Statistical Consulting Clients: How to Get and Keep Them

Melissa KovacsMelissa Kovacs, PStat®, is the founder of FirstEval, a statistical consulting, program evaluation, and litigation support firm. Her clients are in the social and public sectors and also include hospital systems, attorneys, and marketing firms.

If you’re a statistical consultant, or you want to be a statistical consultant, how will you build and maintain a client base?

I’ve found the most common way for statistical consultants to get clients is through word-of-mouth referrals. While some consultants advertise, specifically in niche areas to niche audiences, most of us get clients because someone recommended us.

How to Make It Happen

I have six thoughts about your obvious next question: How can I get personally recommended for statistical consulting work? My thoughts here span from the origination of your business cycle to your work with your clients. Here we go:

  1. Networking. This word doesn’t have to lead to a pit in the stomach of your introverted, statistician self. This isn’t as bad as it sounds. Networking is as simple as telling everyone you know that you are a statistical consultant. Speak it into existence. Announce it on LinkedIn and other social media platforms, tell your friends, tell your family, and tell your professional colleagues you are looking for projects. You would be surprised whose colleague’s roommate’s girlfriend’s colleague is looking for a statistician. If you’re bold, join a networking group in a particular area—maybe a group for women, tech people, data visualization lovers, or R lovers.
  2. Market yourself. If you are as intimidated as I am by the mere mention of “marketing,” reframe your thinking to view marketing as relentlessly helpful and actively solving people’s problems. You don’t have to think of it as placing ads on Google, but do educate yourself about what it is. As a statistical consultant, the majority of your marketing will encompass talking to others about what you do (see #1) and providing helpful ideas to solve business problems using statistics.
  3. Treat your consulting like a business, because that’s what it is. All those biostatistics, applied econometrics, and statistical theory courses will only help you with your actual client work, not with building and maintaining a client base. You are officially in the business world now, so immerse yourself in it and embrace it. I recommend not assuming you can just “figure it out” without some help and education. Attend a business boot camp. Take classes for entrepreneurs at your local library. Read some Dorie Clark books. Steer your podcast list toward advice for business owners, entrepreneurs, and consultants. Find other consultant pals (even if they’re not statisticians) and form a mastermind group. You don’t need to go get an MBA; the information and help is out there for free in your community and online.
  4. Consider your brand. As a statistical consultant, you do have a brand. What is your brand? Give this some serious thought. What do you do that signals your brand to your client? Is it high-quality statistical consulting? (Yes, please). Is it the professional data visualizations and graphics you deliver with your end product of results? Is it your quick online helpfulness with R coding challenges? Is it your witty repartee on Twitter? Is it your go-to blog posts? Is it your friendliness and ease of doing business with? Is it your helpful monthly newsletters? Is it your nerdiness with a slight touch of humor? Is it your blunt honesty when delivering results? Is it your local community ties? Is it your trustworthiness or remarkable attention to details? All these are a brand—are they pieces of your brand? Consider what speaks to you and what you want to be known for.
  5. Listen. This is the most important item on this list, and probably should have been first. Once a client engagement originates, a statistical consultant should be in listening mode from start to finish. From that first phone call and initial client meeting, the consultant should be listening carefully to understand and recognize the unique situation and data story of their client. Remember this is part of marketing—actively listening to find and solve people’s problems and the problems in their organizations (using statistics, of course). Recognizing the problems of people and their organization’s requires empathy, which requires listening. Your clients may not know what they need, but if you listen long enough, you’ll know. Or, they may think they know what they need, but after careful listening, you may be able to offer a better solution to their problem.
  6. Integrity. After careful listening, you may realize you are not the right consultant for a person or company. Their project may be too much of a stretch for you, you may not have time to deliver a high-quality product within their timeline, or the topic isn’t exactly a space in which you feel comfortable providing advice. It is perfectly fine to decline a project for these reasons, or in any situation you don’t feel you can deliver high-quality work. Be honest and be yourself in these situations. Even if you lose some income in the short term, you’ll gain integrity and respect in the long term.

All these factors combined with your rock-solid knowledge of applied statistics sum to an incredible statistical consultant—one who will be asked to return for more work and one who will be recommended by past clients to new clients.