consulting

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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I’m discussing this with another veteran consultant, Janet Tokerud, and also on a LinkedIn forum. I’d like to hear your 2 cents. Here are a few factors:

YES

1. Companies can’t keep up with the firehose of change. Many have downsized their expertise, knowledge, and wisdom. They have to rely on outside consultants. We are the only ones with the mandate to stay on top of change, and the only ones who get paid enough to make this feasible.

2. We traffic in ideas and solutions and information. These are constructed of data and numbers and words. Thus the internet is the ideal medium for us. It connects us with each other anywhere in the world, as is happening on this forum this instant. We can communicate and publish with no middleman or gatekeeper. Internet forums like this provide the nexus for us to flourish and to provide value.

NO

1. Economic volatility puts us at the end of the tiger’s tail, where we are thrashed back and forth unpredictably. For example, my clients are small professional businesses that serve larger corporations that engage in the global market. When the markets hiccup, the corporations shudder, my clients can have a heart attack, and I can get dashed on the rocks. Where is the stability for us to get ahead?

2. Every year, more and more lucrative consulting tasks are outsourced across the world or programmed into an app. What will be left for us to do?

3. We lack the resources to innovate to keep up with the big players. We’re doomed to fall behind and slide into irrelevance, to be overtaken by the next newly-minted generation of PhDs and quants.

What’s your take on the outlook for independent knowledge professionals such as consultants?

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Can Consultants Collaborate on Marketing and Projects?

December 31, 2009

I would like to see joint efforts like this work, but I’ve found it difficult to produce the desired benefits. Here’s why . . . . But if it is going to work, I see several requirements . . .

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