The headline and subheader tells us what you're offering, and the form header closes the deal. Over here you can explain why your offer is so great it's worth filling out a form for.
“Your narrow positioning is an exercise in irrelevance. 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. But that requires courage and discipline”. — David C. Baker
I am experiencing it every day in my talks to consultants: most of them struggle with the concept of narrowing their focus to deepen their expertise, their authority, their visibility in the market, their plain growth.
It’s too tempting to focus on creating wide expertise instead of deep expertise. They try to cater to numerous types of clients, instead of being a true visible authority in one area. Keeping the options open. As a result, most consultants aren’t seeing the results they want.
Conventional wisdom says “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
Why? Because it’s risky. It’s scary. You must remember, traditional wisdom is inherently risk-avoidant.
Go to university, get a steady job, don’t rock the boat too much. That’s what traditional advice says. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this path. Life is a balance, and many consultants find more happiness and satisfaction following a traditional career path. Fine with me.
But if you want to be an insanely successful consultant— the kind of success most consultants will most likely never experience — you need to put all your eggs in one basket.
Focus! Extremely, infinitely, strikingly!
It’s the only way you’ll get the truly enormous results that will make you top of mind with your prospects. If your domain expertise is too wide, you’ll invariably attract many clients who aren’t a great fit. The more you narrow your focus, the closer you get to better (and higher-paying) clients.
“Always bet on the man who bets everything on himself.” -old proverb
Your greatest strength as an expert consultant is your resiliency and persistence — it’s all in the mind. You’ll need these mindset strengths on the road to mastery. If you can keep going and going, failure after failure, you can still win big in the end.
When it comes to your consulting business, you can change your bet to be a sure-thing by moving forward when your mind is telling you you’re done.
Did you know that 99% of people who start a marathon, finish it? It’s all in the mind.
In my 2007-2008 sabbatical year, when I had quit my corporate job, I decided to enroll for ‘The Untamed’ Cape Epic 8-day stage mountain bike race in South Africa.
It’s the ‘Paris-Dakar’ of the mountain bike sport, with the world elite professionals competing in the front row and about 1.000 hobby bikers behind them (always in teams of 2). It’s broadcasted live on TV in more than 30 countries. It had been my dream for many years.
I teamed up with the numero uno of our mountain bike club, the fastest guy with the best technical riding skills, and a great mechanic too, in case. I felt safe with him on my side.
I had one goal: finish the 8-day race, whatever happened.
I trained almost for a full year with the guidance of a professional cycling coach. Every day, both core body training and cycling of course.
And I trained everything else: sleeping (next to my bed) on a mat (to prepare sleeping in a small tent), sleeping with earplugs (there’s a lot of noise in a tent camp with 1.000 riders, cuffing all night due to the red African sand in their lungs), sitting in a sauna as long as possible (2x per week to get used to the African heat), eating/drinking special food/drinks on the bike (to survive 8 hour race days), etc.
My team buddy was laughing at me all the time. What the heck was I doing? Why all these stupid preparations like sleeping on a mat on the floor? It was about cycling and he was the best in town. He didn’t even train the cycling properly, he was the number 1 guy anyway.
The closer we got to the race, the more I got concerned about his attitude. That race was known for being merciless.
Guess what happened. During the 3rd day, he was taken out of the race by the race ambulance. Fully dehydrated, deadly exhausted (he couldn’t sleep on the mat), completely powerless and mentally drained. His overconfidence turned in to a broken, wrecked guy who turned into an aggressive and angry teammate.
I was allowed to continue the race. I arrived just 7’ ahead of the time limit that 3rd day, due to all the troubles with my teammate.
I finished the race after 8 days.
And I could have continued several more harsh competition days, I felt top fit. I didn’t crash (250 crashes during the race), I didn’t have any technical issues, I didn’t get sick, I slept well, I never got tired despite the fierce circumstances (temperature up to almost 40 degrees). And most of all, I enjoyed it every single minute!
I’ve always been ‘100% in control’ in the race. Ever since then, I am a firm believer in the power of mindset and attitude, which was 50% of my race achievement, you bet.
(Image: Competing in 'The Untamed', the Cape Epic race in South Africa)
We can change our business bet to be a sure-thing if we set our mind to focus on one single thing and go all the way, as I did in Africa.
Turn your mind to continuous learning and experimenting. Keep pitching your services, go deeper, learn from the repeated application, study the same sort of problems and patterns over and over again — even when your mind is telling you you’re done.
Iterate, adjust, iterate, and adjust again, 100 times. Do ‘your own Cape Epic’.
If you’ve ever studied the lives and choices of the most successful consultants, you’ll find a common theme: these people always seemed to have the guts and the courage to play high-risk, high-reward.
The truth is, only a fraction of consultants I’ve been talking to the past 12 months make a sustainable, carefree living from their work. It sometimes turns me sad because there’s so much opportunity out there!
Thriving consultants — men and women like you and I and from every walk of life — got successful in their narrow, higher-risk fields because they put all their eggs in one basket.
An expert is somebody who benefits from repeated observation and repeated application. So to build deep expertise, you need to study the same sorts of problems over and over again. So you start to see patterns. (Blair Enns)
To build on Blair Enns’ quote: if you are pitching for a project and you don’t own deep (and narrow) expertise in the specific domain that’s required, you are in the race to the bottom: endless competition of ‘same-as-you’ people, no negotiation power, buyer expectations to be a well-behaving, obedient follower kinda consultant on a low day rate, trivial and risk-free to replace.
The majority of consultants don’t end up where they had hoped. They aren’t making as much money or working with the type of clients/projects they really wanted.
In most cases, they played the safe, low-risk game for too long. It’s a losing battle in our hyper-connected Google world. Nobody will come across their profile. Google search will put them on page 59, irrelevant as they are, unfortunately. And nobody is coming to rescue them. They don’t get rewarded for trying, failing, or working hard.
When I audit a generalist consultant as part of a collaboration start, I'm almost sure in advance he/she has (without doing any deep dive into their profile):
Why? Generalist consultants will always struggle to explain why a prospect should hire them.
If you can’t immediately introduce your specific problem-resolution expertise with all the ins and outs, you will always lose against your (only 1 click away) competitor who owns the narrow space and has a clear problem solution.
If you are a true expert on a subject matter, you should be able to, on a whim, deliver 20 insights to someone else. If you can’t, can you really consider yourself an expert?” (David C. Baker)
As a generalist consultant, you will get body-shopped: selling hours for money. And you already know pretty much in advance what your rate will be: low!
(data from Hinge Research Institute).
And this is what decision-makers say about thought leader consultants (Edelman study, see my blog with details) with deep expertise in one single basket:
Wouldn’t it be great if you could…
This happened to me in the past years!
Why? I took the risk to put all my eggs in one single basket. To be honest with you, I’ve always been a rebel by nature. Doing what everyone else is doing, has always triggered me to do something totally different.
You can choose to be whatever kind of consultant you want to be. You can choose to have whatever you want. You just have to be willing to do whatever it takes. If you want what no one else has, you must do what no one else does.
I’ve always loved the idea of not being what people expect of me.” -Will Smith
Darren Hardy, the best-selling author and entrepreneur, once said: “Successful people do what unsuccessful people are unwilling to do.” If you take a look at highly successful people’s lives, you see this is true all the time.
If you want to have a business 99% of other consultants will envy — a business defined by freedom, passion, meaning, and doing what you want to do when you want to do it — you’re going to have to start doing things you’ve never done before.
You need to make the unsafe choice.
Whether you believe it or not but for consultants today, making the unsafe choice has never been easier. There are so many ways to succeed — technology, opportunity, and worldwide access have never been more abundant for consultants like you.
But it still takes courage and guts.
When I quitted my well paid CHRO role in 2007 to start a new consulting business from scratch, we were in the middle of the financial crisis. Everybody was trying to convince me to reverse my decision and to choose for the certainty of a corporate executive role.
My inner-circle called me naive and ignorant of what was going on in the world.
By trying to stop me, my over-skeptic inner-circle gave me, Luk-the-rebel, infinite superpowers. I haven’t been afraid of unsafe choices or failure a second because I had a conscious plan and executed it with the highest possible discipline and the deepest possible focus. And I out-worked my competitors.
9 Years later we got acquired by Big-4 consultancy firm Deloitte and the awesome team tripled the revenue in no time. 3 Years later, I’ve left Deloitte to teach others about all the learnings of this amazing consulting era in my life.
And to celebrate my radical professional move, I enrolled for my second 8-day Cape Epic mountain bike race in South Africa, at the age of 60 now (in 2019). And I successfully accomplished ‘The Untamed’ again. With ease, seriously! And I could have continued several more merciless competition days. Like in 2008.
Talking about unsafe choices...
If you want high-level projects with premium rates and much more meaningful and secure upstream work (strategic/diagnostic), you need to make a few unsafe choices — the kind of choices that make your inner-circle question your motives and remind you how dangerous that is! Like they did with me, Luk-the-rebel.
If you want to live an exceptional and extraordinary life, you have to give up many of the things that are part of a normal one. (Srinivas Rao)
Putting all your eggs in one basket is not common advice. But common advice produces common results, and as you look at other consultants around you — you see that “common” is usually a synonym for a challenging and often frustrating project pipeline development.
I always remind myself of a quote from Seth Godin in a keynote I watched on YouTube: ‘We get stuck when we are more afraid of the change than we are of staying still’. Wow!
In a world full of opportunity, we need to overcome our deep-rooted need to respond to everything as consultants. We need to be ruthless in discerning what is important and what is just noise.
Change the odds so your bet becomes a sure thing. Don’t get stuck! Put all your eggs in one basket — then watch that basket very carefully. You can do it step-by-step, carefully (and well-planned) fading-out your multiple domain approach. I am sure, like me, you will never regret it.
Success is 20 steps in one direction, not one step in 20 directions. (Anonymous)
Related article #1: Consultants should get through the boredom of consistency
Related article #2: Why you should learn to say NO to grow your consulting business
Interested in receiving all my learnings to become a better consultant? No spam, no BS. Pure teaching! Subscribe to my newsletter.
Interested in learning the behind-the-scenes strategies and powerful tactics that I've used to launch and grow my own consulting business? Have a look at my training page!
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.
The Visible Authority is a brand of:
Luk Smeyers BVBA
Offices in Leuven (BE) and Munich (DE)