When you’re setting up your consulting practice, you may want to get set up with various intermediaries in your industry that connect clients to independent consultants. This resource walks you through the best practices for working with staffing firms.
You can click any section to go directly there:
- Get clarity on the work you want to do
- Decide which firms to work with
- Create a full set of marketing collateral
- Sign up with a staffing firm
- Build long-term relationships
- When a firm reaches out about a project
- Share examples of relevant experience
- Handling multiple project opportunities
- When introduced to a client
- During the project
- After the project
- Additional tips
A companion to this resource is Episode 50 of our Unleashed podcast, in which Will Bachman shares 45 tips for working with staffing firms. Click the image below to listen:
Get clarity on the work you want to do
Before you start working with a staffing firm, it’s important to have clarity on the type of work you want to do.
What do you want to be known for?
- What clients do you serve?
- What problems do you solve?
- What function do you provide?
- What industry do you want to work in?
- Remote or willing to travel?
- What fees will you charge?
It’s helpful to think about your Fishing Line to establish this clarity. This concept of a “fishing line” was created by David A. Fields, and discussed in more detail in our resource below.
Decide which firms you want to work with
Any staffing firm you sign up with will require some investment of time on your part in order to get projects. You may need to log in to look at opportunities and reply to inquiries, and you’ll have a better chance if you invest in getting to know the firm and known by them.
Therefore, it’s best to do some research and identify the set of staffing firms that are the best match for you, rather than signing up many firms in a less intentional way. Consider if the firm:
- Is active in your industry
- Offers projects in your functional area
- Works in your geographical region
- Is a good fit for your background
- Pays your rate
The best way to get answers to these questions is generally by speaking with other independent consultants.
Conduct due diligence, and concentrate your efforts on two to three firms that are a good fit for you.
Create a full set of marketing collateral
Having a complete set of marketing collateral that tells a consistent and compelling story to convey your positioning will help you:
- Become more memorable
- Presents a professional face, signaling your competence and ability to present well to a potential client
You’ll want to include the following items in your marketing collateral.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and represents your focus areas. We have an entire resource on how your LinkedIn profile can best highlight your expertise.
Refer to our LinkedIn resource below for tips on optimizing your profile.
Even sophisticated professionals can improve their resume.
In Episode 253 of our Unleashed podcast we covered the main sections with tips for building the most effective resume, including:
- Contact info
- Summary section
- Public speaking
- Volunteer activities
- Technical skills
- Functional skills
- Geographic flexibility
- Personal info
A resume is typically a maximum of two pages and only includes selected examples of your experience. We highly recommend creating an exhaustive project list that contains every project you’ve ever worked at, including while employed by a firm and as an independent consultant.
This list allows you to quickly copy and paste relevant examples. It can also be provided in its entirety to show a staffing firm your range of experience.
Refer to our resource below for a detailed guide.
Sanitized samples of work
It’s far more powerful to show than to tell. Providing sanitized samples of similar work you’ve done in the past is more effective than simply telling clients about this work.
In some cases, no past work you’ve done can be sanitized. If that is the case, consider hiring yourself for a day to create a portfolio of sanitized work.
For example, if you do due diligence, select a target company and conduct outside-in due diligence and create pages on it.
If you do “voice of the customer” interviews, interview several experts on a topic and create notes from these interviews, as well as some synthesized pages that represent the findings.
If you do strategy work, pick a company in a sector that interests you and create the strategy document you would present to the CEO.
A practice overview typically consists of one to 10 pages that give a summary of your the clients you serve, some case studies, and a bio of you and any partners in your firm.
For some clients, the staffing firm may need to create a customized bio page including your photograph. It’s helpful to have a professional headshot available. This can also be used for your LinkedIn profile.
Sign up with a staffing firm
Staffing firms vary in their sign-up process for getting into their talent pool.
Some have a page on their website, while others may only accept consultants by invitation only. If this is the case, ask someone you know who’s worked with that firm for a warm, personal introduction.
Thoroughly complete the sign-up, particularly about your areas of expertise. Give specific examples so the firm’s software can easily match you with relevant areas of focus.
Your specificity in this area may make the difference in a firm reaching out to you.
Build long-term relationships
Once you’ve been added to the talent pool of a staffing firm, focus on building relationships with the people who work there. Seek to get to know them as individuals.
Even though your resume is in their system, it’s more likely they will reach out to you if they have more of a connection with you.
Look for ways to strengthen this relationship. Some opportunities include:
- Attend events: Some firms will organize in-person or virtual events, which offer opportunities to meet with their staff.
- Make introductions: Introducing other independent professionals to the staffing firm team provides value to both your colleague and the firm.
- Thought leadership: Some staffing firms may publish original content by consultants in their talent pool. Proactively offering to write content on an area of your expertise can bolster the relationship. This would typically be unpaid.
- Social media: Mentioning the firm on your social channels can help promote them and build your visibility (be sure to tag them).
- Check in with the firm: Periodically update the firm with your availability and any new experience gained through recently completed projects. In-person meetings may not always be possible, but can be helpful if so.
The goal is to stay top of mind, just like you would with clients.
When a firm reaches out about a project
When an individual from a staffing firm reaches out to ask about your interest in a particular project:
- Respond promptly. The firm will appreciate a quick response, even if you are declining this particular project, and will be more likely to reach out in the future.
- Introduce someone who is a fit. If are not a fit or not available for the project, recommend another consultant if possible.
- Provide requested materials. Sending a full set of the information requested by the firm will help them with their client. Even if you’re a great fit, if they don’t quickly have the details they need, they may move on to the next candidate. See more details in the next section.
- Provide a rate if asked. If the staffing firm asks for a rate, give them a number.
- Provide availability. If you are not available for this project, provide the date when you will be available.
Share examples of relevant experience
In addition to sharing your relevant marketing collateral, such as your resume and a project list, most firms will request samples of your experience.
Do not simply refer them to your resume.
Provide concise descriptions of relevant past experience that cover the following:
- Tells a story
- What was the situation?
- What did you do?
- What was the impact? (quantify when possible)
- Sanitized is fine (e.g. a top five ice cream manufacturer)
Make it easy for the firm to want to work with you by being specific. Here are some examples of what will and will not help your case.
Bad bullet points:
- Experienced advisor with strong relationship building skills and senior tenure.
- Turning around declining businesses, and managing businesses in crises, i.e. restructured PE portfolio company.
- Extensively worked on numerous DD projects for private equity clients. DD Typically involves industry analysis, customer assessment, competitive landscape and company deep dive.
- Provided management consulting strategy engagements for numerous clients in several industries.
- Supported executives in identifying issues, managing projects, leading cross functional teams, developing and leading presentations to support business case and strategic initiatives including product launch, business process improvements, cost cutting, operational risk management.
Good bullet points:
- Refined the U.S. sales and marketing strategy for a global U.K.-based deliverer of outsourced telephone and web-based communications, refreshing an assessment of the U.S. market opportunity, creating clear differentiation between the clients’ two U.S. brands, and both defining and executing program of work alongside the U.S. sales and marketing team to deliver upon the identified opportunity.
- Developed a go-to-market strategy for a fast growing clinical predictions platform in the process of developing virtual care and clinical program solutions for U.S. employers and health insurers.
- Managed post-merger integration of PMO of two ‘X’ companies to capture ~$500M in synergies and ensure successful JV launch.
If you have a project list, it’s easy to copy and paste relevant experience from that document.
Handling multiple project opportunities
It will often happen that a staffing firm approaches you when you have another project in your pipeline.
The best practice here is to be transparent about the fact that you have other projects coming up, and share your decision criteria for how you decide which project to take if more than one presents itself.
Common approaches include:
- First come, first served. You simply accept the first project that is confirmed with you.
- Giving priority to one project. In some cases you may have been working to develop a relationship with your own client, and that client is finally close to confirming a project. If you feel you need to wait for that client to decide before committing to another project with the staffing firm, communicate the date you expect to get the answer from your client.
When introduced to a client
Consider putting together one or two slides to help structure the discussion. Having some prepared slides will help steer the conversation to the client’s problem, which is what they really want to talk about — instead of a discussion about your background.
People often talk too much about their background or their experience. Clients don’t care about your experience once you’re in the room. Your experience, background and bio gets you into the discussion — once you’re in the meeting, it’s redundant to again talk about your experience.
The client wants to hear about their problems and concerns. To the extent that you can, think about turning around their questions and ask about them. If you can make progress in solving their problem, you are already on your way to being selected.
Don’t immediately assume you know how to do the project. Ask them, “How would you approach this?” or “What do you think this project should look like?” It’s much easier to sell something to someone that looks like what they want to buy.
- Slides. A couple of slides can focus the discussion on the client’s needs.
- Use the 70-30 squared rule. When you are in an initial context discussion, the client should do 70% of the talking, and you should do 30%. Of that 30% of the time you’re talking, 70% of that time should be spent asking questions. See our Unleashed resource below for more on the context discussion.
- Immediate follow up. Ask the staffing firm how they prefer you follow up; some might prefer you not follow up directly at all while some might suggest you send an email. Don’t just thank the client for their time, but provide some added value about your proposed approach to addressing their issue.
- Ongoing check-ins. Ask the staffing firm how they would like you to handle future follow-up with the client and if they prefer to be the point of contact to check in with the client on any updates.
During the project
When you are working on a project obtained through a staffing firm, several best practices can help your success and foster the relationship:
- Ask the staffing firm how they want to be informed, and how often.
- Submit invoices on time.
- Look at your agreement for payment terms before asking when you’ll get paid.
- Look for other opportunities at the client company and inform the staffing firm.
Identifying and generating other project opportunities at the client for the staffing firm can make you look like a hero. This builds your long-term relationship and potentially leads to more work.
After the project
Some staffing firms might have a policy in which you do not reach out or contact the client after the project — rather, the firm does all follow-up.
Other firms might want to partner with you once you’ve developed a relationship with the client on a project. Ask the firm for their guidance here.
If a client reaches out to you specifically after the project has wrapped up, be sure to read your agreement terms with the staffing firm. If enough time has gone by where you aren’t restrained from working directly with the client then you may do so. It’s a good practice to reach out to the staffing firm to inform them.
This might also be a time to refer project opportunities you receive that aren’t a fit for you to the staffing firm. Ask for the referral arrangement before you make the connection.
Here are a few more best practices when working with staffing firms.
Set up an entity
If you have not already, you might consider setting up an entity for yourself, such as an LLC, to come across more professional when you are engaging with firms.
See our resource on Attorneys and Legal Services for more information on this.
Do not reveal the identity of the clients you have served through a staffing firm. The firm may prefer to keep the identity of their clients confidential.
Instead of naming the client, you can say, “I served a top ten pharma company.”
Some end clients may engage you after the interview without requiring a proposal, while others might request a written proposal first.
- Share the proposal with the staffing firm first.
- Don’t include your normal terms and conditions or your payment fees. Keep it basic with: situation, approach, deliverables, timing.
When following up after the first discussion:
- Discuss with the staffing firm who will follow up.
- Agree with the firm on rules of engagement with clients.
Early termination protocol
Leaving a project early is generally frowned upon. Emergencies can happen, however. If you must voluntarily withdraw from a project early, make sure it is done gracefully and professionally.
- Discuss with the staffing firm first before talking to any clients.
- Give at least a 30-day notice.
If you are approaching the originally scheduled end date of the Statement of Work, and it appears likely the project may need to extend, discuss with the staffing firm how they would like to handle it.
Talk to the staffing firm right away if any of the following problems arise:
- The client isn’t satisfied with the work.
- You are being overworked.
- You feel boundaries are being crossed.
Simple expense process
- At the beginning of the process, speak to the staffing firm about expenses and be sure you understand their process and how to handle it.
- Even if not explicitly required, it’s good policy to have the client pre-approve any significant expenses in writing. (e.g. if you’re traveling for the project, email the estimated cost of the trip and obtain approval).
- When submitting expenses, different firms have different approaches. A good policy to follow is to create one single PDF with a cover sheet that itemizes all expenses, attaching a document that includes a copy of the included receipts, and email that.
- Don’t accidentally invoice holidays you didn’t work.
- Submit your invoices on time.
- Submit invoices in the format requested.