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More Money, Less Effort: 6 Ways Consultants Can Create Leverage

There are two parts of the Consultant Wealth picture: your Revenue Truth and your Leverage Truth. I tend to write about the revenue side. And food. Because, well, selling consulting projects is groovy and I live for umami. But once you’re proficient at landing clients, lack of leverage can put a stranglehold on your success.

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Consultants tied up in an engagement often neglect their business development duties. Plus, even if you could close another project, sometimes your plate is too full to deliver on it. That’s your Leverage Truth holding you down.  I guess we better address it.

Creating a Higher-Volume Consulting Business

From your firm’s standpoint, you have almost 9,000 hours available per year. Per person. But most of us are solo consultants or running small firms and we’re truly creating value fewer than 2,000 hours per year. That leaves a cauldron of room to increase your volume (more work hours) without any change in duration (years). How do you increase your volume (and still sleep)?

Manage Your Time – Most people waste gobs of time deciding what tasks to do, transitioning between tasks, deciding what to do next, then watching Jimmy Fallon clips on YouTube. I won’t devote space to time management because there’s roughly six million books on managing your time better. Pick a strategy. Stick with it.

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Delegate/Outsource – Independent consultants hesitate to hand activities to someone who could do it better. Irony much? Focus on developing business, creating IP, and delivering value that only you can deliver.  Outsource, delegate or subcontract everything else. That’s classic leverage.

Deliver a 95 – Back in school, kids who scored 95% on a test received the same grade as kids who nailed a 100%: an A. (These days kids get A+, but never mind that.) Since your clients deserve a grade-A solution, deliver a 95. Clients neither notice nor appreciate the difference between excellent and perfect… because, from a value standpoint there rarely is a difference. (Except for the unbelievable amount of time it takes to eke out that extra five percent.)

Creating a Richer Consulting Business

The second part of the recipe is squeezing more capacity out of every hour. This one’s as easy as three pieces of pie:

Systematize – Become very efficient and proficient at producing whatever you sell. Make repeatable tasks happen faster. Everything from crafting proposals to developing deliverables will take less time if you’ve developed a tight, systematic approach. My assistant and I have a process manual for administrative tasks. Do you have one yet?

Productize – Sell the same offerings over and over. Cooking up approaches and outputs from scratch takes oodles of extra effort. The wealthiest consultants are masters of developing a product that many, many buyers want, with only nominal customization required. Systemize the approach to your product and you’re doubly rich.

Improve Your Productivity – Sometimes you’re on fire. Your mind is frothing with ideas and you hammer out a week of work in a single afternoon. Other times you move like molasses. The day ends, the hours have fled, and your to-do list has nary a checkmark or strikethrough. There are myriad techniques for improving your focus, harnessing your energy, and maximizing your output. You’re already read the books. Go back to your notes and implement a few ideas.

All your smarts and your business development savvy will only help you if you can deliver the work and leave room for more. Become a consultant whose time is value-rich and high-volume. Then we’ll get back to catching tasty projects.

What strategies have you employed to improve your leverage?


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8 Comments
  1. Thom
    September 24, 2015 at 8:30 am Reply

    Great article! Sounds like it was written for me. Leverage is the perfect word to keep in mind.

    • David A. Fields
      September 25, 2015 at 8:28 am Reply

      Glad it hit home for you, Thom. Thanks for letting me know.

  2. Gayle Carson
    September 24, 2015 at 10:19 am Reply

    I really enjoyed today’s article although I enjoy every article you write. I wish you had entered my life earlier but now I am concentrating on the 50+ women’s market so my target is a little different! Regardless–in my mind, you’re a genius and I appreciate everything you are doing for the profession.

    • David A. Fields
      September 25, 2015 at 8:31 am Reply

      Wow! Thank you for the kind words, Gayle. Of course, leverage applies in all parts of our life and our endeavors. When we adopt rituals and routines, and we engage others to help us we increase our time and the richness of lives. Women 50+ are fortunate to have you showing them these lessons too.

  3. mike
    September 24, 2015 at 5:18 pm Reply

    I respectfully disagree with the 95% comment. Ours is a brutally competitive business, and anything less than our absolute best will not cut it. Further, I think the perception of our brand is very intuitive, and based on every interaction – so, I think we need to be giving 100% for every interaction and thinking about any way we can improve our offering/deliverable/interaction.

    • David A. Fields
      September 25, 2015 at 8:41 am Reply

      Excellent response, Mike–I was hoping someone would challenge that principle. Work to a 95 is a metaphor, of course. No one is grading your work anymore, so how do you know when you’ve reached a 95, or a 98 or a 99? The perfect 100 is perpetually out of reach — every project and every deliverable could be tweaked and minutely improved if we devoted sufficient incremental time and effort to it, or perhaps hired another set of eyes to give fresh perspective. (Although some work suffers from over-thinking.)

      The point is to consider is: when are we satisfying our clients’ requirements and when we adding work without adding noticeable value? Consultants are prone to overworking their projects. In a competitive business, that doesn’t win them any more accolades from their existing clients; it merely strips them of the time to win new ones.

      Thanks for sparking a deeper discussion of this principle.

  4. Rick Carter
    October 8, 2015 at 7:19 am Reply

    My income moved from the 200’s to the 300’s when I moved from the 100% ideal quality to 80-90%. I was able to leverage my work to others much easier, and therefore increase my own rate and sell more work. My 100% quality far exceeded what the client needed or could appreciate. It was my professional pride that I was trying to get paid for, and I paid for it in my sweat. And the client never noticed when I leveraged to others (with structured oversight). Systematizing and productizing my work had the effect of changing my formula from 100% quality x 6 projects =600 to 80% quality x 16 projects = 1280. I used to claim “quality” as my excuse for not wanting to think that others could do at 80% what I could do at 100% and the client would be happy.

    • David A. Fields
      October 8, 2015 at 8:30 pm Reply

      Rick, that is such a great insight. I wonder how many consultants “hide” behind over-delivery and a false idea of quality requirements. I know you built a particularly successful consulting firm, and your perspective on the topic of efficiency and quality is one every independent consultant should consider.

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