Having talked and worked with hundreds of consultants - and being one myself - I learned about the value of moving upstream with your positioning. Those who fail to do so end up stuck with low fees, a weak positioning, and an unsustainable business model.
The typical "downstream" consulting model consists of low-impact implementation work. You are selling your hands, not your expertise. As a consequence, the following challenges are quite common:
- Spending time and energy preparing fully customized proposals (for free).
- Hearing and having to deal with price objections, with prospects often using other agencies or freelancers fees as a benchmark.
- Suffering from scope creep during an engagement.
- Having to choose between delivering engagements yourself (capping revenue short) or hiring low-cost subcontractors (hurting delivery and margins).
- Being perceived by the client as a commodity - just another contractor.
Changing the approach to an upstream, "client transformation" consulting is essential to build a profitable and sustainable business.
As a trusted specialist, you should position and communicate your expertise to the extend where you can offer high-level advisory work. The roadmap or diagnostic is the value. You are selling your brain, not your hands.
The day-to-day execution can be delegated to your team or external contractors. They will build, launch, fix, repair, and measure initiatives. They have the technical know-how, and your client will pay for them when and if they ever want to put your recommendations into practice.
This is one of the reasons I distanced myself from the operations of Singular Reach, the marketing agency I started a few years ago. We have a competent and trained team that implements outreach initiatives for consulting firms. The campaigns are effective and the delivery flawless, but it's not for everyone.
My value (and the best use of my time) is understanding where clients want to go, creating an effective plan of action to make it happen, and overseeing and reviewing implementation. Ensuring each piece of your marketing and sales system is performing and working in harmony so you don’t veer off course.
As a solo consultant, when clients need outside support I’ll make direct introductions to vetted specialists. If recommendations include outbound initiatives and clients want to hire Singular Reach, great. If they choose to hire a different agency or contractor, great.
Moving upstream will increase your visibility, fees, and authority. Selling your hands will get you stuck in the "hamster-wheel" model. Remember: in consulting, the value is in your expertise.