You’re diligently working away at your consulting practice, winning projects and creating exceptional value for your clients. Then, out of the blue, George Gigglehammer asks whether you can help him with his hardware enterprise.
Not only is George’s potential project unexpected, it’s outside your strategic focus. It’s like going to the pie store for your daily slice of strawberry-rhubarb, and having the pie man offer you a pastrami sandwich.
You can help George (you have the capability), just like you can eat the pastrami sandwich. But should you?
There’s an obvious consideration and there are also two hidden benefits to weigh. Let’s look at all three.
Obvious Consideration: Need for Projects
Your current cash situation and your consulting firm’s idle capacity are top of mind for you. If you’re low on cash, and the cupboard of active projects is meager, then taking George’s project is appealing.
I’m all for acting opportunistically if it keeps the lights on and your consulting firm afloat… as long as it doesn’t eat up more than 40% of your capacity. Don’t let off-strategy projects (a.k.a. “bad work”) crowd out your ability to accept on-strategy projects.
Action: Say “Yes” to an opportunistic project if you need the cash, you can deliver high value, and you won’t have to say “No” to good consulting projects.
Non-Obvious Consideration: The Power of “No”
There’s surprising power and satisfaction in turning down work. Each “No” clarifies your consulting firm’s focus, values, and ideal client. Like negative space in a drawing, what you’re not helps define what you are.Consulting projects that may have fit your practice a decade ago (or last year, last month, or yesterday) may be a distraction now.
Respectfully declining George’s project sends a message to yourself and your team that you’re powerful and secure enough to take a stand. That you’re the type of leader people want to follow and you run the type of consulting firm smart consultants want to join.
Action: Say “No” to an opportunistic project if you don’t need the cash and it would be a distraction from your consulting firm’s strategic focus.
Least Obvious Consideration: Thought Leadership
Even if you’re not desperate for George’s project, you may still be itching to accept the engagement. Sure, saying “No” is powerful, but you still want the gig.
In that case, additional justification may assuage your guilt. You need an iron-clad rationale for supplementing your regular pie consumption with a slice of cinnamon-apple and banana chocolate cream. (Hey, it was a Black Friday special.)
Fortunately, there’s another benefit buried deep beneath the surface of George’s project: the opportunity to create thought leadership.Thought leadership, by definition, is making conceptual connections that are new. It’s suggesting frameworks that lead your prospects’ perceptions along paths that were previously untraveled.One proven method for creating unexpected connections is to shift your thinking to an arbitrary, unexpected place, then to use your creative smarts to connect back to your current situation.
You can use George’s hardware project to prompt an arbitrary shift in your thinking. How could you connect his situation, your approach to solving his problem, or any lessons you learn from working on George’s issue, back to your consulting firm’s core strategy?Perhaps you’ll envision a new framework, approach, tool, template or even just a metaphor that your consulting clients and prospects will find new and exciting.
This is lateral thinking in action. It’s fertile ground for your thought leadership.
Action: Say “Yes” to an opportunistic project if you have the capacity for it and you will commit to using it to spark thought leadership in your strategic focus.
Has an opportunistic project ever been helpful to your consulting practice?
Text and images are © 2022 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.