3 Pains All Consultants Suffer From

Late 2019 I invested in independent research to help me dig deeper into the biggest challenges facing consultants today.

I commissioned a series of in-depth interviews with high-level consultants, both those working as independents as well as those working for medium-sized and large consultancy firms, to give me a rich and detailed picture of the consultant’s’ world.

I did this because I believe it’s essential to have a clear and unbiased understanding of your client’s challenges, and it’s easier to get that perspective with some external support.

As a consultant it’s hard to listen without stepping in to solve the problem, and it can be tricky for a client to open up about their working relationship with you. It is much easier for them to talk to an experienced third party.

Whatever your particular area of expertise, I guarantee that if you want to grow your consultancy practice you will face the same pains. 

They’re the headaches that I’ve had to deal with throughout my long consultancy career, and the ones that faced me even more starkly as I stepped out to start my new Visible Authority business. 

The consultant’s three biggest pains are: 

  1. Time: ‘I don’t have (or make) enough time to develop my visibility and build my business’.
  2. FOMO (fear of missing out): ‘I am afraid to narrow my focus and turn down opportunities in case I don’t have enough money/revenue at the end of the month.’ 
  3. Marketing: ‘I have no idea how to do my marketing or to do social media in an effective way to grow my pipeline’.

And if you’re looking to develop your visible authority to grow your business, you’ll need to find a way of overcoming them too.  

Throughout the interviews we heard the same story again and again. The three pains are experienced as great frustrations and seen as blockers to success to consultants everywhere. 

The biggest obstacle of all to growing a consultancy business is time. Everybody that we spoke to said something along the lines of I just don’t have time for marketing.

Here’s what the research uncovered:

Pain #1. No time to grow visibility and authority

‘No time for marketing’ is the cry of consultants the world over. When the going is good they are too busy servicing clients and or too busy deep in project work to devote time to lead generation. If the work dries up they still don’t feel they have time to devote to marketing, or they don’t know how best to use time to their advantage. 

Quotes from the consultants we interviewed

“We don’t have much time for marketing; you know how it is. We went into business and then you’re running for the clients and then it’s, ‘oh, marketing! Tomorrow, maybe?"

“We don’t have the time to dive deep into it, because our business is another business. Marketing comes far down on the list.” 

“In most firms we never have time. We have to make time for things like this” 

“Sometimes I look at people and I wonder how they find the time to write and post all that stuff.” 

“Time constraints make it difficult for me, specifically juggling the demands of family alongside work. When I’m working I must focus on the business as usual and the project I have. Networking and business development is something that comes on top of that.” 

“Time is the biggest enemy of a consultant who really wants to invest in authority.” 

“I also realised today that I’m not even focusing on business development because I don't have the time, my days are filled with clients, you know? On the one hand, it’s great, on the other it creates a lot of anxiety because what if it stops for whatever reason? I don’t have a business development engine behind me.” 

Overcoming the time barrier 

Solving the time pain is not difficult in itself. It doesn’t require any special skills or investment. 

It’s a question of mindset more than anything. It is imperative that consultant’s make time for marketing, and to find the time you need to commit to a new approach to business development. 

The time that you want to develop your visible authority will be found once you reengineer your way of working. It means redefining your approach to consulting: finding your niche, clarifying your positioning, staying upstream with your offering, and repackaging your service so that you’re no longer doing all the operational work for your clients. 

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You’ll find all the details in this blog, but here is a summary of the biggest time challenges in consultancy:

The 5 biggest TIME challenges in consulting

  1. Not enough focus, keeping the options open, saying yes to too many things.
  2. No marketing automation, too much manual work, poor outsourcing approach.
  3. Struggling with packaging or productized consulting to achieve higher productivity and less operational work.
  4. No disciplined content management, not developing 'pain-resolution content'.
  5. No 'time strategy' and poor 'time mindset'.

Here's how I improved these TIME pains

  1. Focus: I focused, narrowed, focused more and narrowed even more. Saying NO is not difficult with the right narrow niche and focus. Every 6 months, I sat down and re-assessed the narrowness of my work
  2. Automation: I studied marketing automation to death and I have a marketing automation (growth hacking) coach for many years. Most of my processes have been automated and I outsource a whole lot of work.
  3. Productizing: I focused (and still focus) a lot on developing the best possible productized consulting approaches. By packaging my services I also clearly showcase my area of expertise, easy to understand.
  4. Content management: I am working with a detailed content calendar to plan and organize the next 6-12 months of my content, and I am working with top-notch experts and writers from around the world to support me.
  5. Productivity: I am obsessed with organizing my work to free up time for business development, and I am on a ruthless search for mindset improvement, productivity gains, systems and processes. 

All the details of the time challenges with examples of how I tackle them can be found in this blog.

Pain #2: FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out

Learning to say ‘no’ to the wrong kind of work opens up valuable business development time, although saying ‘no’ is another one of the biggest pains that our research uncovered. A fear of narrowing focus is shared by many consultants.

If I specialise, they think, I’ll miss out on work. If I say no to this, I’ll disappoint my clients. If I say no to this, the phone might not ring again, and then where will I be? But a successful consultant needs to learn to say ‘no’ to the wrong opportunities in order to attract the right ones. 

'No' feels like I'm saying: 'I will never succeed'. I am scared to say it. To say 'No' means: maybe hurting someone who will then trash me. Am I turning down opportunity? (James Altucher)

Quotes from the consultants we interviewed

“I don’t think I have a strong personal brand out in the market. I think I have a good reputation and network of people willing to recommend me but that’s about it. The main personal challenge is every time you go out there you need to make a choice about ‘what public face?’ How do you want to go out there? What team do you want to be associated with? And that’s a bit of a personal challenge for me as I like to keep my options open to an extent! That’s a true struggle.” 

“Going towards a more niche position would require me to be more clear on the story I would bring and it would be hard to manage that myself.” 

“Consultancies say “we can do anything for you” to the clients. That’s the complete opposite side of working with deep expertise, I think consultancies have a tendency to devalue expertise because we basically say “we can do that as well”. 

“But sometimes if you get well known for a certain topic then it’s also a handicap at a certain point in time because sometimes there’s a hype around a certain topic and that can be temporary and then it’s a case of reinventing yourself.” 

“I think having a unique expertise is the most important thing, meaning other people are convinced that you bring something to the table that other consultants can’t. It makes you crucial to adding value to the client which makes it easier to get the deal or convert the lead into a project. That’s not easy to achieve though.” 

“I know I want to keep my options open but I can see there's a lot of value in making a choice.” 

Overcoming the FOMO barrier  

Saying ‘yes’ to the wrong opportunities compromises your market credibility and your future consulting growth. 

Fighting the FOMO means finding your niche, and establishing laser sharp positioning so that the right clients can find you. Deepen your expertise in one narrow area, share your knowledge generously online, and you’ll build a strong reputation.

You’ll be able to sidestep low grade commoditized work, leaving time and space to pursue the expert projects that both command higher fees AND boost your visible authority still further. Win-win.

The biggest FOMO challenges in consulting

  1. Saying yes to keep options open, it's a vicious loop to hell! (see this blog to study the vicious loop to hell)
  2. FOMO is a self-confidence assessment: do you have the courage and guts to focus and narrow down? 
  3. FOMO is an ego touchstone: consultants (with big ego's) are more in love with opportunity than with focusing and deepening their expertise.
  4. Many consultants struggle to translate their expertise into an easy-to-understand, credible message. When consultants cover multiple domains, it’s impossible to establish themself as an expert in any of them.
  5. Most consultants don’t understand that saying ‘No’ is the biggest force for building their business. The biggest authorities in the world relentlessly say ‘No’ to protect and maintain their narrow positioning. 

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Here's how I improved these FOMO pains

  1. Focus: I focus like crazy! I don't change my lane. Never ever. 
  2. Planning: I have a 3-year plan where I will go and I won't change. Saying NO became part of my consulting archetype. It took a while though, to get there. 
  3. Mindset: I rewired my brain: I was able to build the courage and the guts to say NO. Not all clients like(d) it but most do, it's one of the reasons why they came (are coming) to me!
  4. 80/20 rule: I trimmed all the fat. I only do those things (reading, studying, conferences, writing, following,...) that contribute to improving my narrow expertise. 80/20 Principle is my mentor. 
  5. Value-driven: I never get into commoditized consulting: selling my hours/days to make a living. Trading time for money is what most consultants do. They get ‘body-shopped’ by their clients. I focus on value-driven, exclusive, packaged services. Period. 

You can find all the details on my FOMO-approach in this blog.

Pain #3. Overwhelmed with marketing and social media 

Fears around marketing fall into two categories. A lack of knowledge around the nuts and bolts of marketing holds consultants back - what to do when and how - but also a deeper reticence around marketing itself. Marketing is seen as ‘selling stuff’, and that makes some people uncomfortable. 

Quotes from the consultants we interviewed

“I don’t know what to do and I guess that’s one reason why we don’t do more is because we don’t know what makes sense for us.” 

“We don’t know the specific marketing tools that are running today or which are possible for us.” 

“I really don’t have the approach to the marketing for this kind of business we’re doing because it’s so specialized.” 

“I need help knowing how to leverage the marketing and build a brand around myself.” 

“We’re doing more or less no marketing at the moment. We’re just networking. Most of our clients are people I already know.” 

Overcoming the marketing barrier

The solution to the consultant’s marketing pain is two-fold:

1. It’s a mindset shift

Why don't you start to reframe ‘marketing and selling’ as ‘educating and helping’ and it instantly becomes a more comfortable proposition?

Forget creating pushy sales messages, no one reads them anyway. Instead package your expertise in content that’s designed to help your prospects with their challenges, and share it widely on the web.

That’s the way your ideal clients will get to find, like and trust you. 

Content marketing is building a relationship between you and your client. (Eva Guttierrez)

This new definition of marketing - using your expertise and experience to help your clients overcome their challenges - is the natural extension of what you’re already doing as a consultant.

Consulting IS marketing: marketing is not separate from you, as a consultant. A good consultant is a good marketer of his or her expertise.

2. It’s a matter of efficiency

You won't have a choice in the long run of making use of marketing automation tools so that you can share this helpful expert content as efficiently as possible.

Systems will make your life easier, and getting used to tools that will allow you to schedule all the expert content that you create will free up time for you. I am/was able to find 20-30% of my time by using/leveraging smart systems. Why can't you do that (even in big consultancy firms)? 

You’ll find more in my blog on making marketing easier here. 

The biggest FOMO challenges in consulting

  1. Contrary to popular belief, marketing is not merely about 'selling stuff'. Marketing in consulting is all about building long-term visibility and trust.
  2. The visibility challenge: many consultants are uncomfortable talking about themselves. The truth though, is that visibility is the only thing that is going to make you stand out in a crowded and very competitive consulting world. 
  3. The trust challenge: professional services are 'credence goods'. Credence goods are sold very differently. Clients do not buy credence goods based on features or attributes. Unlike other products, credence goods are sold on trust!
  4. Consultants often believe that marketing is a sleazy thing and is beneath them. Instead, marketing is about sharing your knowledge and providing something of authentic value to your clients.

Here's how I improved these marketing pains

  1. Total openness: I show who I am, what I do and how I solve client pains. I always keep this in the back of my mind: let my clients learn from what I learned. I really don't mind sharing my struggles, pains, mistakes, failures. I even share my business data from behind the scenes!
  2. Helping: I rewired my head: I replaced the word 'selling' with 'helping'.
  3. Top content: It's my obsession always to produce the best possible educational content. Have you ever heard of 'Education-based marketing' (EBM)? That's what I do.
  4. Patience: I never settle for short-term gains. I am 'in the game' for the long term. Fulfillment over achievement.   
  5. Sharing: I will always openly share my expertise! Sharing is caring. Clients know that. 

You don't lose what you know when you share your knowledge. Unlike physical goods, knowledge is non-rival, meaning its value doesn't decrease when it's shared. (From the great book: 'Peak' by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool)

Conclusion

You can purchase marketing automation tools and systems to streamline your business development activity, but the biggest pains can only be solved by changing the way you think.

The ultimate aim of all this activity is to grow your business. Becoming a visible authority is a means to an end - the end being to get more clients. If you’re unclear where to start, you could follow my lead and invest in client research to start from. 

The client research will help you (re)define/improve/narrow your niche. A strong niche will banish FOMO. Banishing FOMO will mean you’re happily saying ‘no’ to the wrong kind of projects, freeing up more time for marketing. It's 'The Consulting Glorious Loop To Heaven'. 

And the research will have taught you a lot more about your client challenges, so you’ll have a clear steer on the kind of educational, value-driven, expert content that you can create to help your ideal clients with their challenges.

And that content, shared generously online, will be what signals your visible authority to the world, pulling the clients you want towards you. What are you waiting for? 

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Luk Smeyers

Hello, I’m Luk Smeyers and I’m guiding consultants through the journey of growing their business by helping them transform into visible authorities.  I have been in consulting businesses for almost 20 years, in very different roles: as European CHRO in a global consultancy, as a startup founder in an analytics consultancy, and as a leader in a 'Big 4' consultancy, post-acquisition of the startup. I had the privilege of achieving global visibility as a consultant and I never had to sell, persuade, or negotiate as a result. I have now bundled all those experiences, expertise, know-how, research, reading, successes, struggles, and failures from managing and growing that visibility in the past years. 

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