Stop Relying on Others for Your Success… Take Charge of Your Business

Many small business owners avoid sales and marketing because they’re uncomfortable with them and unsure how to implement them effectively. But like every other aspect of business, there’s a process to them. This article lays out that process for you with proven, real-world examples of how to get started.

Creating a Revenue Growth Plan for Independent Consultants and Small Businesses

Steve Henke 2021

By Steve Henke, Founder & President, Harpeth Marketing, Franklin, Tennessee, steve@harpethmarketing.com

It’s an interesting dilemma. Most people become independent consultants, or start small shops, so they can focus on research and on doing great work for their clients. They certainly didn’t start their businesses so they could spend their time doing sales and marketing.

And yet—as small-business owners—they absolutely have to do that. If they don’t, who will? They don’t have a sales or marketing department to help. So, instead of proactively tackling sales and marketing activities, most owners sit back and rely on outside help for revenue growth. Things like:

  • Referrals
  • Word of mouth
  • Reaching out to former or lapsed clients
  • Following client contacts when they go to a new company

Don’t get me wrong. These are all good things. But all good things must come to an end… or, at least, slow down. So, when that happens, what are you going to do?

At some point, to ensure the success and sustainability of your business, you need to take charge of your growth. You need to plan for and implement a proper sales and marketing program, even with the limited amount of time and budget you have available. While this might seem overwhelming to even consider, the following three-phase process (THINK, PLAN, DO) will help you understand the process of successful sales and marketing and show you how to get started.



Smart marketing isn’t just about doing some posts on LinkedIn or crafting an occasional blog post. It might be launching a new product or breaking into a new industry. The point is, before you do any sales and marketing, you need to spend time thinking about your business in a strategic way.

Here are some sales and marketing strategies that every business owner must consider:

  1. What you sell now/what you should sell in the future
  2. Who you sell to now/who you should sell to in the future

Once these two fundamentals are clear, it’s time to go to market where you will:

  1. Build awareness in the industries/markets you serve
  2. Establish a position/reputation (i.e., what do you want to be known for?)
  3. Generate sales leads
  4. Nurture those sales leads until they’re ready to buy
  5. Acquire first-time clients
  6. Ensure repeat clients

With these go-to market strategies as the guide, it’s time to start thinking about the tactics that can support each of them. For example, you could use LinkedIn to help “build awareness,” and because you’ve now thought about who you sell to, what you sell, and your position, you can select, for example, what audience to target when doing LinkedIn advertising, or the general topics you can cover with your posts, or even which LinkedIn groups to join. Without proper thinking ahead of time, you’d be making these decisions at random.

Further, each strategy can be supported by one or more tactics—and each tactic can support one or more strategies. For example, if you decide to publish and promote an infographic highlighting the benefits of in-home ethnographies, this tactic would help you to build awareness for your firm (strategy 1), support your position as an expert in ethnographic research (strategy 2), and generate sales leads when people download the infographic (strategy 3).

Then, once you’ve thought about all the tactics you might want to use to support your strategies (note: the vetting will come later), it’s time for the next step.



The purpose of creating a sales and marketing plan is threefold:

  1. To help you whittle down the long list of tactics (that you outlined in the THINK phase) to a manageable number—based on your capacity, the timing, and the cost.
  2. Once vetted, to detail what you’ll do, when you’ll do it, and the cost for each.
  3. But, most importantly, the real purpose is to ensure that nothing you plan to do falls through the cracks—that when you get busy, you don’t skip over things or are late getting to them.

Creating your sales and marketing plan

Step 1: Set your revenue goals in three different categories.

  • The revenue you achieve from your current client base. Not just, “Will they come back?” but, “What are your opportunities for up-selling and cross-selling with each client?”
  • The revenue you achieve from new clients.
  • The details of the revenue—by product or service line, by industry or market served, etc. Drill down to the criteria that matter to your business.

Step 2: Think about your budgets—both of them! I’m talking about your money and your time. How much of each are you willing to invest (every day/every week/every month) in sales and marketing tactics to achieve the goals you stated above? For example, you might have $2,000 to spend to attend a conference, but are you willing to invest two days away from the office?

Step 3: Now, start outlining the tactical sales and marketing activities you’ll employ that support your strategies and are within your budget guidelines (both time and money). As you select them, think about their impact on the top line, the timing/frequency of each, the details of what’s required to implement them (e.g., a certain expertise or level of manpower), and the cost.

This can be a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, pulling together the right tactics, with the right budget, delivering the right outcome—so be patient as you work through it. Better to get it right than to get it fast.

Once you’ve completed the details of the plan, you’ll need three tools to help you monitor and manage all of the activities:

  1. A calendaring system to ensure that you’ll do what you want to do when you want to do it.
  2. A budgeting system to ensure you’ll stay within your dollar guidelines.
  3. A sales pipeline to track every company that is currently part of your selling efforts and to monitor their progress through the various stages of the Buying/Selling process (first contact, conversations, capabilities presentation, RFP, win/loss). This ensures that you proactively stay on top of all sales opportunities.

Then it’s time to go to work.



Execution is simple… but it isn’t easy! The key is to stick to the plan and, as you’re going along, to measure and test the interim results so you can adjust on the fly. The big challenge for all small-business owners is getting things done with only a limited amount of bandwidth. For you, my advice is: Do a little every day!

When you create your plan, don’t overburden yourself by trying to get too much done all at the same time. Instead, use the calendar to spread out your activities so you only have a little to do each day.

The most popular (and they’re popular because they’re effective) sales and marketing tactics to include in your plan are:


  • Having an engaging and compelling website
  • Posting and engaging regularly on social media, especially LinkedIn
  • Sending out a regularly scheduled newsletter
  • Creating and sharing content (e.g., blog posts, videos)
  • Building a library of “proof sources” (e.g., testimonials, case studies)


  • Using LinkedIn for “social selling”—to connect with, get to know, share resources, and build up a small level of trust before the real buying/selling takes place
  • Staying in contact with existing clients between projects
  • Updating/enhancing your capabilities presentation
  • Reengaging former or lapsed clients
  • Networking at targeted industry events (e.g., if you target financial services companies, consider attending events in the FinServ industry, not just market research events)


As you’re executing, keep an eye on your sales and marketing efforts with some basic measurements:

  • Website: Use GA4 or Google Search Console to track the number of site visitors and individual page views
  • Email: Open rate, click-through rate, and A/B testing of subject lines (all available at the push of a button within most commercial email platforms)
  • Social Media: Views, likes, and comments on your posts
  • Content: Number of readers or downloaders for each piece of content
  • Revenue: Total revenue (of course), year-to-date revenue versus last year-to-date, revenue by industry, and revenue by service line
  • Sales Activity: (Using the pipeline) track every opportunity, time in stage, and conversion rate


If you’ve not historically done a lot of sales and marketing, the contents of this article probably seem a little daunting. That’s understandable… so, start small. Start with just four to five sales and marketing tactics (that support your strategies) that you know you have the time and budget for, and build a small plan around them for the next three months. For an independent consultant or small firm, I’d recommend starting with these:

  • Write one blog post every month. Maybe 500–750 words. Don’t sell—inform and educate. Skip posts on methodologies, and instead, focus on research applications, MR industry trends, and trends in the industries you serve, or even share your opinion on those trends (note: sharing your opinion—whether it’s popular or contrarian—is how you become a thought leader).
  • But if no one reads your blog, then it has no value—so you need to promote it. For that, an effective and inexpensive way is on LinkedIn—on your personal profile and in targeted LinkedIn groups. Write a short teaser and link people back to your website to read the entire post. Here’s the thing: your blog posts likely have a shelf life of several months, so don’t just promote your blog post once; do it several times over several weeks—on different days of the week and at different times of the day.
  • In addition to using LinkedIn to promote your own content, use it to promote others’ content. Frequent posting gives you a regular presence in the marketplace and helps support your position as an expert in your particular area. For example, let’s say you’re an independent researcher who specializes in the automotive industry. As you’re reading through resources to stay up on the industry (magazines, industry blogs, targeted Google Alert searches), when you find an article that you think your clients would like (not from a competitor, of course), post a link to it on your LinkedIn profile. Do this a few times each week. All these posts build and maintain awareness for you, and because you’re sharing helpful, useful information about the automotive industry, it reminds people that this is your area of expertise, cementing your reputation.
  • Finally, networking at events should be a regular part of your marketing and sales efforts. As you attend sessions at a conference, walk around the exhibitor floor, and attend the social events—you’re building awareness for yourself and generating sales leads. In addition, there’s nothing as powerful as meeting people face-to-face, sitting down over a cup of coffee, and really getting to know each other as a means to accelerate a potential buying-selling relationship. As you start thinking about which events to participate in, remember that there are two kinds—those that are market research-specific and those that are specific to the industry you serve.

Then execute that plan and see how it goes. If it goes well (and it will!), then add another tactic or two for the next quarter. See how it goes, and so on.

By the way, if you start with the four tactics listed above and would like to expand your sales and marketing efforts once you get comfortable with them, here’s what I suggest as the next two items to consider:

  • Adding a monthly newsletter (to stay top-of-mind with all the contacts in your database)
  • Creating an occasional piece of “gated” content (to generate additional sales leads)

Remember, start small and add more over time. Success with sales and marketing requires two things: frequency and consistency. That will be difficult to achieve right out of the gate—so work up to it as your comfort and experience levels build.


Whatever route you want to take and however you want to get there, make sure to follow the premise of this article… stop relying on others for your success and take charge of your sales and marketing.