What’s the indicator that you, my fellow consultant, are outstanding at your craft?
Revenue? Repeat clients? Glowing testimonials? Phenomenal client outcomes? Jaw-dropping client list? No, the real sign that you’re a great consultant is you have a Spirograph. Metaphorically, of course.
Those other indicators are all good. They show you’re able to attract clients and/or provide value at a high level. Yet, to truly excel at our profession, something more is required.
The ability to capture and articulate an approach to creating value that others can replicate; a.k.a., a Spirograph you can hand to subordinates, subcontractors and even clients.
Spirograph, the 1967 toy of the year, was a fairly simple contraption. It allowed just about anyone who could stick pins in a wall (sorry, Mom) to create awesomely cool geometric designs in indelible ink on said wall (really, really sorry, Mom).
As a consultant, your role is to create value by solving similar problems in similar ways for a variety of clients. You can accomplish that on a case-by-case basis, applying your impressive, intellectual gifts afresh each time. This “freehand” method of consulting may even generate happy clients, effusive praise and reasonable wealth.
However, creating a Spirograph—a system that empowers and equips others to succeed, is the pinnacle of consulting achievement. There are a number of reasons why:
Why Spirographs Are the Sign of Superlative Consulting
- Better Results – The process of systematizing your approach invariably exposes the bugs and flaws, while fine tuning the aspects that lead to exceptional outcomes. As a result, when you systematize you improve your own process and deliver better results.
- Greater Consistency – Reinventing the wheel every time is unreliable and creates inconsistent results. When you’re using a proven system rather than consulting from scratch or from your memory of past projects, your results will be predictably fabulous.
- Increased Efficiency – When your approach is systematized, you can work through it far more quickly. Perhaps more importantly, others can deliver the outcome on your behalf, which is what allows you to scale your firm and increase margin on every project.
- Elevated Focus – The biggest win from systematizing your approach may be the freedom to tackle even more difficult, sophisticated, valuable problems. When you can delegate the lower-order work to subordinates, subcontractors or client personnel, you’re virtually forced to raise the bar on your own thinking.
Systems, Not Products
Developing Spirographs is not the same as developing products or canned solutions. Systems enable you to efficiently, reliably develop customized advice for clients. Systems are not, in themselves, the answer.
Work Forward, Think Backward
How do you build your own Spirographs? What are the steps you can take to systematize your consulting business?
Left to our own devices and intuition, we tend to create tools and systems the way we work, which is starting at the beginning then progressing forward until we achieve the end. Of course, left to our own devices, we might divert a portion of our kids’ Halloween booty to our own sugar stash. Neither is a good idea.
The better approach for building your Spirograph is to think backwards from the end. Below are the five steps to follow:
- Document the Outcome – What are you delivering that actually creates value? What’s the output of your magnificent consulting? Start there. Clearly define the outcomes and outputs you deliver.
- Think Backwards – Starting from the outcome and working backwards, identify steps in your repeatable process. The criteria for your steps are: easy, reliable, efficient, and effective
- Scrub the Process – Eliminate extraneous steps and tangents. They always pop up, so be diligent about removing them.
- Remove Labor – Scrutinize each step and output along the way. What can be automated, put into a tool, or templated?
- Codify – Develop the simplest instructions that work 90% of the time.
If you think there’s some “magic” in how you approach problems, you haven’t thoroughly thought through how you do what you do.
This doesn’t mean everyone can do what you do. It means that others with aptitude can achieve excellent results if they have your Spirograph and follow your instructions. I’ve found that to be the case in teaching other consultants to develop new business, and I’m sure you’ll find it to be the case with your colleagues and clients too.
Is there some part of your consulting you could systematize into a Spirograph? Let me know in the comments section below.
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.