I've been talking about this with a friend and he asked me: How do you get your first customers for a cunsulting business? What do you think are the best ways?
Back when I started LinkedIn wasn't as huge as it is now. I wish it was. I didn't have a large network and those networking sessions NEVER brought me any clients. I used to go to all sorts of them hoping to get clients. There were a couple of nibbles here and there, but never anything serious. The only thing that helped was reaching out DIRECTLY to people in my target market. That meant cold calls and cold emails. I'd sell myself while thinking about their needs. Once I got a few bites I'd build good rapport by keeping in touch, asking questions, repeating back what they were saying so that they knew I was on the same page and kept my promises. If I said I'd call them back next Tuesday at 2:15 I'd do so. Eventually I built trust with them without having a network, or an insane amount of experience.
Oh and the most important thing about consulting is to LISTEN. When those first clients notice that you're truly listening and you're not selling the cookie cutter solutions everyone else is trying to sell them that's when you got them hooked. You start to understand their problems, fears, and see through their eyes and not just yours.
A network will help, but in the beginning just good 'ol salesmanship will get the ball rolling.