As A Consultancy Owner, You Always Attract What You Are, Not What You Want
This article was last updated on 8 January 2024.
The consulting industry had 2 years of almost unlimited post-pandemic growth in 2021 and 2022. These were, in fact, ‘outlier years’ and not a regular revenue growth continuation from 2018-2019.
However, from late 2022 to early 2023, economic uncertainty hit the consulting business heavily, caused by fluctuations in the global economy, geopolitical tensions, and cost inflation (to name a few).
This has presented severe challenges for most consultancies: reduced client budgets, project indecisiveness, and lack of consultancy revenue reliability.
Clients’ budgets, needs and expectations have evolved rapidly, requiring consultancies to be more agile, innovative, and client-centric than ever before.
While change is inevitable and often good, I've spoken to many boutique consultancy owners who report just how big of a negative impact 2023 has had on their well-being.
Lots of consultancy owners believe they’re in constant competition with everyone else. Thus, they always try to reinvent the wheel, change their strategy, and keep all options open instead of being trustworthy in a particular expertise domain.
As a result, they work too many hours, try to please everyone, and feel overwhelmed and stressed out. They’re so afraid of losing potential clients that they try to say yes to every opportunity. It's my everyday experience working with these owner-led boutique consultancies (the consulting firms I advise).
The problem is that trying to put your eggs in everybody’s basket is ineffective and tiring.
And if you’re constantly chasing, always trying to find the next opportunity or client, you’ll inevitably attract more of that stressful routine into your life and consultancy business.
"Here’s the unpopular truth: being a successful consultancy owner doesn’t need to be hard. You don’t need to work 10+ hours per day, seven days per week. And most importantly, you need to understand that your work as a consultant is not your life."
There’s so much more to a good life than professional success. However, you can also have both: Enjoy quality time with your loved ones, make time for your favourite activities, and run a healthy and profitable consulting business. And when I say "run a business", I mean working on this business instead of in it. That is, working on the strategic goals, conducting assessments, and designing long-term strategies instead of managing the daily grind.
All of this is possible if you know exactly what you want and are crystal clear about the value your consultancy can bring.
"But as always, the biggest challenge is not strategic - it’s in our minds. I've learned that the hard way."
Working on yourself is the most underrated way to grow your consulting business. Most people don’t understand that their professional results and income can’t outgrow their personalities.
Investing in yourself always pays the highest dividends, and working on yourself will lead to positive changes in your life - not only in your work as a consultancy owner but also beyond that. But most importantly, it’ll help you be aware of your priorities and use your time and energy accordingly.
Here's what I learned.
I understand the temptation of saying yes to every opportunity that knocks on your door, the thrill of pursuing diverse projects, and the drive to satisfy an ever-growing roster of clients.
I've been there in my early consulting years, trapped in the all-consuming whirlwind of my boutique consultancy, perpetually chasing my tail to maximise revenue and extend my reach.
The result? A high degree of depletion, compromised work quality, and diminishing quality of life. A burnout stormed into my life.
It felt like I was caught in an endless loop of work with no room for myself, all the while forgetting why I started my consultancy to begin with. However, I decided to rewrite this narrative.
I shifted my strategy, honed my focus, and started saying no to distractions, allowing me to rekindle my passion for the work, reclaim my personal life, and drastically improve my service quality.
Now, many years later, I enjoy a sense of fulfilment and balance I never thought possible. You can do it, too - there's a better way to run your consultancy.
Stop chasing. Focus on your zone of genius instead.
No matter how experienced they are, way too many boutique consultancy owners I meet live and work in a constant doom loop.
They’re always busy chasing their tail to find new clients and projects. They worry about finding the next one once they win the next client or project.
This constant path of chasing leads to a few serious problems:
- They’re unable to focus on their zone of genius because they say yes to every opportunity, even if it’s not lucrative or they don’t have the necessary know-how to solve a specific problem;
- They struggle to become a well-known authority in their market because they lack time to establish and communicate their expertise;
- They must deal with clients and projects that don’t always fit their strengths, leading to frustration for both parties;
- They’re constantly stressed and worried.
You won’t get what you want unless you are what you want.
That sounds like a difficult sentence, right? Let me explain.
If you want clarity, you need to take time to get clear about what you want. This might sound obvious, but for most people, it’s not.
Most consultancy owners attract confusion, long workdays, and tiring clients because that’s how they feel. They expect their job to be difficult, so they receive that.
They want an easier life but don’t even believe it’s possible. Instead, they think that being successful in business needs to be complicated. They believe feeling exhausted and stressed is normal.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
"It doesn’t matter what you think you want and it doesn’t matter what you do because you only create in life what you are". (Jim Fortin)
The overall consulting market is still attractive despite the slowdown of 2023. But that market - more than ever before - is also crowded, noisy, and challenging. Most consultancies seem to forget they must stand out from the crowd to succeed.
Most are easily replaceable because they don’t have deep expertise to solve high-value client problems. They might get hired because of their pricing, not because they’re the best in their field.
To create a different reality in your life and career, you must be clear about what you want.
Even though it might first sound like a waste of time, thinking about the bigger picture and maximising the value delivered to a narrow audience are the two most rewarding and effective tasks you can complete.
Once you have clarity and purpose, you’ll attract more of that. You’ll pull clients who want to work with you because they believe you fit their values. Additionally, they’ll also appreciate your expertise.
On top of that, you’ll be able to complete profitable and rewarding projects without working yourself to death. You can avoid managing daily tasks and spend more time working on the business.
Say no to the good to say yes to the great.
Learning to say no isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Most of the time, saying no to the wrong opportunities and clients makes it easier to say yes to the right ones.
Your goal as a consultancy owner should be to work fewer hours in the business, more hours on the business, and have lots of time to spend on other priorities in your life - whether that’s your family, a good cause, sports, or other hobbies.
By saying yes to clients who don’t match your consultancy's skills, expertise, and expectations, you’re making it harder for everybody in the team to make time for the projects and activities you all genuinely enjoy.
"With each wrong yes, you’ll attract more wrong opportunities."
The two main reasons why saying no is often difficult are our ego and fear of losing revenue (or income). Most consultancy owners believe that saying no could lead to a drop in revenue and profit, which is often hard to digest.
They don’t understand that having more time would help them attract ideal clients who’ll happily pay higher fees so they don't end up stuck with many projects that don’t fit their expertise and expectations.
Apart from that, their ego stands in their way because they view saying no as a sign of weakness. The truth, however, is that it’s a sign of precious strength.
If you can’t say no to the wrong clients and projects, you’ll likely attract more of them and end up in a downward spiral of undercharging for your services and feeling overwhelmed by too much work without having financial stability.
Saying no to a client or opportunity doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means that you know exactly what you want and are unwilling to accept projects that don’t fit the consultancy's focus and positioning.
How to close the gap and attract more of what you want.
At this point, you might ask yourself: “Well, okay, but how exactly do I become the type of person to attract the kind of outcomes I desire?!”
Here’s the answer: try to show up as the person living that reality daily.
You start by adjusting your way of thinking and acting so you slowly become that person who has all the things you want with your consultancy, e.g., authority in the market, a laser-sharp value proposition, high-paying clients, and a schedule that allows you to spend lots of time doing the things that light up your heart.
Ask yourself what you want and why you might not have it yet.
For example, if you want to work with clients who genuinely value the work of your consultancy and pay premium prices, ask yourself why you haven’t been able to attract them so far.
Maybe you’ve been too busy serving those underpaying clients to protect the consultancy's revenue. I get that. I've been there.
Maybe it’s because they never felt attracted to you. After all, they don’t really understand what you’re doing and why they should trust you.
Maybe because your prices are so low, they believe there must be something off with the value you deliver.
Maybe it's because by attempting to cater to a large audience, you diluted the expertise of your consultancy, and it's now time to get very specific about what problems you solve for what types of clients via what proven methodology.
If you want to create different results, you need to believe that you deserve them and show up as the person ready to welcome these outcomes.
As Jim Rohn once famously said: “Success is something you attract by the person you become.”
Stop chasing clients and projects. Instead, become a consultancy owner or leader confident in your abilities and skills and attract well-paying clients who genuinely value your work.
Your time is too precious to be wasted on serving underpaying customers and chasing projects that don’t fit your skills.
Once people understand your expertise and know why they should trust you, they’ll be drawn to you and your consultancy like a magnet.
Doing business and making money don’t need to be exhausting. They can result from being highly focused and saying no to all the things that don’t serve your goals.
More is often less, and avoiding time-wasters is the best strategy to have more time for essential things in life.
Be patient in the process. It took me a few years. You don’t always need to be ten steps ahead of anyone else. Take time to pause and breathe. Sometimes, short breaks can lead to the most significant breakthroughs anyway.
You attract what you are, not what you want.
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Hello, I’m Luk Smeyers, and I’m helping mid-sized consultancies become high-performing consulting firms. I have been in the consulting businesses for more than 20 years, in very different roles: as European CHRO in a global consultancy, as a founder of a mid-sized analytics consultancy, and as a leader in a 'Big 4' consultancy, post-acquisition of my consultancy. I had the privilege of achieving global visibility as a consulting leader, 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 advising consultancies in the past years.