Once you have defined your consulting niche it’s time to think about your competitive advantage. What distinguishes you from all the other consultants in the marketplace? Answer this key question by drawing on your creative, analytical, descriptive, and social skills.

Be Creative

Your creativity will help you identify some strategic choices. Differentiate your services by:
  • Offering state-of-the art skills in data visualization, cutting-edge software, social media
  • Using developmental evaluation, working with complex systems, re-energizing under-utilized but cost-effective evaluation methods (e.g., evaluability assessments), or working in new ways with culturally diverse populations
  • Enhancing the speed, reliability and visual attraction of client communications and feedback
  • Increasing the credibility of findings by using deliberative dialogues, town hall meetings, expert panels, pop-up focus groups, and Twitter.
Be Analytical

Assess the dimensions of value you offer. Reverse your usual thinking. It’s not about what you can offer—it’s about why your client needs you.
  • Are your services the ones most valued by your potential clients?
  • Can you match the quality of the services provided by your competitors?
  • Is there one particular area in which you excel beyond anything your competitors can offer?
  • Can you offer other distinguishing features such as being a Credentialed Evaluator?

Be Descriptive

Now you can write a value proposition describing the tangible results a client will get from using your services. Writing it will further crystallize your thoughts. Use it on your website, in proposals, and in your marketing conversations. Here’s one approach. You need:

  • A headline or short sentence to grab attention and describe the end-benefit you offer
  • Two to three sentences that explain what you do, for whom, and why it’s useful
  • Three bullet points that list the key benefits
  • A motivational image or metaphor to reinforce your main message.

Be Social

Who are your competitors? Are they local independent consultants, small consulting firms, academics? What services do they offer, in which sectors, for what clients? Where is there a match or overlap with what you plan to offer? As consulting is a very fluid enterprise, you never know where your next contract will come from. You could be on the same team for one project and in a bidding war the next. Don’t take a cut-throat attitude; instead, be collaborative. The consulting world is big enough for everyone. So meet your competitors for a casual coffee or lunch; join a professional organization and work on a committee together; do what it takes to get to know them better. You may find you have more friends than you thought!

With your competitive advantage clearly articulated, you are now ready to develop your marketing plan. Join me next time to explore this important topic.



Barrington, G. V. (2012). Consulting Start-up and Management: A Guide for Evaluators and Applied Researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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