60 Lessons That Will Reshape The Way You Think About Consulting
These quotes reflect my passionate thinking about the consulting profession and span one year of writing. I've mixed my own quotes with carefully selected quotes from experts I admire and you may never have heard of.
Let the inspiration be with you!
“Your content is your first sales call with a prospect”. (Matt Scianella, Gorilla 76)
1. In 2020, Some consultants/consultancies have been struggling, some got in deep trouble (and were ready to give up), some had their very best every year. If there's one common denominator: experts and authorities thrive, even in (very) difficult times!
2. Corona has apparently caused less patience, less risk-taking behaviors in the selection of consultants and advisors. More than ever, prospects are choosing subject matter experts to help solve their problems fast and reliable.
3. As a consultant, trying to access new prospects, you’d better be able to clearly explain in no more than 30” what specific problem you are able to solve for your client, what the output/impact will be, and how you will go about that.
4. Consultants, learn your lines! You’d better be able to explain in less than 3’ your problem-solving methodology or approach, the output you will achieve, how your typical project roadmap will look like, what your prototypical TTR (time to resolution) will be, how you will work together (including remotely), how much (and how) leadership will be involved, what education you will provide to guarantee adoption after you’ve left.
5. Can you demonstrate your expertise by instantly explaining similar cases, testimonials, process descriptions, plans of action, webinars/videos, (online) collaboration tools (specific to your solution)? Generalist consultants will always struggle to provide convincing answers.
6. It takes focus, specialization, and authority to stand out in an overcrowded, highly competitive consulting market with risk-avoiding, impatient buyers who can find anything in seconds. I keep telling my clients: your (focused) competitor is only one click away.
7. There has been growing pressure from buyers in organizations to find new ways to save money. Some of that squeeze has led to consulting contract reviews, price reductions but also quite a few project cancellations. However, deep expertise in a specific subject matter always wins in the long run, even in difficult times.
8. It has been a hybrid situation: on one hand, clients seemed to be less risk-taking, striving for a continuation of the collaboration with long-time trusted advisors. On the other hand, there has been a substantial loyalty decline. But what’s clear to me - amidst the growing pressure and incredible noise in the consulting market - visible authorities and subject matter experts with solid expertise proof will always be able to retain their clients.
9. Having ‘systemized’ (in CRM) their existing relationships and their network way before the Corona crisis made some of my clients hugely successful during the most difficult lockdown months.
10. Consultants who have frantically ‘systemized’ their network by creating a detailed database of clients, ex-clients, contacts, prospects, and alumni will always be able to quickly activate their network, keeping it in the loop of their latest learnings.
11. It’s what I did a decade long: updating my network with new learnings and trends. I was privileged to always have a magnetic client and network loyalty.
12. Digital marketing will run the show in consulting. What do you do when you need to solve a problem at home? Yes, you Google. And what else do you read, apart from the solution details and the price? Yes, the reviews. Guess what, it’s what your prospects also do.
13. What do you think buyers of consultancy services do when they evaluate candidate consultants? They check you out online. And hopefully, the envisioned consultant profile shows an abundance of expert evidence.
14. Without social proof and immediate evidence of deep knowledge (content!), the risk-averse and impatient buyer will skip to your digitally savvy competitor.
15. Before coronavirus, consultants kept telling me: "Luk, growing my consulting business is all about my network and my relationships”. Unfortunately, heavily relying on networks and relationships to sustainably grow a consulting business, might result in an unreliable pipeline and unpredictable future. In an overcrowded consulting market, digital is how new business is won.
“The traditional marketing model in the professional services industry is in trouble. Client loyalty, satisfaction, and referrals are in a slow downward spiral. A modern, digital-fueled content marketing approach therefore, hits all the right notes”. (Hinge Research)
16. The digital chips are down. Consultants have no other choice than to substantially enhance their often poor and reputation-damaging social media profiles and activity and develop a clever rich content-driven lead generation approach.
17. The lockdowns have surfaced the incredible weakness of a network-heavy approach. All of a sudden, consultants were confronted with an unreachable and unpredictable network, cutting them off of their usual, network-based, consulting development approach. During Corona, the network 'call to arms' proofed to be weak, unpredictable, inconsistent, and not scalable.
18. I’ve seen a fast-growing number of consultants jumping on the digital bandwagon. A lot of them are getting better at fighting the overcrowded consulting market and at trying to stand out against the rest. So, the digital challenge for lagging consultants becomes bigger and more difficult.
19. I’ve never been reliant on my network ONLY to grow my consulting business. Building relationships was never my ultimate goal but rather the result of my expertise, my visibility, and reputation on the market.
20. If you want to be serious about growing your consulting business and starting to attract your ideal clients in a more consistent and predictable way, you will have to get comfortable with online marketing. Consultants will need to understand their future business growth is digitally driven.
21. Remember what I keep saying to all my clients: your digitally-astute competitor is only one click away (and client loyalty is at an all-time low).
22. Assume it’s not difficult anymore understanding the far-reaching impact of specialization in consulting. In fact, it’s maybe easier to understand calling it ‘the narrow focus of your consultancy work’.
23. Almost every consultant I’ve talked to has some kind of (big or small) ambition to become considered and recognized as an expert. And 95% of those consultants know pretty well that ‘saying yes’ to everything is not the best way to get there and to become proud of their work.
24. The large number of consultants I meet don’t end up where they had hoped. They aren’t building a healthy pipeline or aren’t working with the type of clients/projects they really wanted.
25. Generalist consultants have a dark future. Being unfocused leaves them spread thin and disorganized, confuses their clients (they don’t know what they are standing for), and burns them out in the long run. In most cases, they played the safe, low-risk generalist game for way too long. Google search will put them on page 59, irrelevant as they are, unfortunately.
26. The debate about specialist versus generalist in education and teaching is a totally different debate and has nothing to do with specialization as in ‘narrow focus’ in a consulting practice.
27. Consultants will need to combine profound subject matter expertise (and focus on it to grow their consulting business) combined with an incredibly broad, contextual, overarching knowhow. The T-shaped consultant.
“The more irrelevant you become to non-ideal prospects by turning your positioning away from them, the more relevant you become to your chosen target clients”. (David C. Baker)
28. Covering multiple expertise areas and/or multiple target audiences, makes it almost impossible to accomplish a deep knowledge status. Ambitious consultants understand they will not stand out and build trust by being a generalist ‘something’.
29. Our job as consultants is to ensure we are top of mind - the first specialist clients call when they need help.
30. Publicly voicing expertise is helping consultants tremendously with their positioning, focus, saying no to other work, developing the right marketing messaging & content, and pricing, to name a few.
31. Rather than being laser sharp in their public consulting positioning, most consultants continue to show expertise in multiple areas and take on any remotely related opportunity that comes their way. I am always surprised how difficult those discussions are with my consulting clients about ‘publicly announcing their specialism’. Going narrow scares them to death.
32. The biggest authorities in the world relentlessly say ‘No’ in order to protect and maintain their narrow positioning and authority. Unfortunately, most consultants don’t really understand however that saying ‘No’ is the biggest force for building their business.
33. Most consultants have too big EGO's. Saying ‘No’ feels like capitulation to a big Ego in consulting. Every new opportunity feels for them like an attractive business challenge they need to crush (and demonstrate that to their ‘small world’). The consultant’s ego is detrimental to narrowing their positioning, focusing on their single biggest mastery, and refusing all other work outside of their expertise lane.
34. The consultant’s typical fear of narrowing their expertise domain will definitely become the fastest way to becoming commoditized as a consultant in 2021 and beyond.
35. I get this question all the time: what is the biggest challenge for consultants? My easy answer: the fact they're struggling to vigorously adhere to a narrow focus and the accompanying public message (of that narrow focus).
36. Hopefully, we will see a growing understanding that striving for variety (consultants love to constantly brew new ‘blends’) should evolve into a focus on building the deep and unique competence that clients are looking for and are prepared to pay a premium for.
37. I do quite a bit of consultancy practice business reviews and, in 90% of those reviews, the practice and the partners/principles are totally invisible externally (and internally disagreeing about it). Their digital footprint with evidence of (focused) expertise is at a bankruptcy state.
38. Content-driven visibility - sharing THEIR OWN expertise, not stuff from others - is the only thing that is going to make consultants stand out in a crowded and very competitive consulting world.
39. Prospects and clients have an unprecedented number of options today. In a way, Google is encouraging us to become more and more specialized in order to become and remain relevant as a consultant.
40. Google assesses content (amongst many other criteria) on the basis of Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. As a consultant, you will only appear in Google’s top hits if Google considers you to be E.A.T.-proof.
“It may come as bad news for those in the game for a quick win, but expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness take time to build and nurture, with no real shortcuts. Google’s E-A-T criteria, by definition, mean you can only incrementally grow a positive online presence in a natural way”. (Ian Booth, Moz.com)
41. It will be imperative to keep the education of your audience - the E.A.T. way - at the forefront of your mind and your goals and use your unique story to show them how they can implement what you’ve learned to achieve similar results.
42. Fanatically documenting your learnings will increasingly be the key driver of growing your expertise, authority, and trust-building and, as a result, of course, consulting business growth.
43. Marketing in consultancy is NOT about sales. Instead, marketing in consulting is about sharing your knowledge and providing something of authentic value to your clients.
44. I still meet quite a number of consultants struggling with openly sharing their expertise. Amplifying your visibility as a subject matter expert, however, is more than a feel-good marketing technique. When openly sharing your expertise is done deliberately, systematically, and strategically, it is a proven business development and inbound marketing tool and there’s ample research to back up this claim.
45. Sharing all your learnings from the project trenches is the best possible way to build a strong and credible reputation as a consultant.
“Give people an abundance of confidence in your expertise by creating an abundance of value and share it again and again”. (Seth Godin)
46. As I’ve seen time and time again, consultants don’t like marketing and sales. Many of the Consultants I’ve met in the past believe that marketing is beneath them. Whether you like it or not, as a consultant you are marketing yourself all of the time. A good consultant is a good marketer of his/her expertise.
47. It’s extremely important for you as a consultant you move past the strange marketing belief and start embracing content marketing as a critical trust-building, visibility-improving activity. The more you write about how YOU have solved the problems of your clients, the more clients will relate to you and build a mental connection with you over time. Even if all of this could be profoundly personal, potential clients will quickly recognize their own problems in your story and can truly connect with you.
48. In the overcrowded consulting world, your consulting expertise is probably not truly exceptional but YOU certainly are.
“Don’t create to put something — anything — out there without considering if what you’re sharing is valuable or useful to your audience”. (Felicia C. Sullivan)
49. The easiest sale ever in my career took me 60' and resulted in a 150k project. The client met me at a conference where I was the opening keynote speaker, and apparently the learnings I’d presented had intrigued her. I got invited. It was one of those many meetings where I sat in front of the ‘buyer’ with a printed stack of my case studies on the desk. 60' minutes later I walked away with a contract.
50. Openly sharing your expertise sends a message that you are not afraid to reveal your expertise because you are that confident in your own skills and knowledge. It sends a powerful message that you have a lot more to offer because of how freely you share your knowledge.
51. Not sharing your expertise is a risky approach. Without any proof of knowledge, you will remain under the radar, and google will put you on search page 27.
52. All consultants should become a baker, not an eater. As Guy Kawasaki so wisely put it: 'Eaters want a bigger slice of an existing pie, bakers want to make a bigger pie and share it with others. By being intentional in sharing your real-life experiences you will enjoy infinite supply to bake more and bigger pie.
53. Clients will be significantly pickier about whom they work with. They will look for transformational value, stability, reliability, and authenticity. They will spend even more time doing their own online research on potential partners – consultants and consultancies – so content marketing will become the battlefield.
54. In absence of visible expertise, nobody will come across your profile, irrelevant as you are. You will need to compete on price trying to survive the race to the bottom.
55. Your competition is moving forward aggressively (it’s amazing what is going on right now!). Consultants will need to propel the digital and data-driven thought leadership status to stand out in an overcrowded, extremely competitive consulting market.
56. Another outcome of my consultancy business reviews: lack of data to monitor the digital footprint. Online data are your new consulting GPS: understanding existing clients and prospects.
57. It’s extremely hard to understand why consultants and consultancies (even the big consultancy firms) have an almost fatal data inadequacy. How the heck will you ever know the business impact of educating your audience if you don’t evaluate your progress based on concrete metrics?
58. It’s amazing how little data knowledge consultants have about prospects, ex-clients, and existing clients. Most of them have no clue about the impact of their digital activities (if activities at all). You can no longer afford to scream into the void or, rather, the noise of your network.
59. Like it or not but your content (any content: blog, articles, case studies, presentations at conferences, video, podcast, references,...), should be the key driver of the TLC process: from Traffic to Leads to Clients.
60. About 80% of the traffic to my website originates from the content that I am sharing. My content has always been like 'my assets': the more I wrote, the more traffic, and ultimately, the more clients I got.
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.