IT consultants tend to be good at technology - implementing ERP systems, designing database schema, devising network security schemes. What they aren't particularly good at is letting potential customers know how great they are at technology.
New or prospective consultants can get some useful pointers on how to market their services in the book "Getting Started as an Independent Computer Consultant," by consultant Mitch Paioff. A 27-page excerpt of the book devoted to marketing tactics is available free to IT Business Edge members here in the IT Downloads library.
Paioff begins by advising new consultants to come up with their own unique selling proposition (USP), sort of a tagline to let potential customers know what you bring to the table. He points to "Fresh Hot Pizza in 30 minutes or It's Free" as a model. The USP is short (usually, you want them to be 15 words or less), it lets customers know exactly what they can expect by contracting with you, and it's not likely to change month-to-month. Your USP probably should include a tech domain in which you specialize; companies tend to be looking for specific skills when they go looking for a consultant.
Paioff goes on to describe the importance of creating your own website in recruiting new leads for business. Having your own simple site (depending on your specialty, it needs to be no more than five or six pages, total) shows clients that you mean business. He suggests including the following information:
Letters of recommendation: Paioff says that some potential clients, after seeing testimonials from past clients, don't even ask for references. Posting full recommendations has the secondary benefit of relieving your current clients from taking bothersome reference calls.
Certifications and professional associations: Again, this lets anyone who is unfamiliar with you see that you are a serious pro.
Details of services you provide: If you offer training courses, for example, post a quick class outline to give customers a concrete idea of what they stand to gain by contacting you.
The book chapter also has tips on how to market yourself through pay-per-click Internet advertising services such as Google AdWords, and on doing good old-fashion networking at trade shows and conferences. He also gives some pointers on working with consulting firms. A quick tip: If a consulting firm tries to hire you full-time, it may well just be trying to save money on an immediate project - your job security would be in serious question. Just suggest that you work together on the current project on a contract basis, and if they still want to hire you when it's complete, reconsider.
The book chapter is full of great advice. You should definitely check it out.