Want to achieve the next big step up for your consulting firm? You’ve undoubtedly written goals, and I’ll bet you’ve crafted plans, too. But to generate a quantum leap in consulting revenue and profit, you need an Engineering Vision.
Answer the seven questions in this article, and you’ll be poised for explosive growth.
One of my most popular speeches includes the Street Urchin Trap, which, in a nutshell, is what you tumble into every time you sign a consulting project, but fail to ask for as big a project or as high a fee as you could have. (The name of the trap makes more sense in the context of the speech.)
Vaulting free of the Street Urchin Trap isn’t a pipe dream. In fact, consultants around you—some of whom read this blog and contribute comments—have experienced the thrill of escaping the Street Urchin Trap.
They’ve doubled or tripled or “10-exed” the size and/or margin of their projects. They’ve graduated from munching on a Hershey’s bar to luxuriating in the “chocolate bar” dessert at the Four Seasons hotel in Maui. (Tasty versus chocolatasmic. Two different worlds.)
Start your escape from the Street Urchin Trap by envisioning yourself asking for much juicier projects. One, large boutique consulting firm in New England increased their average project size from about $250,000 to over $1 million. How? In the CEO’s words, “We learned to ask for it.”
Unfortunately, imagining yourself uttering grand, sexy fees is a phantasm. There’s no substance beneath the dream. Bringing that lovely fantasy to life requires a significantly more concrete picture of your desired future.
You need what I call an Engineering Vision. Engineers translate ambitions into precise components that, when fitted together in the proper order, achieve the desired outcome.
The seven questions below will help you build your Engineering Vision. In other words, they’ll convert your ephemeral dream into tangible steps.
Two quick notes:
1) Many consultants believe creating a bigger firm requires landing bigger clients. That’s a fallacy. Large clients have bigger wallets, but they won’t pay more for the same value.
2) You can substitute the words “higher margin” for “bigger” if your goal is to scale margin without scaling the size of your firm.
7 Questions to Create Your Engineering Vision
1. What would a bigger project look like for your consulting firm?
2. What bigger problem would you solve?
3. What greater value would you create?
4. How would your clients’ experience be different?
5. What would it require for you (and your firm) to solve that problem, deliver that value and create that experience?
6. Can you envision yourself doing what is required?
7. What are your first five steps, and when will you complete them?
With your Engineering Vision in hand, you are poised to take bold steps. Can you envision an astonishing future for your consulting firm? What’s one piece of your Engineering Vision that will take you there?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.
Very timely! I have booked myself to work on these questions today.
Outstanding, Anatoli. Let the community and me know what you come up with.
Result of my work today: I need to validate what I think a bigger problem is and what I think a good solution is.
That’s the perfect next step, Anatoli.
I love #2. “What bigger problem would you solve?”
This opened my mind (and my imagination) to all the other questions you asked. Brilliant.
It goes back to Right-Side Up thinking, Jonathan. We can want to close bigger projects, but until we know the bigger problem the client has, we’re just wishing and whistling. Thanks for posting a comment.
That’s made me think about why some work has higher margins. Perhaps:
A) the work is very urgent and the problem very painful – the client will pay an ’emergency’ margin;
B) I’m very efficient at this work (experience, or a well-designed methodology or technology).
What else could improve margin?
Stuart, your question goes to the heart of how to run a profitable consulting business. Margin is, of course, a function of fees and cost to deliver. Higher fees (and value) is what I call Same Rain, Bigger Drops (that’s my next book, btw). Cost to deliver, a.k.a. your Leverage Truth, is driven by systems, delegation and “working to a 95.” You’re on the right track.
It’s not easy for a Small Consulting firm to get rid of Street Urchin Trap because they are scared of asking for more fees then they should have asked for. According to my experience, they feel like they might lose the client if they ask for more money.
The Street Urchin Trap catches consultants from all sizes of firm. I work with plenty of boutiques in the $10-20 million range whose consultants are quick to say, “Oh, we can’t charge that much!” And I’ve worked with a $250 million firm that tripled in size in large part by escaping the Street Urchin Trap.
You’re absolutely right, Joseph: fear springs the trap. Pricing is a tricky issue–perhaps the trickiest in our business, and working through pricing issues can cause insecurity then lead you into the trap.
Great observation, Joseph. Thanks for sharing.