The short answer is: YES! The long answer is a bit more complicated.
More than half of our new business comes from prospective clients calling us out of the blue. When we have our initial conversation, I ask how they found Strategic Sustainability Consulting. Was it a referral? Did they see our work somewhere? Had they read our sustainability report?
Nope. Most of them say that they found us just by googling "sustainability consulting" and checking out the websites of the companies that came up at the top of the list. (Fortunately, we have an awesome URL and usually come up first on a Google search!)
The reality is that most clients that are in the market for sustainability consulting services are going to start with an internet search. If you are a sustainability practitioner, you absolutely need a website that acts as a landing page for your online presence. Even if you make initial contact in person (like at a networking breakfast), chances are the person is going to check you out online afterwards.
Even if you mainly get work subcontracting for other sustainability consultancies, you still need a website. Here's how it works at our company:
Strategic Sustainability Consulting works with a network of more than 600 sustainability professionals in a loose association we call the SSC Consultant Network. About half of these individuals are sustainability freelancers—either sole owners of their own sustainability consultancy or freelancers operating under just their own name (e.g. without a company name). Of the remaining half, a good portion of the SSC Consultant Network is made up of people from small, boutique consultancies or other sustainability service companies.
When we have a project that requires the assistance of individuals from the SSC Consultant Network, we send out a call through our e-newsletter. People respond providing us with resumes, bios, and cover letters. I put them aside, and go straight to their email signature line and look for a website address.
Resumes are boring and cover letters rarely tell me what kind of person you are, whether you will fit in with our team, and what kind of services you deliver. When I look at your website, I can tell (within a couple of minutes) whether you pay attention to detail, what kind of projects you've worked on, and your personality and teamwork style. That saves us a TON of time, and gives us immediate insight into whether you'll be a good fit for our team.
Of course, that also means that you don't just need a website. You need a GOOD website. Fortunately, there are a ton of tools out there that make it easy to create and update a website. You don't need to spend a ton of time or money, or be best friends with a graphic designer. But you DO need to make sure that it's professional, personable, and reflective of the kind of services you deliver. (Honestly, this is where a HUGE number of independent sustainability professionals fall down—and if we were giving tough love for 2012, it would be to take a critical look at your website and fix it up if necessary!)
If this blog entry whetted your appetite for more information about how websites can help (or hinder) sustainability professionals, you may be interested in our 8-week, self-guided, online course called Social Media for Sustainability Professionals. It covers everything you need to know to kick start your social media strategy for 2012—and it is getting rave reviews!