You Will Always Have a Time Problem as a Consultant Until You Do This

I always urge consultants to re-evaluate the way they think about marketing. It’s not something that you get to eventually, once you have the time. Because let’s be honest, that day rarely comes.

Yet, when it comes to growing your consulting business, marketing has to be added to your priority list. You have to allocate a sufficient amount of time to it on a consistent basis. Sporadic marketing will fail to yield the types of results that would fuel your business growth in a real, meaningful way.

Now, my personal formula for success is allocating at least 30% of your work time towards marketing.

This is what I also encourage my clients to do. So today, I’ll be breaking down the specific time strategy techniques that will help you free up 30% of your time and allocate it towards marketing – towards strategically growing your visibility as a subject matter expert and then monetizing on that visibility.

You first must shift your perspective and mindset

Here’s the deal. I only work 4 days a week. Thursday is my cycling day.

We are all looking for ways to grow our consulting business, but it’s vital to remind ourselves WHY we are in business in the first place, which is ultimately to have the life we want.

Protecting my freedom and my mental health is the foundation of my business model as a consultant, and that’s what you could (should) reflect on too.

I meditate almost every day. I got a burnout in 1998, stayed in intensive care. Totally overwhelmed. Ever since then…I changed my life.

Being a consultant can be an exciting and rewarding career. It was and still is for me. Unfortunately, I encounter too many consultants who feel overwhelmed, overburdened, and overworked. Over-servicing and under-charging their clients. They struggle with a work-life balance, they are scared of missing out on opportunities, keep all the options open, love variety at the expense of depth, and don’t see consistent business growth as a result. 

If you can relate to this, it’s probably time to re-evaluate your approach to be a consultant. The prospect of working in this chaotic, unpredictable, overburdening manner should scare you more than the prospect of changing your business model.

The recipe I have been using and which I am teaching my consulting clients:

  1. Radical focus on 1 single (vertical) subject domain (but with broad contextual business understanding) and become the go-to expert;
  2. Upstream consulting value proposition (strategic advisory, no downstream hamster-wheel-like client ‘activities’);
  3. Productized (or packaged) services at high-end pricing (because of delivering high-end value, because you are THE expert, because of your radical focus).

Recommended reading: Regain Control as a Consultant by Packaging Your Services

So, before you start tackling any business problems – time management in this instance – adopt the right mindset. Instead of thinking how to adjust your current life to fit your business needs, focus on how to adjust your business model to fit your life, your vision of it. It sounds so obvious yet it’s astounding how many consultants prioritize their business needs over their overall quality of life.

The cause of the time problem in consulting

Once you get in the right mindset (and it takes conscious practice and time!), you can start tackling your time problem.

Here is the number one root cause of the lack of time for marketing. It’s something I had never experienced myself, but I’ve observed countless consultants face:

The lack of focus!

I don’t mean lacking the attention span. I am talking about the lack of a narrowly defined positioning.

When everyone is your target market, you will never have the time. You will continue to say yes to all incoming opportunities, which will constantly keep you in the project execution mode, which will leave you no time for marketing.

No time for marketing means no business growth, which, in turn, puts you in the survival mode – you feel a lot of uncertainty and risk, and you say, yes, you keep saying yes to almost everything, to protect your income. You find yourself in a vicious loop.

So it's all about narrowing down your focus and focusing on the audience that you can really target for your marketing activities.

Why marketing to a narrow audience is the only way to maximize the ROI

How often do you find yourself in this position: You send your proposal to prospects, they promise to get back to you but they don’t. You end up sending one reminder after another, wondering if, perhaps, you should offer a discount. This is a downward spiral. Your positioning is not offering a highly targeted, solution-specific transformative promise, meaning your prospects don’t feel like they are missing out on anything by not hiring you.

It’s also extremely difficult to get meaningful recommendations and referrals from clients, which leads to diminishing self-confidence and increasing hesitation.

Marketing only works when applied to a specific audience, specific problem, and specific solution. And if you are not offering this to your audience, then nobody really cares. Think of your own behavior as a consumer. If you have a problem, say your dishwasher broke down, your search for a very specific solution. You are not searching for a general kind of thing.

The general jack-of-all-trades approach will not work on any level of marketing:

  • Google’s E-A-T algorithm will not bring up your website and profile because it lacks subject authoritativeness.
  • Word of mouth doesn't work because people don't know what to recommend and how to recommend you.
  • Your website and your LinkedIn profile will not help you as both cover too many things.
  • Your case studies and content will not work because they are not persuasive enough simply because they do not have a single problem area that they show you excel at solving.

Furthermore, much of marketing in consulting is about early disqualification, about filtering out your audience. The earlier you disqualify your prospects, the earlier you can save time. It's a big, big time saver and people underestimate it.


Embark on the fixability journey

Not having enough time to do your marketing is a fixable issue. Start with fixing the issue of focus. Once you make the active decision of narrowing down your focus, you will automatically start fixing the time management problem. I’ve witnessed this with every single consultant I’ve worked with over the past 18 months who had the problem of being a generalist.

I call it the fixability journey.

The fixability journey

Most consultants start the process backward (the red arrow). They think they need to fix their productivity without fixing their business approach, so they do agenda management, read up on time management techniques, etc. However, these systems don’t last for very long, and sooner or later the chaos once again takes over.

Productivity starts with the complete re-organization of your business model. It starts with narrowing down your focus. Then, you shift into upstream work and start packaging your services. Only then, you’ll be able to increase your productivity and free up time on a consistent basis for your marketing needs. I've done that, you can do it too. 

But it all starts with deep commitment, which is a mindset issue. There are four underlying reasons for our fear of commitment:

  • Fear of missing out (FOMO) - thinking you have to say yes to every opportunity and making a choice will cut you off from all the other opportunities
  • Lack of self-confidence - believing you haven’t yet arrived at a certain level of expertise, which, in turn, makes you afraid of moving upstream and working with C-level executives within organizations
  • Ego - thinking that saying no to incoming requests somehow makes you look less competent
  • Fear of regret - similar in a way to FOMO - worrying that by committing to a single option you’ll come to regret it down the line
Depth is your superpower - Pete Davis in his book ‘Dedicated’

Embrace the beauty of commitment

As mentioned just now, our failure to commit often stems from a variety of fears, of fears that things will get worse once we commit. However, when it comes to your consulting career, in reality, it’s the opposite.

Getting recognition as an expert is really an amazing thing. Don’t you want to get calls from people from around the world asking you to advise their senior executives, provide a quote for a transformational project, to speak at global (virtual) events?

Commitment is an opportunity to learn so many things that other people never learn within your area of expertise, to create the level of expertise depth that others will find almost impossible to compete against.

Do less to grow

It is counter-intuitive to do less to grow. And, of course, it takes time. However, reducing the amount of work you do requires having criteria that you evaluate tasks and incoming requests against.

Start working only on projects that align 100% with your focus and positioning. This gives you that free time you need to further deepen your knowledge, work on your marketing messaging, create thought leadership content, and increase your visibility.

Step by step, you are able to charge more and more for your work because your contribution to your client's pain resolution increases. You don’t have to take up as much work anymore, allowing you to become even more selective - or hire more people. Either way, your consulting business is growing because you are actively choosing to do less.

The key is in repetition and pattern recognition – the backbone of your expertise. When you narrow down your focus and you start repeating doing one thing all the time, you get better and better. You start noticing patterns, seeing the bigger picture. Your solution evolves from implementation type to advisory/diagnostic type.

What consultants need is the confidence that "the void” created by saying no, becomes an opportunity to do things that bring them further and closer to what they want to do. And with that comes the confidence that something else will come along, because they're worth it. - David Ducheyne, Founder & Consultant at Otolith

In conclusion

Your consulting business will never grow if you don’t dedicate time on a regular basis to marketing your expertise. And you will not be able to find that time unless you re-frame your audience and approach to client work. Not only that, but your marketing message will fall on deaf ears if it’s targeting too general of an audience.

Make sure that you lay the right foundation for your time management strategy – the quality of your life. Say you reduce your work week from 6 days a week, working 12 hours a day to 5 days a week, working 12 hours a day. Will you feel happy? Will you feel fulfilled with your life outside of business? 

Identify what your work-life balance goals are and set up a time management strategy that helps you achieve that balance. Your mental, emotional, and physical health depend on your ability to do that. 

Do not start your productivity journey backward. Whichever system you create that way will fail. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next month, but it will come down crashing.

Get over the fear of commitment and realize the beautiful potential it holds.

Commitment will help you see your priorities more clearly. You’ll automatically cut out the noise and become insanely protective of your time.

Recommended reading: 6 Ways To Find More Time To Grow Your Consulting Business

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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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