Sambar “Sam” Whitetail, CEO of Ungulate Chocolates asks your consulting firm to facilitate a one-day work session. Wonderful. You generally don’t fawn over executives who offer small engagements; however, Sam’s well connected and Ungulate’s owned by a PE company with a herd of prospective clients.
After conducting the Context Discussion, you suspect Ungulate could use your consulting firm’s help beyond your standard, one-day session; however, Sam doesn’t respond to your hints about broadening the work. Ultimately, you forward—and Sam signs—a proposal for the work session.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with tiny, routine consulting gigs, of course. Not every engagement can (or should) be a moose. A steady inflow of little, pudú-sized contracts can smooth your consulting firm’s workflow and reduce your client portfolio risk.
On the other hand, deriving too much of your consulting firm’s revenue from cookie-cutter, one-off deals diminishes your firm’s health.
For instance, constant client churn is expensive. Plus, you want your team leaping into every new client engagement bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and overly repetitive work (like the same, one-day workshop over and over) bores consultants.
Therefore, how do you transition Ungulate from a one-time, inconsequential customer into a larger client with follow-on projects worth big bucks for your consulting firm?
The same question—and same solution—applies to any initial consulting engagement that’s very contained and has a narrow scope.
9 Steps from a Small, One-Off Gig to a High-Value Consulting Engagement
1. Think Long-Term
Imagine your consulting firm is being paid by your client to look for project opportunities with them.
With that perspective, you may invest more into delivering the small engagement and earn lower margins; however, you’ll also increase your consulting firm’s odds of winning massive, follow-on work.
2. Seed the Ground
Before the project starts, ask your client for permission to talk about opportunities you uncover. Rare is the consulting client that doesn’t want to hear about opportunities—particularly if you talk to their customers.
Interview anyone and everyone remotely connected to your one-off consulting project. External interviews (e.g., with your client’s customers, vendors and partners) often yield richer insights than conversations with your client’s internal staff.
Collect, review and analyze every piece of data you can get your hands on that’s related to your consulting client.
If your client is a large, public company, focus in on the specific group your one-off project is with so that you don’t drown in syndicated data and articles.
5. Determine Needs
Establish your client’s major challenges and potential opportunities.
Stay Right-Side Up! This step is not about uncovering opportunities for your consulting firm. Rather, steadfastly focus on how your client could be better off.
The subtle difference between those two approaches (upside down vs. Right-Side Up), is hugely important.
6. Identify Collaboration Opportunities
Recognize where your consulting firm can play a role in closing the gaps you pinpointed in Step 5. Those are opportunities to collaborate with your client. (Not all Collaboration Opportunities will turn into projects, of course.)
During a meeting you’ve specifically set up for this purpose, reveal to your client all the high-priority opportunities your consulting firm has uncovered.
Three traps to avoid in this step:
- Focusing only on Collaboration Opportunities
- Arrogantly assuming you’ve uncovered needs your client isn’t aware of
During the meeting you hold in Step 7, solicit your client’s perspective on priorities. This critical step gauges Want and Urgency, and helps you avoid pushing for projects that are good for your consulting firm but generate little interest with your client.
Finally, during that same Step 7 meeting, ask your client whether they’d be open to exploring how you could work together to solve the high-priority, collaboration opportunities.
Boom, just like that, you’re discussing a large project—or string of projects—with Sam. And Ungulate may turn out to be a giant hippo of a client for your consulting firm.
Do you win a lot of small, one-off projects?
Text and images are © 2024 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.