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?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.