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The 2nd Most Important Word in Consulting

If you asked me a few years ago for the most important phrase in consulting, the reply would have been, “Yes I can!” The operative word being Yes. Your can-do attitude is your ticket to a successful consulting practice, right? Wrong.

Let’s get the most important word in consulting out of the way so we can focus on the real topic of this article. Right-Side Up consultants’ language consistently sounds client-focused. And the single word that is most focused on the other person is: “you.” “You” is the most important word in consulting.

So, is the second most important word in consulting Yes? As in, “Yes I can!” when a prospect asks whether you can help him?

Good guess. Fair answer. But, Yes is not the 2nd most important word.

I vaguely remember my kids growing through a phase where their favorite word was an emphatic, No!

They were smart, little guys. It turns out toddlers have a worthy lesson to impart:

The value of your Yes is defined by the strength of your No.

As leaders of consulting firms and individual consultants, we can accelerate our growth by learning to say No more and, as a result, narrowing our focus.

If you’re running a one-person consultancy you may handle just about every aspect of the business. You shouldn’t, but you may. Whereas, when you’re running a boutique consulting firm, you delegate and distribute tasks. In fact, in order to create a larger consulting business, you must say No more often and farm out tasks to others. That’s personal focus.

In the marketplace, presenting your consulting firm as able to do anything and everything renders you a weak, unattractive choice to any prospect who can find a specialist. The most successful boutique consulting firms deliberately promote a narrow area of expertise.

To find your Yes, you have to know your Nos.

Rather than emulating Johnny Appleseed, spreading possibilities everywhere, treat your consulting firm like a potato. Go deep, then spread out. (Okay, potatoes may not be the best metaphor, but they’re amazing balls of flaky tastiness.)

Some Nos are easy. You don’t work on illegal projects, or dig trenches, or fry up a batch of curly fries, lightly sprinkled with salt and a dash of… no, you don’t do that.

On the other hand, the Nos right around the edges of your consulting practice are much harder to define. They’re also the most important to think about. Fuzzy edges lead to fuzzy positioning and fuzzy possibilities.

Tight edges bestow tight marketing propositions, confidence, and interested clients.

Spend a few minutes today defining your Nos. Below are a few thought-starter questions for you:

What industries will you say no to?

What style of buyers don’t fit?

What types of projects fall outside your bailiwick?

What size projects are too small?

What geographies are out of bounds?

What problems won’t you solve?

Your Nos are vitally important to hearing more Yeses from consulting clients. I’d like to hear some other ways you could define what you don’t do?

  1. Will Bachman
    January 24, 2018 at 7:45 am Reply

    I think you’ve covered the range of No’s.
    Perhaps add:

    “What kind of people will I refuse to work with because life is too short?”

    Here are some suggestions to round out the list of top 5 consulting words:

    3. We. As in, how can we (client + consultant) address this issue together
    4. Why? As in, Why now? Why us? Why not?
    5. Believe. As in, What would we need to believe to justify the investment? Or: What do we believe about the world that our competitors do not?

    Some other candidates

    • David A. Fields
      January 24, 2018 at 8:23 am Reply

      Wow, Will. Great addition to the article. I love your other top consulting words. In fact, you’ve sparked another article idea. Thanks!

  2. Don McDermott
    January 24, 2018 at 8:10 am Reply

    One of my favorite words is “we”. Helps designate a partnership and togetherness in identifying and handling an assignment. The assignment is a joint venture not a solo flight..

    • David A. Fields
      January 24, 2018 at 8:24 am Reply

      You’re totally right, Don. Consulting is a “We” endeavor. At the very least there’s the consultant and the client. Even a solo consultant is not working alone. (As long as s/he has clients!)

  3. Kyle
    January 24, 2018 at 8:54 am Reply

    I do one thing really well. Behavioral profiling. But in this niche, I can help with leadership, candidate screening, employee performance, and customer service to name a few.

    I show this on a services page on my site. So the one area of focus gives a diversity of benefits To my clients. At least, that’s what I’m trying to show. Now you’ve made me curious. Is showing the diversity of services not the best approach?

    Hopefully, the question makes sense.

    • David A. Fields
      January 24, 2018 at 9:16 am Reply

      Excellent question, Kyle. Is your website promoting different tools and approaches to solving a narrowly-defined problem, or are you promoting a tool as the solution to many different problems.

      In the first case, you’re fine. You’re communicating that you’re a specialist in solving a particular problem (or set of closely related problems). Clients want that.

      In the latter case, you’re less fine. You’re communicating that you think your approach is some magic elixir that cures all ailments. Clients are leery of those claims.

      The more you’re focused on a tool, the more you’re reliant on clients finding/seeking you because they’ve already decided on the answer to their problem and you happen to be one (of many) providers.

      Great case study, Kyle.

  4. Debbie
    January 24, 2018 at 9:58 am Reply

    I’d add “our results” to the list

    • David A. Fields
      January 24, 2018 at 5:11 pm Reply

      Debbie, it looks the technology may have cut off your comments mid-stream. Adding results to Will’s list of additional important consulting words makes a ton of sense.

      My one modification would be to add “Your results” rather than “Our results.” After all, the most important word is You!

      I appreciate you adding to Will’s ideas. We’re creating a great sub-article here!

  5. Lori Silverman
    January 24, 2018 at 1:43 pm Reply

    Hi David. I work with a 100 percent virtual company, with staff all over the US. One “no” is: What works hours will I say “no” to? I’d also add: What types of organizational cultures will you say “no” to? Once again, a great post! – Lori

    • David A. Fields
      January 24, 2018 at 1:49 pm Reply

      Excellent point, Lori. We need to set boundaries that protect our non-work time and also our personal happiness. My experience has been that when you make your boundaries clear to clients from the outset, they’re very respectful (and often appreciative) of the limits you’ve set.

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