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5 Easy Questions to Detect Huge Opportunities for Your Consulting Firm

As you think about how to grow your consulting firm, you may want to explore new offerings or new markets for your services. For instance, the opportunity to win doorway advisory projects looks wide open, or you could turn your attention to the booming fireworks market.

Whether you’re expanding on a successful service line or revitalizing your consulting firm by shifting your focus, significantly changing your target market and/or offering will require time, effort and resources.

Maximize your likelihood of success by asking the right questions from the outset.

Start with the five, quick analyses below to reveal whether the new opportunities your consulting firm is considering will yield bountiful riches or empty hopes.

5 Easy Questions to Separate Huge Opportunities from Huge Time Wasters

Is There Market Need?

Your starting point is always the market. At first blush, beauticians may seem like an attractive target for your consulting firm; however, perhaps their needs are only skin deep.

Fortunately, there’s a well-established method for evaluating market need: the Problemeter Exercise. (Explained in depth in this book.)

The Problemeter grades potential opportunities on four dimensions: urgency, pervasiveness, expensiveness and your consulting firm’s skills.

Focus on urgency and expensiveness first. Too many consulting firms squander their resources beseeching prospects to solve discretionary, low-priority challenges.

Do You Have the Right to Win?

Your consulting firm must be perceived by prospects as a credible purveyor of a reliable solution. If this is your consulting firm’s first foray into the athletic market, your track record is bound to be lacking.

Nevertheless, your consulting firm’s past experience, breakthrough thinking, or big-name relationships could all give reasons for prospective clients to trust you. If you don’t have a strong right to win—from your prospects’ perspective—then reconsider pursuing the opportunity.

Does it Fit?

If your consulting firm has built a successful practice advising commercial apple orchards, some colleagues might suggest branching out by adding orange or lemon groves as prospective clients.

However, perhaps those targets aren’t appealing to you or your last venture into the citrus market left a sour taste in your mouth.

Your consulting firm’s interests, values and culture all play a role in evaluating potential opportunities. If you or others on your team find a target or offering boring or somehow loathsome, you’ll run into staff retention problems and probably won’t produce outstanding consulting work.

Do You Have a Profitable Solution?

Remember, the complementary parts of the Consulting Cycle are: Win Engagements and Profitably Create Value.

The addressable market for envelopes may look attractive on paper; however, hold back your stamp of approval until you’re sure your consulting firm’s offering will deliver a good return.

Plenty of consulting firms are staffed with smart people who can figure out an answer to the market need. That doesn’t mean they can deliver exceptional value at a high margin.

Is it Scalable?

One of the toughest challenges consulting firms face is scaling.

If the wheel optimization market requires bespoke consulting solutions that are dependent on high-skill, high-experience individuals, you’ll find that puts the brakes on your ability to expand your consulting firm.

Conversely, prioritize opportunities that allow you to de-skill and systemize your solution.

Puns aside, the five questions above will guide you well. What else do you consider when you’re evaluating opportunities for your consulting firm?

  1. frank farone
    November 17, 2021 at 6:51 am Reply

    the puns are never ending and brought a smile to my face, a great way to start the day! I re-read the article and found a couple I missed the first time through. Very funny and creative!
    Always valuable too, thanks David.

    • David A. Fields
      November 17, 2021 at 7:10 am Reply

      Yeah, the dam broke and released a torrent of puns. You can be thankful half of them were edited out! I always appreciate your feedback, Frank–thanks for reading and for commenting.

  2. Tom Marin
    November 17, 2021 at 9:15 am Reply

    Great insights in thinking through how to continue growing… and how not to grow out of control! And, I appreciate the humor and illustrative style you provide!

    • David A. Fields
      November 17, 2021 at 2:34 pm Reply

      You’re right, Tom, controlled growth usually creates a happier outcome than explosive growth.

      It’s easy for the leader of a small consulting firm to suddenly feel like the business is calling the tune and they’re just dancing. Good questions and analyses can stave off those moments.

      Thanks for your feedback and kind words, Tom.

  3. Jon Gilbert
    November 17, 2021 at 11:04 am Reply

    You are such an excellent communicator – I always appreciate your articles. They are unfailingly interesting and entertaining too.

    So much of this is helpful. I particularly appreciated your point about “…prioritiz(ing) opportunities that allow you to de-skill and systemize your solution.”

    The “Problemeter” is also a useful construct.

    Thank you David!

    • David A. Fields
      November 17, 2021 at 2:37 pm Reply

      And you’re an excellent commenter, contributor and communicator too, Jon! Yes, if you want a scalable firm, then developing offerings that (at least parts of) you can de-skill, is particularly helpful. Note, that you’re not un-skilling your offering–that would reduce your credibility and value as a consulting firm.

      I appreciate your feedback on the frameworks, Jon.

  4. Tomaž Vidonja
    November 17, 2021 at 11:29 am Reply

    In terms of scalability I wonder how efficient can be process automation and the digital technologies?

    For example digital content like Q&As, blogs, forums, video lessons, best practice, etc. can be helpful. But these are not exactly “the real” digital technologies. It seems AI has the biggest potential.

    Though, despite many AI based services available I’m still not convinced the AI today can properly help consulting business when we need to scale-up.

    What are your ecperiences using digital technologies in consulting business?

    • David A. Fields
      November 17, 2021 at 2:43 pm Reply

      Tomaž, there are definitely places where AI can play a role–particularly for larger consulting firms. For instance, many consultants start an engagement with a raft of research among employees and/or customers. That research can be facilitated, improved and/or analyzed with the help of AI.

      Some of our client also offer AI-powered solutions to their clients.

      Interesting question to ponder, Tomaž.

  5. John Igitt
    November 17, 2021 at 8:07 pm Reply

    This is very engaging and insightful material, David. Of course, per the title, a lot of thought went gone into writing this article.
    I have three follow on comments, and they are:

    1. Is There Market Need?
    Regarding the four dimensions of the problemeter grading of the potential opportunities, I would give “the sense of urgency” the top rank for a few reasons but most importantly if a company is challenged to respond to an existential crisis then we can assume that management would have little option than to engage the right consultant(s) to help them solve the problem. But we know that is not always management’s response.
    2.Do You Have a Profitable Solution? We are hired to solve a clients’ business problem so shouldn’t “profitability create value” be inherent in the best/optimal recommended solution? After all, we ought to evaluate at least three alternative solutions and then pick the top/best one.
    3. What else do you consider when you’re evaluating opportunities for your consulting firm? ==good question, David. I believe you addressed this in the example you mentioned about adjacency (citrus family example). For our group, the addressable market potential ranks highly on the opportunity scale. The manufacturing industry is “ginormous” but of course, we carefully pick the sub-manufacturing industries (light manufacturing) which match our competencies/capabilities.

    Thanks for sharing this engaging material.

    • David A. Fields
      November 18, 2021 at 6:34 am Reply

      John, thanks for your question about “Do You Have a Profitable Solution?” as an evaluation criteria.

      I tend to shortcut the bottom arrow in the Consulting Cycle as “Create Value” but that can create confusion. It’s more properly labeled “Create Value for Clients at a Profit for the Firm.”

      Consulting firms have to create value–that’s your obligation to your clients and the reason you receive repeat business and referrals; however, you also have to cover your expenses and generate a profit–that’s your firm’s obligation to itself, its employees and owners.

      I appreciate you highlighting that communication gap, John.

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