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Step #1 in Becoming a Successful Independent Consultant

The first step in becoming a successful, independent consultant may surprise you.

Before I tell you what it is, let’s start with a couple of quizzes. It doesn’t matter whether you get these “right” or “wrong”… it’s just for fun (and reveals how different people think). You’ll see the results after you submit your answer.

Let’s start with the answer to Quiz #2. Your most valuable consulting asset is actually… (drumroll please)… a tie between “Your proven, business development approach” and “Your client base.” In the world of consulting M&A, firms that have a strong client base and/or proven revenue development are valued more highly than firms with unique offerings or “breakthrough” IP. Why?

Because you can stand anywhere, throw a plum and hit a consultant who has a “unique” offering or a breakthrough idea. Hitting a consultant whose contact list is dripping with decision makers or who has built a replicable, reliable revenue stream takes good aim and a peck of plums.


When the boutique firm I was part of in the late 1990s was purchased by a big ad agency it wasn’t because of our amazing technical prowess; it was because we had access to decision makers they couldn’t reach.

The most successful consulting firms in the world pretty much all do the same thing. They’re not selling uniquely great offerings. They’re uniquely great at selling mundane offerings.

Now, let’s look at Quiz #1. Your client base and your business development approach have the same starting point: Your target. So…

That’s right. Before you determine your offering or your IP or build your skill set, first identify who will be buying your consulting services.

Now, what’s the most important attribute in determining your target? That they’re decision makers? That they need what you offer? Nope.

A decision maker you can’t reach is an avatar, not a prospect. In contrast, virtually every business executive you can reach has the authority to buy something. Once you start selling to them, then you can build on your success by expanding your reach and/or your offerings.

Your ideal target is at the intersection of People You Can Reach, People Who Spend Money on an Offering You Can (Learn to) Provide, and Your Passions/Interests. Of those three, your passion and interests are the least important. You’re a curious, knowledge-hungry consultant and I’m sure you can develop a passion for the nuances of virtually any subject.


In an upcoming blog post I’ll dig a bit deeper into developing a target that will make you a wealthy consultant, and cover some of the common fears, myths and misconceptions.

What’s your biggest concern about defining a narrow target for your consulting practice?




  1. Tayo Adedokun
    September 16, 2015 at 10:50 am Reply

    Nice Post.
    There are a lot of decision makers but analyzing their needs are crucial before providing solution. How can one carry out such analysis and select the best need that can fetch more cash inflow.

    • David A. Fields
      September 16, 2015 at 8:37 pm Reply

      Tayo, you’ve made the perfect point (needs precede offerings) and asked the perfect question (which need should I focus on?). The answer is in this post: How to Create the Perfect Consulting Offering

      • Tayo Adedokun
        September 17, 2015 at 4:01 am Reply

        Thanks for the response.
        Reading through the post “How to create the perfect consulting offering”, I noticed that some vital points need to be present before a solid offering. Ones more thanks. I think a good offering is the ability to solve problems that one target client has and the ability to present it in a persuasive and concise format. In summary:
        1. Identifying a target.
        2. Identifying their needs
        3. Develop a product/ offering from their needs
        4. Present your offering in a convincing manner, either through a conversation or a mail.

        • David A. Fields
          September 18, 2015 at 12:08 pm

          Absolutely right. You’ve captured the steps exactly. (Though it’s rare you’d be able to sell a large consulting gig via mail. A conversation is needed at some point.) Well done, Tayo.

  2. Richard Layton
    September 16, 2015 at 12:12 pm Reply

    Greatest fear about a narrow target niche is limiting my revenue dying downturns. When budgets dry up in one area of my practice, I am able to pivot to a related area; e,g,, external marketing to internal change management. Similar skill sets applied with a slightly different focus.

    • David A. Fields
      September 16, 2015 at 8:50 pm Reply

      Worries about revenue are the most common concern, and I’m glad you brought the topic up, Richard. As you pointed out, you can solve slightly different problems for the same, narrow target to keep cash flowing. While there are definitely industries and niches that dry up or go through down cycles (currently petroleum, for instance) for most independent consultants the market is so large that our fortunes can rise even when our clients’ markets are taking a dip.

  3. Felix Vermette
    September 17, 2015 at 12:07 pm Reply

    Really enjoy your insight. Target + reach = approach > client = engagement.

    My mantra is: Simplify, prioritize, execute and repeat!


    • David A. Fields
      September 18, 2015 at 12:09 pm Reply

      Nice formula, Felix. That’s a handy encapsulation of the idea. Thanks for sharing it!

  4. Tom Borg
    September 17, 2015 at 4:48 pm Reply

    This subject and the suggestions you made are right on the mark. It is so easy to spin your wheels as an independent consultant and your message gives solid traction.

    • David A. Fields
      September 18, 2015 at 12:11 pm Reply

      Thank you, Tom. As experts, it’s especially easy for us to get caught in our own expertise. Before we know it, we’re thinking the world will adapt to what we have to offer, instead of the reality: we must always adapt and be willing to let go of who we think we are to become who we want to be.

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