What do consultant "cover letters" look like (+ free sample/template)?
Do independent social impact professionals (freelance consultants, international development consultants, etc. working for NGOs, UN, governments, social enterprises) need cover letters when applying for consulting projects?
Well, it depends.
Quick word on business development for independent consultants
Here at the IC-Hub, we teach independent professionals in the international development and social impact spaces to build sustainable impact-focused consulting businesses by consistently generating referrals.
In other words, we want work to come to you, instead of you chasing after new projects all the time (we're far too lazy to do that ourselves!). You can learn more about our business development approaches here.
Applying for consultancies
Nevertheless, whether or not you're able to put in place that automated business development process, you might still apply for consultancies now and again (for the "levelled-up" IC-Hubber, this might mean you apply for a consultancy with a client that you already have in your network, which makes it far more likely that you'll be selected (or at least interviewed).
And when you're applying for consultancies, the client organisation ask for one or more of the following:
A "full proposal" typically involves a technical offer (your proposed methodology and work plan), a financial offer (how much it will cost for you to deliver the project), along with your CV and covering letter (or "letter of transmissal", or "expression of interest").
In short, a cover letter is still relevant.
Our 3 big tips for writing a kick-ass cover letter as an independent consultant
There are many different styles of cover letter writing. We're going to avoid the generic (though nonetheless critical) advice about avoiding stupid spelling/grammar errors, proofreading, doing your research on the organisation, etc.
Here are our tips based on how we craft our cover letters. And you can download our sample/template that has won us many interviews (and projects).
Make it look like an official letter: use a heading, write the address of the organisation (even if you're emailing it), include your signature.
Use a clear structure: you'll see how we do it in the download, but if you stick to a clear structure (e.g. three reasons why you're the right person for this role), it: a) makes the letter more presentable and easier to read; b) demonstrates you're a structured thinker/worker (key to consulting success); and c) allows you to re-use and re-purpose your cover letter to apply for other consultancies.
Hyperlink to works that demonstrate your authority and expertise in the area of work addressed by the consultancy: in both the IC-Hub Start-up Incubator (for new consultants) and IC-Hub Level-up Accelerator (for advanced consultants), we emphasise the importance of creating content... You can read our business development guide for more on that. Once you do that, you can link to content that relates specifically to the consultancy. For instance, when I'm applying for a consultancy related to human trafficking, I link to specific episodes from my podcast in which I talk about human trafficking. Even if the potential client doesn't take the time to consume the content, they can at least see that I'm creating that content (and have some expertise in that field), and that I'm not just an opportunist applying for any consultancy out there.
That's it for now. Of course, there are other things you can do as you go through your own "levelling-up" journey, like name-dropping relevant contacts and demonstrating that you can provide a platform to promote that potential client... But we wanted to provide some concrete recommendations that both start-up and advanced consultants can do.