Successful, independent filmmakers know one person can’t make a movie. At a minimum they need a director of photography to run the camera, a sound person, a lighting person/gaffer (I’ve always wanted to use the word gaffer in a blog), plus a production assistant.
Successful, independent consultants know the same thing (about consulting, not films). Whether you are in a solo shop or a boutique firm, it’s critical to surround yourself with at least a skeleton crew comprised of the right people. Who are those people?
My first swing at answering this question yielded a dozen key players, which is too many. However, when I applied a simple model I use to describe consulting businesses, five critical people emerged.
As a reminder (or an introduction, if you’re new to my work), I often say consulting is merely a spinning cycle of winning work and delivering value, supported by a solid infrastructure. The graphic below shows the model, and points out five of the seven essential members of your team.
Important note: While these do not need to be full-time employees, you should create a formal, explicit relationship with each one so they’re available when you need them.
Five of the Seven People You Need On Your Team
Administrative tasks are required to keep the business running, and many of them take a lot of time, but they don’t move your business forward. Managing your website, for instance, or following up on invoices and bills.
I’m astounded by the amount of high-value time many consultants devote to administrative tasks. Your administrator can coordinate other people such as editors, bookkeepers, tech people, etc. Hire an administrator. Seriously, it’s silly to run a consultancy without one.
When business is pouring in you need to handle the surge by offloading some work to a capable accomplice. Depending on your practice, this could be an analyst, coach, facilitator, subject matter expert, or thimblerigger**.
Identify parts of your delivery that can be worked by someone else and put an agreement in place with a subcontractor you trust. My whole business is built on the subcontracting/swing capacity model. It’s better to take on work than turn it away, even if swing capacity lowers your margin occasionally.
On the flip side, when business has (temporarily) evaporated, you need a ready source of revenue. This one is trickier and more controversial because it requires someone willing to shift work your way.
Don’t limit yourself to consulting. Perhaps there’s a department head at a large corporation that would love to have your skills at a discounted price whenever you have extra capacity. Or, reach an agreement in advance with an individual at a larger consulting firm. Be clear that you’re going to accept a much lower margin on this work (it’s “Bread & Butter” work for cash flow) and that you’ll turn to your “swingman” once or twice a year at most.
A mentor makes every part of your business more effective. Your mentor can confirm or tweak your strategic direction, provide clarity, help you win more business and deliver better outcomes. While masterminds and colleagues can help with some of these, in my experience they’re not as effective as an individual who specializes in building consulting firms.
No matter how good you are, it pays to have a partner who has “been there, done that” and works with a multitude of consultants. That’s why I’ve always maintained a paid-relationship with a mentor and I recommend you do too.
A process expert makes every part of your business more efficient. Much of our business is repetitive, yet many consultants approach each task and every project as if it were brand new.
At the high end, you can hire a specialist to transform your most complex, project workflows into neatly designed procedures. Alternatively, you can bring on a low-cost “scribe” who simply documents your tasks, actions and activities then presents them as a process flow.
Whichever tack you choose, formalizing your processes will make your consulting higher quality, faster, repeatable and scalable.
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.
Graphics designer to help get ideas on paper and generate reports.
Great suggestion, Diane. A good graphics person is definitely a boon to most consultants. I tend to think of them for bigger projects like formatting a white paper or developing website content; however, I think you’re right that many consultants should utilize a graphics person to punch up their standard deliverables and reports. Value is often created by the sizzle just as much as the steak (or tempeh).
David, Excellent advice, David. Now I understand why I frequently wonder which hat I should be wearing! As always, your insight and perspective are highly valued! All the best! Tris Coffin, CMC
Thanks for the input Tris. It’s distressingly easy to become overwhelmed by all the hats you’re handed as an entrepreneur. Handing those hats to other folks is a big part of the answer. The giant leap is from knowing you should have others on your team to actually recruiting (and using and paying) them. Let me know how it goes!
My accountant has been with me since the inception of my business in 1991. He lives in PA where I once resided and is also a professor at a community college. A bookkeeper isn’t sufficient; depending on where you do business across the US, you’ll likely run into taxation issues along the way. And you need someone who understands the in’s and out’s of how to handle these situations in a manner that is kind to you as the business owner. The second person I’d add is legal counsel. My attorney has been with me since 1986. Issues like trademark and copyright and a host of other contractual issues means I keep her on her toes all the time. I never read an agreement before she does. Once I get her feedback, then I proceed. Both of these individuals have saved me tons of monies and headaches.
I totally agree, Lori. An accountant and attorney are essential (if infrequent) members of a professional team. My accountant is actually a J.D. and CPA, which is a helpful combination. Thank you for reminding everyone of those two important contributors to our success.
David, great insights as usual however the most important person on any solo-consultant’s team by far is a supportive, intelligent, flexible, and reasonable spouse/partner. If your spouse/partner doesn’t meet the above, you’ll need to add therapist, family attorney, spiritual guide, and online dating specialist to the team. Or so I’ve heard.
Smart insight, Fred. Strong support on the home front can make the travails of independent consulting less onerous and the rewards more enjoyable. Put that supportive partner on a tall pillar above the rest!
Absolutely. A good marketing partner can help us reach more prospects with a more compelling message. Great suggestion, Dan.