Hire a Small Consultancy?

July 17, 2012 · 0 comments

in For Coaches & Consultants

Q: What are the top 3 things solo practitioners can do to out-compete the big brand consulting firms when vying for a project? Asked on Linked In by Roberta Guise

My answer:

The top 3 benefits to clients of working with smaller consultancies:
#1. You get to work directly with a principal of the firm, not with some green MBA sent out by the partners.
#2. Nimbleness and flexibility.
#3. The billing rate includes less markup to cover the cost of big offices and admin staff.

On the other hand, there are some (perceived) drawbacks:
#1. You’re stuck with one kind of expertise, and they try to make all your problems fit into what they know.
#2. If they’re busy, you wait. Your project may be subject to unexpected delays if multiple clients of theirs all have urgent requests.
#3. “What if the principal is hit by a bus?” You fear there’s nobody to step in to complete your project.

As the small consultant, how do you address these concerns with clients before they mention them? Here’s how I handle them:

1. Ally yourself with a few other complementary and trusted consultants, and don’t be afraid to refer business to them. You could also bring them into a project on a sub-contractor basis. These referrals have to flow both ways.

2. Under-promise, over-deliver. This is our time-management bugaboo. Don’t schedule all your hours; leave some time for urgent things that come up. The flip side of this concern is that we often handle urgent client requests during “overtime”—evenings and weekends.

3. Addressing this one requires having one or more strategic partners who can fill in for us, when we get sick, have an emergency, or just want to take a well-deserved vacation.

“Small” needn’t mean “solo.” The best consultancies I’ve had relied on two to four consultants who had partially overlapping areas of expertise. We were complementary. One client may use more than one of us. And we did have the capability to partially fill in for each other during absences.

Finding the right mix of people is not easy, but that’s a subject for another blog post.

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