How Independent Consultant Brittney Cohen is Building Her Client Base
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Brittney Cohen always wanted to be her own boss.
For over a decade, she worked in human resources for hedge funds and venture capital firms. But as she built and scaled HR functions, her mind was on another goal.
“I could not wait to be working for myself,” she says.
In 2023, Brittney launched I Heart HR, a consulting firm that helps early-stage founders navigate workforce challenges.
While HR is second nature to Brittney, sales and marketing are new. Over the past several months, she’s experimented with many different tactics for building her brand, generating leads, and growing existing accounts. She’s also set a budget to invest in learning and find what can work for her over the long term.
Brittney recently shared 5 of her top tips for new independent consultants to build and grow their client base.
1. Use wedges to get a foot in the door
Most of Brittney’s clients engage her as a fractional leader, but she’ll use other models when they open the door to a longer-term relationship.
Brittney works primarily with early-stage startups. “They aren’t thinking about HR because they’re trying to keep their business afloat,” she says. As a fractional HR leader, she spends 5-15 hours per week helping her clients build frameworks, solve issues, and support their people.
Brittney also provides advisory services: “I hear from people that they’re spending 10 hours researching things they can call me for,” she says. “I can give them an answer and a framework that I’ve built in 10 minutes.” Her advisory clients retain her for as few as 5 hours per month.
While Brittney prefers long-term engagements, she finds that one-off projects can easily turn into lasting partnerships. A client who hires her to design an employee handbook or policy, for example, ends up asking her to implement it, leading to a long-term fractional engagement.
“I find [projects] to be a good way to get my foot in the door,” she explains. Sometimes it’s too early for clients to commit to a long-term contract, but a project can be a great wedge to demonstrate her skills and prove the value of HR.
2. Experiment with lead generation tactics
To accelerate her learning, Brittney is casting a wide net when it comes to business development.
“I will try everything once,” Brittney says. “If it works, I’m going to keep going with it. If it doesn’t work, I am never going to do it again.”
Some of the tactics she’s experimenting with include:
LinkedIn to keep your network warm
Brittney loves LinkedIn as a way to keep in touch with her existing network. Simply by posting about her consultancy, she stays top of mind for former colleagues and bosses who have made warm introductions for her.
She notes that LinkedIn hasn’t been a great way for her to find new business. “No one who doesn’t know me is finding my posts,” she explains. For Brittney, LinkedIn keeps her existing network warm, but isn’t building her top of funnel.
Learning the art of sales
To generate new business, Brittney hired a cold email consultant to teach her how to run her own campaigns, rather than outsourcing it altogether. “I want to be able to do this kind of stuff on my own,” she explains.
While cold email has been “a learning process,” Brittney has learned a lot about how to communicate with her target audience — what they need and want, and when to reach them. “The more trial and error I go through,” she says, the more she learns.
Build your local network
Brittney has also started to network in her town in Fairfield County, Connecticut, where she connects with both local business owners and people who commute to New York. “Part of my long-term goal is to get more involved in some of the small businesses around here,” she says.
She regularly attends local Chamber of Commerce meetings and has started volunteering for a local startup group and providing pro-bono HR advisory: “It’s a bit of business development, a bit of professional development.”
3. Make sure your professional networks add value
In addition to in-person networking, Brittney participates in several digital networks, including Pollen. The key for her is to be thoughtful about the ones she spends her time in, so they don’t turn into a distraction.
“They’re such a big part of this business,” she says, but cautions that they can be distracting. She plans to scale back her membership in networks that don’t offer her as much value.
4. Real relationships are more powerful than referral partnerships
Whether she’s on LinkedIn, Pollen, or in a local Chamber of Commerce meeting, Brittney is focused on building relationships — meeting new people and tending to existing connections.
“One of my biggest clients right now came from my old boss,” she says, who was so excited to be a “matchmaker.”
So far, Brittney has found that her organic relationships generate more business than the formal referral partnerships she established when she was just starting out with consulting. The formal nature of payout structures for referrals may make some people less likely to help.
“It felt a little too early,” she acknowledges. “I wish I had waited… but I do think that some of them will be fruitful.” She’s working to build organic relationships with her referral partners so she remains top of mind when they have an opportunity.
5. Make a habit and keep yourself honest with KPIs
Brittney prefers KPIs to calendar blocking to ensure she’s using her time wisely. She aims to:
- Schedule 1 lunch or coffee meeting per week to network locally
- Send 5 casual, non-selling LinkedIn messages per week to founders or other consultants
- Run 3 cold email campaigns per month
Brittney has a clear vision for her business. Eventually, she plans to hire 2 employees and a virtual assistant, who will execute for her clients while she focuses on strategy and business development.
But in the short term, she’s trying to take it easy — as easy as a person known for her work ethic can manage. “This year, I wanted to just build slow,” she says. “I didn’t want to go fast and heavy and be crazy about it. I wanted to just organically and slowly build.”
Through a combination of experimentation and intentionality, Brittney is setting herself up for a strong future of sustainable growth — and the Pollen community will be there to support her.