Consulting is a lumpy business. Occasional, high-altitude spikes in sales separated by periods completely devoid of incoming revenue. Projects are won infrequently and irregularly. Most independent consultants work on fewer than 20 projects in a year and some fill their coffers with only three or four large assignments in that time period.
Even independents who tackle numerous, small projects face the vagaries of a Poisson-like distribution; i.e., your chances of getting a project on any given day are about the same as an old Prussian solider receiving a fatal kick in the head.
For many consultants, lumpy can quickly turn into slumpy. The expected, but uncomfortable gap between projects extends into terrifying droughts. This profession can be darn stressful when you’re in a slump, the bank account is dwindling and the source of your next project is a total mystery. And when you’re at the bottom, it’s hard to see when the next spike is coming.
A natural dip can quickly turn into a slump and a prolonged slump can put a consulting practice out of business. So, how do you climb out of the trough and back up to the peaks of high revenue? Read on.
A quick caveat: This is about recovering from slumps, not the inability to build a solid business in the first place. I’m assuming you have a proven track record of winning business in the past and the people who need what you want are just frustratingly, mysteriously absent at the moment.
Your two part strategy for jumping out of a slump is entering the Money Zone and filling the tanks with a bit of Bread and Butter.
The Money Zone –Attitude has a surprisingly strong impact on winning new business. There’s an attitudinal Money Zone and if you’re not closing new business, chances are you’re out of the zone. Where you want to live is in the world of excitement and passion.
When business is thin it’s easy to slip out of the Money Zone and down the scary, left side of the curve. Unfortunately, conversations with undertones of desperation and desire rarely lead to the types of interactions that surface new business opportunities. (Ironically, many consultants leap past the Money Zone into complacency whenever they have a project, leading them to ping-pong back and forth; never resting comfortably in the Money Zone.)
Conversations with someone in the Money Zone sound entirely different than discussions with a desperate consultant. I have seen first-hand that clients open their minds and their wallets to consultants who passionately, enthusiastically champion the value they add.
To get yourself into the Money Zone dig into some area of your expertise that rekindles your passion for the subject. Play with it. Enjoy it. Fan your internal flames. Then use that burning ember of excitement to start conversations. These conversations are centered on the new idea or framework or model or approach that turns you on, not your need to get a gig. And these are the types of conversations that lead to business.
Bread and Butter – As you can see, one key to getting out of a slump is staving off starvation, which is accompanied by fear and desperation. Bread and Butter projects are work that you could have done five or 10 or 20 years ago, but you’ve moved on from and don’t want to do anymore.
It’s basic accounting work even though you’re a high-end financial advisor, or training new employees on plant processes even though you’re an accomplished expert in lean, or doing a car commercial even though you’re an Oscar-winning actor.*
The trick to Bread and Butter work is taking on projects that are truly basic and that, because of your skills, you can complete incredibly efficiently. Don’t engage in assignments that demand substantial time for low fees. Also, never let Bread and Butter projects soak up more than 30% of your time or they’ll start crowding out high-end business. This is work that keeps the lights on.
Also, when you seek out this type of work, target companies other than your traditional client focus else you risk diluting your reputation as a high-end consultant. Consider contracting this work as “white label” rather than brand name engagements.
What has your experience been with finding the Money Zone? Other consultants will learn from your experience, so post below how you were able to rekindle your passion and the new business that resulted from it.
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.