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What Handles Are, and How to Use Them in Consulting

Can you think of anything enduring and useful from the fads of the 1970s? At least one concept from that era will help you win more clients and, importantly, deliver higher perceived value to your current clients.

disco_consultantNo, not disco. Handles. In the parlance of the 1970s CB craze, your handle was your short, memorable on-air nickname. A CB-er would refer to himself with a moniker like “Soap Daddy” or “Large Marge” or “Ruptured Rabbit”.1

The genius of handles in the consulting business hit home for me in the late ‘90s. One of my clients needed to evaluate thousands of opportunities and I developed a sophisticated ranking methodology. The approach delivered excellent results; however, my algorithm would have been a one-time, geeky solution had my boss not said, “David, this needs a handle.”

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We named my approach the “VQ Model” and I sold well into seven figures worth of VQ projects. Clients loved the VQ Model and perceived the results as robust and valuable. Simply having a name—and not even a good one!—made the model far more sellable and higher value.

Where To Apply Handles

  • Products
  • Offerings
  • Models
  • Core concepts
  • Points of differentiation

Have you developed a standard process, approach or deliverable? Give it a handle. For instance, I offer mid-size consulting firms a “Profit-Builder Blueprint” which guides their growth for 3-5 years.

Where to Avoid Handles

  • Sub-concepts. I’ve seen consulting presentations so loaded with jargon and handles that they are incomprehensible. You don’t want the consulting version of the 1970’s hit song Convoy. 2
  • Run-of-the-mill concepts. Puffing up small ideas with big names marginalizes your real work and positions you as a snake oil salesman.
  • Anything that already has a well-recognized name. Calling a quadrant chart a Four Factor Grid makes you look out of touch and buffoonish.

Quick Tips for Developing Handles

  • Walk the line between flippant and overthinking. Usually this means coming up with around five ideas. As consultants, we’re not in need of a naming consultant. If a company named Ebay can make gazillions, whatever goofy handle you develop isn’t going to hold you back.
  • Shorter is better, but not mandatory. Winnowing your handle down to a word or two is great (e.g. Fishing Line or Context Document); however, tacking on an extra word often makes the handle more memorable and powerful (e.g. Elite Consultant Mentor Program).
  • Strive for unusual, distinctive and catchy. Run a few ideas by clients and you’ll quickly discover when you’ve developed a killer handle.
  • Include a conceptual tie, if possible. Company names and product names can be total nonsense (e.g., Paxil); however handles for concepts and models benefit from an obvious link. (VQ, short for Vertical Quotient, worked because we were evaluating vertical markets.)

What handles have you developed for your consulting practice? Post your experience using handles in the comments box below. The consultant with the best handle wins a mood ring crazy-glued to a pet rock.

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8 Comments
  1. Bob Miller
    December 3, 2014 at 11:49 am Reply

    Great article and excellent timing. I am rethinking my website, marketing materials and strategies. The insights in this article will definitely help! Thanks!

  2. Michael Rampolla
    January 8, 2015 at 11:43 am Reply

    Loved this post, David — especially the CB tie-ins. I appreciate the fact that you gave proper dues to the etymoloy of the “handles” concept.

    As for your open call for great handles, I’ll share mine. It functions as the name of my business, and also my personal brand (after all, as a solo consultant, that’s how it works, right?).

    Michael Rampolla
    “The Guy Behind The Guy”

    • davidafields
      January 9, 2015 at 2:41 pm Reply

      “The Guy Behind the Guy” is definitely catchy. I can only imagine the colorful responses you’ve received when you’ve said that to people!

      • Anatoli Naoumov
        July 27, 2016 at 9:29 am Reply

        Love your way of giving a feedback 😉

  3. Anatoli Naoumov
    July 27, 2016 at 9:31 am Reply

    The handle concept seems to be a fruitful path.
    My company is called GreenQ Partners. A service we are developing now I have nick-named “Energy mis-management score”

    • David A. Fields
      July 27, 2016 at 5:19 pm Reply

      Handles are definitely fruitful, Anatoli. Your clients can buy annual EMMS updates, right? One question: can you make the handle more attractive or more memorable? Perhaps something as simple as the Energy Quotient (EQ).

      • Anatoli Naoumov
        July 19, 2017 at 9:56 am Reply

        I thought of using EQ, but this abbreviation has been used Emotional Quotient for years. I have booked GreenQ for now.

        • David A. Fields
          July 19, 2017 at 9:59 am

          Great point, Anatoli. Prospects are more likely to attend to an idea and think it’s brilliant if they think it’s their idea! Nice addition.

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