoming article.

Public Relations

Public Relations management is a marketing function, but the impact of your marketing could negatively effect your public relations. The elements of Public relations needs to be considered when drafting any form of marketing or advertising campaign. But for now, we will focus only on the effect your message has on the receiving community. Once again, your choice of media will be a vital aspect in the outcome. The effect of your message on the receiving community can have positive, negative or influencial consequences.

How you deal with each of these aspects will be the function of your Public Relations managers. But at marketing level, negative and influencial effects must be properly assessed. Negative effects could include a segment of the receiving community based on race, religion, or any other socio-economic factor. For instance, you may offend a certain group if your message is aimed to exclude them, can be perceived as deregatory or construed as misleading. Your message could be both verbally (phonetic) and visually interpreted as offensive.

Distribution

Distribution is the process of making a product or service available for the consumer or business user that needs it. Distribution channels are the ways your product or service is delivered to the end-user. It could be delivered, shipped, downloadable, or in the case of services, distribution is principally concerned with access and availibility.

Customer Support

The level of customer support you are going to offer will depend on your Client Relationship strategy. You can opt for a “hit and run” approach or a long term relationship approach. With a hit and run approach, you will mostly deal with ad hoc clients on a needs driven basis and it is unlikely that they will buy from you more than twice a year. This is typical if you sell something that does not require replacement, maintenance or user assistance.

Most successful consultancies however, opt for the “less is more” long term approach where a fewer number of loyal clients sustains the business by return-buying. The typical Service Level Agreement is designed to ensure a longer term service supply in an effort to normalise and manage cash flow. The requirement for a Consultant providing an advisory service to have a Customer support strategy is not essential, but if based on a give and take approach, will go a long way to build sustainable relationships.

Customer support should also not be confused with Value adding.

Sales Strategy

A sales strategy consists of a plan that positions a company’s brand , service or product to gain a competitive advantage. In the OHS field in South Africa, 99% of the consultants offer the same service. One particular “service” of interest, is the vilified Construction Health & Safety File, which has become the product of choice on Social media advertising. Whether you are a multi-national construction company or a local dog parlour in the Central Karoo, someone will be able to sell you a “legally compliant SHE File”. This strategy is what we call the “calling all pockets” strategy. It is flinging everything at the wall and see what sticks. It is based on an ill-informed ill-developed service offering without understanding the competition in a market with high supply and huge competition. Having the competitive advantage does not mean you have a product for a market that you will create through the exploitation of ignorance.

Combining your Sales Strategy with your strategic market positioning may reduce the level of competitors. However, the market would also be a lot smaller, which ultimately evens out the odds. But, the wrong approach can downgrade your company’s perceived value.

Next week, we will look at the second of three essential skills.

Sheqafrica
Sheqafrica.com is Africa's largest online Magazine for the Risk & Compliance profession. It is co-owned by Shane Lishman and the Africa Media Group.
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