What does your consulting firm really do? Can you communicate your consulting firm’s mission — who you serve and what you do — to your clients in just one sentence?
If not, you aren’t alone. Summarizing your business in just a few words can be an intimidating task.
Fortunately, consulting expert David A. Fields has created a way for independent consultants to do just that. He calls it your fishing line.
What is a fishing line?
According to Fields, a fishing line is a quick pitch for your business: Seven to 15 words that explain who your consulting firm works with and the problem you solve.
It’s the consultant’s version of an elevator pitch — the quick explanation of a product that should only be as long as an elevator ride.
Unlike an elevator pitch, however, a fishing line is not a sales pitch; it’s meant to be a talking point, although it may lead to sales in the future.
“All we’re trying to do is start a conversation,” Fields says. “When you are in conversation, you find out about opportunities and through opportunities, you win projects.”
A fishing line is also meant to make you memorable. If you have a strong fishing line, you’ll be easy to remember and to refer to someone else who might need your services. So, for example, if you work with IT companies in South Asia, many of the people who hear your fishing line won’t be in your target market. Later on, however, if one of those contacts meets someone who works with a South Asian IT firm, they’re likely to mention you.
“It is much easier to refer you to someone else if it’s easy to remember who you work with and what you do,” Fields says.
Building a good fishing line
A memorable fishing line is rooted in specificity. It should be precise in at least one way:
- It specifies the market you serve, or
- It specifies the problem you solve.
Fields shares some other guidelines for writing a strong fishing line:
- Your fishing line can include a general target and a very specific problem: “We support manufacturers throughout the polymer development process.”
- Your fishing line can include a precise target client and a generic problem: “We work with local weekly newspaper groups to boost profitability.”
- Your fishing line can include a precise target market and a specific problem: “We solve backend operations for property and casualty insurance agencies.”
The very best fishing lines, says Fields, are precise when it comes to both the target industry and the problem you solve.
“If you can solve a very precise problem for a very narrow target industry, you can build one heck of a consulting firm,” he said.
Fishing lines also work well to serve a clearly defined industry instead of solving a more broad, generic problem. Clients are most interested in hiring consultants with expertise specific to their industry, so it’s important to focus tightly on the market you serve.
How narrow of a focus should you have? According to Fields, it’s best if there are a few hundred clients in your target group. Companies are looking for an expert, so if you’re an expert in their specific field, they are more likely to hire you.
Remember: your fishing line doesn’t have to highlight the primary problem you solve — it just has to be memorable enough to start a conversation.
Common fishing line mistakes
It’s not always easy to distill your business into one sentence, and it might take a few tries before you get it right.
Fields outlines a few common mistakes consultants can sometimes make when writing their fishing lines:
- Too generic: “We work with executives to grow their businesses.” Remember what we said about specificity? If your fishing line targets a general market and solves a generic problem, no one will remember what you do. If they do remember you, it will be difficult to refer you to anyone because they don’t know who you serve.
- Too long: “We work with senior executives at financial services firms to create strategic clarity on their most important problems.” Your fishing line should not be longer than 15 words. It’s meant to be snappy and memorable. If it’s too long, people will tune out.
- Includes conjunctions and commas: “We work with energy, mining, chemicals, and oil and gas on strategy, innovations, and operational excellence.” Every comma will decrease the power of your fishing line. You want to present one memorable thing you do, not a list.
- Tries to explain everything you do: “We work with consumer tech and media companies who need help prioritizing growth through digital channels and we work with consumer companies who need help prioritizing a broad portfolio of growth initiatives.” This one’s very understandable; consultants often worry about paring themselves down to one problem, or one target. They may think that by listing everything, they’ll appeal to more potential clients. Unfortunately, this just overloads the person who is hearing the fishing line.
Writing your own fishing line
At this point, you might be wondering what a successful fishing line looks like, or how precise your need to be when writing them. Below are a few Fields-approved examples to inspire your own.
- “We work with CIOs who have purchased BMC Remedy for their company and need help optimizing it.”
- “We work with small insurance agencies who need to streamline their policy review burden.”
- “We help CTOs move their company’s data to the cloud rather than renew a data center lease.”
All of these work because they refer to both a narrow target client and either a specific product or a specific and memorable event, such as moving to the cloud.
As you start writing your own fishing line, Fields recommends that you don’t limit yourself to one. See if you can come up with a couple of fishing line versions; you may be surprised by which one is more successful. You should also figure out how you’ll respond if someone hears your fishing line and wants to know more.
As Fields says, it’s all about starting a conversation.
Examples of Umbrex member consultant fishing lines
- “I work with decision-makers to generate free cash flow by harnessing talent, realigning supply chains, and go-to-market strategies.” Dr. Sandip Lalli
- “I serve Product Leaders of mid-market companies who want to discover what their customers want and assess innovation opportunities using the jobs-to-be-done approach.” Eric Eskey, Dark Horse Works
- “Leaders at middle market PE-owned healthcare and technology firms turn to me to help design and execute their growth priorities.” Brett Pentz, Magnetic North Strategies
- “I work with CEOs at professional services firms and social sector organizations on Human Capital.” Ilene Leff
- “I help corporations with go-to-market, strategic growth, transformations, and project management.” Raul Azevedo
- “I help financial services companies grow and transform, anchored in a customer perspective.” Katie Liebel, Managing Principal, CustomStrat Advisory
- “I manage pharmaceutical quality remediations.” George Palmer
- “I partner with business leaders to design and implement organizational change.” Ava Butler
- “I help CEOs and business leaders seeking to improve their Brand Alignment.” Nicholas Zeisler, Zeisler Consulting
- Umbrex Resource: How to Find Clients For Your Consulting Practice.
- Unleashed Episode 411 with David A. Fields: Crafting your fishing line.
- How to Convert a Stranger into a Prospect in 10 Steps by David A. Fields.
- A More Powerful Way to Communicate Your Consulting Firm’s Promise by David A. Fields.