Everyone needs a strategic reset from time to time in order to take things to the next level. Leveraging your expertise, time and skillset within the context of growing a consulting practice, we explore your personal drivers and ambitions, common frustrations in growing a business and the digital capabilities you need to shift the game in your favour.
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I’m often asked: How do leveraged strategies help people move to the next level of business growth? How can something like leverage in your business enhance your life?
If you feel you’re made for more than the constant struggle to get clients and deliver projects, and if you’re frustrated by the limitations of operating solely as a consulting practice, this article will be your kick-off point for thinking about the strategy, setup and systems you need to take your business to the next level.
While operational improvements are important for good business performance, and financial improvements for profitability, only innovation can help you respond to future trends or push your business income potential up a level, providing key pivot points in your leveraged strategy.
There are many stages of business growth where people tend to get stuck at an income level. In your career, perhaps you have a similar story to me, one of chasing dreams alongside the feeling of pushing something heavy up a steep hill, and a little voice that has been nagging away at you saying you’re worth more than you’re earning.
Do any of the following resonate for you?
You have a bigger vision for your success than your current consulting or coaching work is delivering for you.
You know that something isn’t right with your strategy for how you’re marketing yourself or to whom.
You need more clarity in your professional identity, brand messaging and/or business plan.
You’re overwhelmed with being busy building your business and want to learn ways to work smarter not harder.
You want to repackage what you offer, and learn how to do digital marketing that actually generates good clients, consistently.
You know that today’s digital and global audience offers an opportunity to leverage your time and expertise, and you’re looking for ideas and guidance.
You want to make a bigger impact and earn what you’re worth.
If any of the above applies to you, then here’s some things that may provide some vital insights and exercises to help steer your thinking and planning in the right direction.
Over the hundreds of business reviews that I’ve undertaken – whether in the private or non-profit sector – similar frustrations and problems come to light that have reasonably straightforward remedies with the right strategy, systems and support in place.
Solving the Root Cause of Frustrations
My mentoring work has focused on helping consultants, coaches and other service-orientated businesses to surface the root causes of these common frustrations and problems. We dive into aspects of their business design or revenue model that are potentially limiting their momentum or growth.
In some cases, the weak link was a lack of clarity around what they do (even people in business for years who feel the market has shifted because it’s harder to get clients). For others, the bottleneck was a poor sales process or inflexible service delivery model.
Many solo professionals and small consulting firms struggle to build a truly lucrative and fulfilling enterprise, because they lack the right strategic business model.
Most consultants are offering a very broad spectrum of support, using very traditional business development practices to find and pursue clients, and limiting themselves to local clientele. Most are delivering an exhausting range of face-to-face, one-on-one or “done-for-you” services to the point where there’s little leverage or scalability in the business model.
With leveraged consulting, attracting new clients comes down to how successfully you align your brand positioning with the needs of your target market. While it’s also about how well you can systematise your consulting or coaching process in order to scale your business operation, in some ways that’s more straightforward.
In a series of workshops that I ran a few years back for a group of (supposedly) successful business advisers, the number one challenge consultants and coaches faced was inconsistency in their income.
Various frustrations attest to this one problem. I summarised the ten most common ones in a list – see below – and held a secret ballot for the groups to see which resonated most.
In every workshop, all of the participants could identify with at least the first half of the list. Most talked about the constant struggle to win business and work with great clients; others talked about income ceilings and cost per client acquisition.
The 10 Most Common Frustrations as You Build and Grow an Expert Service Business
|#1 – You’re not getting enough enquiries, but don’t really know how to do effective lead generation (e.g. making your website work for you).|
|#2 – When you do get enquiries, people don’t seem to see the value in what you do or feel inspired to take action (so you hear “let me think about it” or “I can’t afford it”).|
|#3 – You know your stuff and that you can help your clients, but just can’t seem to get your message across without feeling like you’re selling (which feels icky).|
|#4 – You’re fed up buying cold leads or appointments, where you end up justifying, convincing, chasing the prospect to work with you (which feels uncomfortable and desperate).|
|#5 – To get more clients, you take on less than ideal people or discount your fees, and end up with clients who aren’t fully committed and so don’t get the best results (which means you don’t get great testimonials).|
|#6 – You want to develop clear, tangible services that are straightforward to deliver (i.e. offer great value to your clients without overwhelming them), but you’re confused what to create or where to start.|
|#7 – You’re juggling too many moving parts, ideas or options; working with clients has taken over your life and you can’t fit any more hours into your day (which leads to overwhelm, procrastination or paralysis by analysis).|
|#8 – You’d actually love to have fewer but better clients who pay you more, and can’t see how to make that pricing shift.|
|#9 – You’re focusing on “closing’ sales rather than attracting clients (which is exhausting and feels unprofessional).|
|#10 – You want to specialise, but have a fear of loss when considering “niching” your business compared to serving a wider audience. This is actually one of the hardest concepts to “get” about marketing.|
Moving Off the Zero Leverage Step
Let’s face it, most independent consultants have zero leverage in their business. They are buying leads and sales appointments, doing calls, holding meetings and delivering client work one-to-one rather than one-to-many through group events and programmes.
This isn’t helped by the fact that most consultants’ business websites are not designed to “sell” either – they’re just glorified CVs.
There’s little point working tirelessly to attract prospects to your website if you don’t make a clear call to action or offer, you have no means of capturing visitors’ contact details or no structure to following up with them.
And even if you do get a prospective client to call you to book a consult call, you’re unlikely to sign them up if you don’t have a framework for that call or you don’t have anything tangible to offer.
A lack of structure and leverage punches massive holes in your business performance. Yet from my consulting work doing website reviews for small businesses, I see it all the time. So, here’s a quick-fire checklist for you:
In my experience, most of the challenges consultants face in producing consistent revenue is linked to ineffective marketing to attract the right clients and/or low profitability of what you’re offering.
A consultant may be great at what they do, but have poor understanding of the psychology of buying or of sales processes and pricing strategies. They may be enthusiastic and know how to engage their target audience in the subject matter, but “closing the deal” feels pushy, embarrassing and uncomfortable.
Quite often offering a discount or undercutting the competitor consulting rates eases the conversation about money. (The big consulting firms have business development and marketing teams to set things up, but if you’re self-employed or a small firm, the whole lot is usually all down to you.)
Creating a Nurture Pathway for Prospective Clients
As you probably know when you’re on the buying end yourself, investing in a high-end service or programme is a big commitment. It’s unlikely to happen from a standing start, which I why having a good relationship building process in place is so crucial.
Your marketing must nurture your visitors’ interest, build trust and goodwill and move them through a structured process of increasing commitment. This is most times referred to as your “funnel”, “pipeline” or “ladder” as a metaphor for your prospecting process.
At the outset, people hear about you, opt into your list and stay in your marketing process until they decide it’s not for them and leave, or they commit and take the next step, ultimately ending in a sale or signup.
Your goal is to take someone by the hand so they always know what to do next.
Keeping a good level of attention is also important. This is partly about putting the structure in place as above, but a large part of effective marketing is down to producing good copy – how you set out and write your promotional material and webpages, including how you use text fonts, images and other media.
The aim is to be attractive and engaging to the people who are a good fit for your high-end service, product or programme – your “perfect people” – and move them seamlessly and gracefully to the point of contract, purchase or procurement, i.e. sales.
The profitability of what you sell is determined partly by your pricing and partly by how leveraged your service delivery is. Let’s say you win a client: how much are they worth to you in revenue (lifetime customer value) terms? Offering a high-end service can be great, because you only need a handful of clients to earn a 5-figure-a-month income and you may get at least one repeat contract with the same clients.
But many service providers get stuck in a typical time-based agency type model, where you’re only offering one-to-one and “done-for-you” services or projects. Trading time for money puts a ceiling on your revenue unless you put up your fees or duplicate yourself with partners or associates. I’ve tried both strategies and it’s great for your income but not so great for your free time.
Solving Problems with Leveraged Strategies
Leveraged business strategies will help if you’re experiencing any of the following:
INCONSISTENT CLIENT FLOW
You don’t have enough leads coming in, and, at times (or often), you doubt yourself or feel overwhelmed by all the different options to market your business to get more clients, consistently.
You’re spending time and money on advertising that you can’t afford in order to generate leads, because you aren’t marketing yourself effectively to magnetically attract your most ideal clients to you.
POOR SALES & PROFITABILITY
You just don’t like the idea of “selling” yourself or your services. Maybe it’s a question of how selling feels to you personally, perhaps self-worth or self-doubt, not wanting to blow your own trumpet, or maybe you just aren’t sure what to say.
POOR OPERATIONAL PERFORMANCE
Your business depends entirely or too much on you as the owner and you know you need to learn how to leverage your time and automate some of your key business processes and maybe bring some other people in to help you.
LACK OF TIME & FREEDOM
Your income is based solely on trading time for money, working one-on-one with clients and making sales customer by customer. You’re finding it tough to know how to turn your current business into a profitable and sustainable enterprise, one where you can streamline and scale so you increase your revenue whilst gaining more lifestyle freedom.
Let’s do an instant health check on your business right now.
For each of the problems above, I want you to score yourself 0-5 where you are right now, where 0 means you aren’t experiencing this problem and 5 means this is the exact situation that you currently find yourself stuck in.
It’s a bit like one of those symptom sorters, which one is top of the list for you, the one you’re really feeling the pinch on?
If you scored 3 or more on any of these situations, then you undoubtedly would welcome a solution. If you scan through the topics in my blog articles here and in my podcast episode titles, as indeed through each chapter of my book, try to spot the leverage points that can stop the above situations arising. Look to pinpoint the critical levers to work on in your business.
To exit the revenue rollercoaster, let’s go back to the three pieces of a fully leveraged strategy highlighted in a previous article where we looked at using 90-day plans to put some of the necessary systems in place.
I want you to see the bigger picture so you can understand how you can resolve the major frustrations for running and growing your business.
No matter what your preferred operational model is, digital or face-to-face or a blend of the two, it’s hard to grow and scale your business significantly without leverage in these three areas.
Marketing – Being visible or well differentiated in the marketplace and/or having a compelling message and irresistible content to drive your lead generation and build a targeted list.
Sales – Having a structured process for enrolling and onboarding clients, avoids feeling clumsy, inefficient and ineffective at the point of transaction.
Delivery – Being flexible in how you serve your clients, i.e. the method and format by which you help them achieve a result they want.
The One Thing at the Heart of the Puzzle
Remember, as we talked about in the article about 90-day business plans, at the heart of all of the outer three pieces of the puzzle is YOU. If you’re not clear on your professional identity and/or niche: what you do, what you’re about, what you stand for, who you help, and what your big goals are.
When you’re not quite there with all that foundation stuff, it makes every other piece incredibly hard work and ineffective. That’s what’s behind much of the frustrations, confusion and overwhelm. Because without the clarity on these core elements, you can’t really see the path to do any of the rest.
If you want to take your business to the next level of growth and what’s possible for you, you need to do the internal work and create solid foundations to build upon.
In addition to the practicalities, in many cases, we also have to tackle our deep-set ideas about money and profit. We need to move away from the concept of daily rate or billable hours that impose limits on what we feel the market will pay (comparative to our competitors). And we need to overcome any fears concerning the complexity of the transformation required to step up to the next level of revenue growth.
The most important part of creating a highly profitable business is how much time you’re spending on what, relative to how much income you’re making.
The first steps I tackle in my book Leveraged Consulting in the Digital Age are all about doing that real important groundwork. This supports you to get your next level growth strategy into place. We’ll look at leveraging YOU in a future article, so you can see where picking your genius zone and niching down is where the biggest solutions start.