How to increase your consulting income without taking on more clients can seem an impossible equation to solve. Yet, this is at the heart of what creates leveraged consulting, enabling you to work smarter not harder, to earn more, work less and still see revenue growth.
Today, I’m kicking off the first of three parts on how to increase your consulting income without taking on more clients. We’re diving in deep, because this is the heart of what creates leveraged consulting – which for those of you who know me is the title of the book I published last year and what led to the leveraged business podcast!
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In the beginning, I was your typical consultant… or at least I think I was, and am! I set up, got a few clients, got more clients, got super stretched, and hit a glass ceiling in terms of income. If you hear me and you’re feeling a bit stretched, overwhelmed or just stuck – the next three episodes are for you.
If you’re not there yet, focus on networking to build your pipeline, and marketing for lead generation – you need to get in front of people and have more conversations.
And these three episodes will help you see how brand positioning, working collaboratively and delivering in more leveraged ways can help you grow faster and avoid the overload and burnout many consulting professionals face as their client load increases.
I’d had a long career, perhaps more varied than some, but decided I’d had enough of working within the lines of an increasingly dysfunctional environment that was causing more stress than joy.
I set up on my own, and having built up a good reputation within my industry, I didn’t really have to market myself. The work came in through existing contacts and word of mouth referrals.
Within a few months, I was earning twice the money working half the time. Perhaps then the whole concept of leveraged consulting was borne, who knows. At that point, I just thought, great – good decision, right!
For years I worked with a handful of clients 3-4 days a week, and in a year I’d probably got a client base of around half a dozen organisations, within 3 years, it was around 2-3 times that.
Some were one-off pieces of work, some were repeat clients and some were retainers – where we’d do a specific piece of work for them once or twice every year.
My income was good – but it wasn’t where I wanted it to be either!
And there were three key ways I fixed this. And that’s what we’re going to cover across these three episodes focused on how to increase your consulting income without taking on more clients.
The first is to focus on getting repeat work from existing clients, while at the same time start saying no to things with new clients that don’t fit the core of what you do.
This means working at the top of the tree, and where it makes working collaboratively with others so you can take on bigger, high-ticket engagements.
The second is to focus on attracting great clients who love what you do, applying a velvet rope policy to who gets to work with you, increasing the efficiency of your operational processes, and start gradually increasing your price points as you get better and faster at delivering results.
The third way to increase you consulting income without taking on more clients is to create a packaged premium offer for things you do often, that you’re familiar with and that, drawing on your framework, curriculum and toolbox, you can deliver fast to clients in what feels like a bespoke manner.
This totally beats the time and effort overhead of creating customised and time-consuming projects for every client.
The first approach – which I’m going to talk about today – is the hard-line strategy, all about doing more for fewer. It starts where most of us start, which is saying yes to everything to the point where you have more work than you can do alone.
And there are a few things to focus on that help you increase your revenue without taking on more clients. Or more accurately increase what you can earn with the time you spend.
1, Focus on doing fewer things for more clients.
2, Focus on doing more things with your existing clients.
3, Focus on doing work at the top of the tree.
4, Focus on working in collaboration with others.
Let’s go into each one in turn.
#1 Focus on Doing Fewer Things for More Clients
When I say more clients here, I mean if you have your set client base, that’s your income ceiling in many respects too. You can make life easier if you do similar things or the same thing for all of them, give or take a little customisation.
For me personally, I’d got to working 4 days a week, pushing up to 5 and into my weekends, because I’d got in that mindset of not knowing where the next client was coming from, so riding the peaks so I could survive the dips.
That feast-famine rollercoaster. (I have to say it took me 7-8 years before I stopped worrying on that score because I knew I’d always find the next client, the next contract.)
Anyhow, in those early years, I was doing all kinds of different projects, and I was building associations and partnerships with other consultants too in order to deliver them. Although we were mostly in the non-profit, we hadn’t really got clear on our unique brand positioning at all.
So we leaned into our evaluation expertise and experience of designing and delivering evaluation for innovation projects, particularly e-learning projects, and change programmes generally.
It’s only later that we started to focus again on digital transformation as a way to break into new markets.
#2 Focus on Doing More for Your Existing Clients
It’s faster and easier to do more work for your existing clients than to find new clients.
Most consultants make the mistake of only asking for more work at the end of an engagement or assignment. They believe they have to have delivered first before they’ve proved their value.
Depending on your process, there may be an element of that, but if you are regularly checking in on progress and highlighting what’s been accomplished, the client already values the work you are doing to help them.
Building milestones into a project is one way to implement this. But more importantly, is the effort you make in client management. It should be a standard part of your customer service process.
But importantly, as a consultant and coach, it’s a lot to do with deep listening, noticing things, perspective taking – a kind of intellectual empathy. It’s also an opportunity to capture what else is coming up for them that is outside the scope of the current piece of work.
When you stack projects with a client like this, your revenue increases without increasing the number of clients you’re juggling at any given time.
#3 Focus on Doing Work at the Top of the Tree
It’s more profitable (and ultimately more fulfilling) to do work that is complex and charge high-ticket fees than to do low-end work. This way, you step above the norm of what you do, you stop being a commodity, there’s less competition and you can charge more per client.
This applies particularly to your high-end services and programs, where the engagement is longer, and the end result or gains you promise to deliver require more transformation or higher order solutions.
If you’re an accountant doing someone’s tax returns, or a designer creating a specific output, that’s hard to scale unless you duplicate yourself, bring on more people who can do what you do.
But if you’re an accountant who resolves complex tax situations and brings a big benefit compared to a regular accountant, that’s a different story. If you’re a designer who comes up with totally innovative solution, again, different story.
It’s all about the value – and the difference in what you can charge is whether what you do is rare or just a commodity or something that most competent people in your profession could carry out.
Myself and a couple of associates, focused on education and e-learning. And the work flowed in. Unashamedly, we were riding the wave of a lot of funding for innovation and development in higher and further education, both UK and European funding.
We were fortunate to have some big programmes going on. But we were quite prominent as evaluation consultants. So we leaned into that as our brand position, and became the consulting company of choice.
But as the saying goes, all good things come to an end, the funding fountain went from a gush to a trickle, not helped as the years went on, by referendums on Brexit at that time. I kind of saw all that coming quite early, since it was happening in other industries we support too, such as local government.
And it didn’t worry me too much, because I was really feeling much personal fulfilment from the work we did with small businesses. So with all these changes, I began to strategize on ‘what now’.
This brings us to the fourth approach to working smarter not harder, and our fewer things for more people hard line strategy. Number 4 is …
#4 Focus on working collaboratively with others
I turned my attention to supporting small businesses, leveraging my experience in business and setting up internet-based businesses and my skills in digital marketing.
I joined a national business advice group, and teamed up with another partner to bid for contracts. We started to win contracts to deliver regional business development support to SMEs, we brought others in to increase our fulfilment capacity. This was exciting.
And that eventually took me into working for one of the big four type consulting firms – a very short stint in fact, that’s a different story – doing strategic reviews, business planning, financial forecasts, operational improvement, and I came full circle back to digital transformation.
For my own business, on the consulting side, it was a great stepping stone to expanding the industries we worked in from education predominantly to other non-profit sectors. It also made me realize that I really enjoyed working with small businesses joining up education and digital tools with enterprise and entrepreneurship.
The consulting services stretched into mentoring and implementation support and currently, I’m focusing on business coaching, both contracted and my own programme, which I talked about in the previous episode.
This has all happened over many years. Since I started out as that typical consultant, we’re now in the 15th year of business. On the one side, you can see that what you do, who you do it for, and how you do it, is capable of evolving. And at the same time, you can expand your capacity by working in a collaborative team, whether or not those are partners or associates or employees.
Working in collaboration with others is something we’ve done a lot of in my business. It can feel like a chore, an extra layer of complexity but it’s also a great source of creativity, skills and shared workload.
And with this in mind, I’ve invited one of my clients in our ACES programme, Janice Francisco of Bridge Point Effect, as a guest to talk about collaboration to produce results, her flagship programme for executive leaders in business.
Watch out for that episode coming in the next few weeks. Better still, subscribe to the podcast so you get alerts when new episodes are released!
Working on those regional programmes and contracted services, I was essentially working with other people’s clients. And it taught me a lot about working with people you haven’t selected yourself, as well as working and managing a team!
And that brings me to the next part that we’ll dive into in part 2 – using a velvet rope policy – an application process to ensure you’re only working with clients who respect your values and approach to the work. And that usually means you can increase your fees and start charging what you’re worth.
So that’s all for today and we’ll pick this up again in the next episode. If you want to talk through a strategy that will get you closer to your goals, book a call with me using the form below.