Last week, we highlighted the downsides clients face when working with large consulting firms. That was fun. But if we’re honest, we know clients also harbor legitimate concerns about working with independent consultants like us.
Some gurus suggest a clever turn of phrase and bravado will overcome your prospect’s worries. Good luck with that.
I suggest you take a more thoughtful, deliberate approach. A bit of well-focused effort will mitigate many concerns and make you a more attractive consultant.
8 Common Objections Small Consultants Hear
(and Responses to Each)
Lack of Cachet
There is no denying that most small consulting firms do not have the prestige associated with “brand name” consultancies.
Like McDonalds, big firms may not deliver the tastiest fare, but clients can count on a consistent product. Small firms appear much riskier.
Response: Create case studies and other proof that you have a history of completing similar projects. At some new business meetings, I’ve plunked down a table full of binders illustrating past projects. The impression created is extraordinary depth accumulated over many years and projects.
Big firms make a show of staffing with elite B-school graduates and extremely seasoned executives. Does that matter? You bet it does. Credentials bolster confidence.
Response: Hire an outsider to polish your creds to a fine luster. (Outsiders aren’t constrained by your modesty.) Then make your credentials easy to find in your marketing, materials, website and proposals. Maybe you didn’t attend Oxford, but you have your own assets. Don’t be shy about dressing up what you’ve got.
Missing Project Management Expertise
Boutique consulting firms and solo shops frequently lack strong, project management skills.
Response: Foreshadow your project management chops with a buttoned-up new business process. That means pre-developed templates for key documents and rapid response times from start to finish.
Additional Response: Subcontract project management to an expert (and let the client know you have that facility in-house). It’s a minor expense and you’ll be amazed at what a trained professional can do for your efficiency and the quality of your output.
Limited Capacity and Footprint (Part 1)
Clients understandably question a small firm’s ability to carry a massive, international project.
Response: If the prospect truly needs an army of boots on the ground, decline the project. Know what projects are not a good match for your firm. Creating loose, international networks of colleagues rarely works well in practice.
Limited Capacity and Footprint (Part 2)
Even on smaller projects, clients worry a small consulting firm with few resources will be less attentive if the consultant takes on additional clients.
Response: Reassure clients by knocking their socks off with responsiveness and by never missing a deadline. Ever.
Weak Processes/Lack of Training
Big firms invest heavily to develop robust, impressive approaches. Compared to that level of sophistication, small firms can look Mickey Mouse.
Response: Embrace the hard work of ensuring your approaches are solid and robust too. Learn how big firms tackle the problems you solve, and stay abreast of the emerging best practices in your field.
Additional Response: Reframe; i.e., replace traditional thinking with an exciting, new perspective. To be adept at reframing you must develop your own, compelling models and know them inside out.
Difficult to Manage
The same personality traits that inspire us to be independent can make us a challenge for clients.
Response: Be easy to do business with (ETDBW). Read more about ETDBW in this article.
A large firm that boasts broad capabilities is easier to find than multiple specialists and, in theory, can respond more easily to changes in scope.
Response: Push back on the client’s decision to go with the easiest solution rather than the best. One-stop-shops are never best at everything and they’re naturally biased toward their own capabilities. If skill sets beyond your own are required, consider supplementing your team with subcontractors.
Text and images are © 2022 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.