Imagine your consulting firm as a palace. Ideally, frequent storms of consulting opportunities shower your spires and domes, coursing down to sustain the peasants consultants in your employ and nourish your garden of profit.
Or, if your consulting firm is not a palace, then perhaps it’s a house. Or a tent. Or trullo? However you imagine your firm, you’d probably like more rain pattering on your roof.
The metaphor isn’t perfect, because you have some control over when it rains. Your skill determines whether clouds (i.e., clients) dump their coindrops onto your domicile or some neighboring consulting firm’s shingles.
Obviously, if you want more clients, projects and revenue, you’re well advised to invest in developing your consulting firm’s rainmaking capabilities.
However, before you start enhancing your sales prowess, there’s a challenge you must address.
Perceived Capacity Limit
Consultants resist selling new projects—even to the point of sabotaging business development efforts—when they’re uncertain their firm has sufficient capacity to deliver the work.
This challenge is most obvious with solo consultants, who have an unfortunate habit of not pursuing new clients and contracts when they are fully engaged on current projects.
However, most boutique consulting firms face the same impediment. Sometimes the resistance is overt; more often the only signs are a seemingly inexplicable inability to meet growth goals and a frustrating slowdown in consulting revenue sold.
Therefore, if you want to boost revenue at your consulting firm, first you must bolster your team’s confidence that you can meet or exceed your clients’ expectations on every new project signed, even if you’re exceedingly busy.
How do you do that?
Five Methods to Increase Your Delivery Capacity
Invest in Delivery Processes
Elevate your consulting practice from individual geniuses to a genius firm. That requires you to capture your best ideas, approaches, diagnostics, presentations and more into repeatable workflows.
Crafting processes is, for many consultants, boring. Also it slows down work on current projects. Therefore, you may need to allocate extra time, incentives or resources.
Your goal on every project: maximize the value created via pre-made templates, checklists, frameworks, and automation.
You can read a couple of other takes on processes here and here.
Utilize Clever Contract Designs
You can increase your effective capacity by writing better consulting proposals and signing cleverly constructed agreements.
One example among many: create more flexibility to handle multiple, coinciding deadlines by building in permission to take “vacations” during your projects.
Maintain a Pool of Capacity Swingmen
Most small consulting firms are under prepared to leverage contractors. You should maintain an updated roster of contractors who can complete outstanding work on your behalf.
A good rule of thumb is to cultivate relationships with at least five contractors on each skill set you need to complete your projects. Since you may have multiple service lines and types of projects you’ll need multiple pools of outside resources.
Work with each contractor on your list in situations where you can oversee and review their work before you let them loose independently. That means you need to employ contractors on consulting contracts before you desperately need them.
You have good reason to be extremely cautious about expanding your payroll. Identifying talent is notoriously difficult, and a bad hire is estimated to cost 20-40 times the salary of a person you have to fire. (Granted, executive recruiters provided those estimates.)
Plus, every new employee adds emotional and administrative burden to your consulting firm.
If your consulting firm’s growth model is built around salaried employees rather than contractors, I recommend adding one new person each time you’re consistently keeping at least 1.5 contractors busy.
What has your experience been? Have concerns about capacity ever caused you to take your foot off the accelerator?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.
I’m scaling my business with online learning and developing online resource libraries that hold my system processes and tools for client membership based access and renewals. After 26 years as an ergonomist, it’s a great way to make my body of work more accessible, while combining it with coaching and mentoring. I’m just getting started, as I had to learn how to do this with technology and how to market. Will see how it goes …hoping it will give me more freedom and time and steady revenue stream!
What you’re describing is another great way to add “pseudo” capacity, Alison. It can shift the nature of your work so that clients receive more value while your labor intensity goes down. That’s a great addition to the list.
Also, congratulations on scaling your business after 26 years. Woo hoo!
Love your content, and your thinking helps challenge me and make me grow. Small suggestion – how about “Capacity Standby” or “Capacity Alternate” instead of “Capacity Swingmen”. Gender-free terms help remove biases against women. [I know the origin of “swing” in theater, and maybe even Capacity Swing would work as long as people don’t think of a playground. 🙂 ]
Fair request, Shane. Swing capacity is a fairly common manufacturing term, and the idea of a Capacity Swingman (and also a Demand Swingman) comes from that origin, though I love the musical vibe you’ve injected.
You’re probably right about the potential for subtly reinforcing gender assumptions. I like to hope that my community of smart, open-minded readers (like you) doesn’t harbor any such biases. Thanks for your suggestions!