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.