On Being Selective

Chances are you do not need more clients, just better ones.

Everything changes when, instead of seeking clients, you start to select targeted organizations that you can best help. You say no early and often to anyone who's not a perfect fit. This makes your "yes" much more powerful and credible.

Some consultants think their biggest problem is having too few clients, but that's not the case for the vast majority of us.

Your client roaster's challenge is usually one of quality, not quantity. We sometimes try to compensate for the low quality of our clients by going after more of them. But your goal is not to serve as many clients as possible - is to build a profitable and sustainable consulting practice.

Selectivity is a key trait of an expert. Prospects can smell it, and just like they tend to lean away when they feel like they're being sold to, they drop their guard and lean in when you start by disqualifying them. It also gives you all the advantages of being expensive.

Do you know how a typical boutique consulting firm increases its revenue from $1 million to $10 million in a sustainable way? By replacing their $100,000 clients with ones that hire $1 million.

If you're selling bespoke services, your ability to manage unique client relationships is limited to about a dozen - regardless of your size. Each client past this threshold will hurt your business since you can't go as deep into their problems and provide meaningful value.

A couple of weeks ago I asked readers: What if you could only work with 10 consulting clients in your lifetime?

Here are some of the answers consulting partners sent me:

  • "I'd be much more selective about which companies to pursue."
  • "I'd probably need to establish a minimum level of engagement, and talk about money and expectations early in the sales process."
  • "I'd spend much more time trying to find ways to add more value to existing clients, and ensuring our relationship is being continuously nurtured and developed. Innovation/designing new offerings would be a priority."

Are any of those things negative? I'm convinced that if every consulting firm had a magically imposed limit to the size of their client roaster, they would be in a better position. Constraints force you to make difficult decisions, without which progress is impossible.

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