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What Your Consulting Firm Must-Do, No Matter What

If your attention is kidnapped by major, unforeseen events, some of your obligations and responsibilities are going to suffer. However, there are two types of activities you must maintain to keep your consulting firm healthy and on track.

As a consulting firm leader, you keep a lot of plates in the air, and when you scan your organization, you can see even more plates spinning.

Client projects, thought leadership development, marketing efforts, people management, process systemization, technology upgrades, Business Development conversations, annual planning, capacity planning, lunch planning… it’s a veritable circus.

Without full attention on your business, plates start clattering to the floor.

Ideally, you walk deliberately along your consulting firm’s growth path, maintaining your concentration as you carefully spin up additional disks.

Alas, life has a nasty habit of littering the path with rocks, potholes, chittering squirrels and lemonade stands; i.e., disruptive events that steal your attention, trip you up, and send dishes whirling off in all directions.

Over many years and hundreds of consulting firms, we’ve seen all manner of unfortunate (and occasionally fortunate) circumstances derail consulting firm leaders.

  • Financial transaction (e.g., consulting firm buyout) hits the due-diligence stage
  • Post merger/acquisition integration
  • Large group of consultants or delivery personnel quit the firm all at once
  • Call to present to Congress
  • Sudden, severe illness, or flareup of debilitating, chronic illness
  • Family member becomes gravely ill, or requires extensive care
  • Other, major, family events, good or bad (new babies, kids moving back in, etc.)
  • Major, personal project goes astray, goes better than expected or otherwise requires a huge influx of time and attention
  • Earthquake, hurricane, flood or other natural disasters
  • Global pandemic
  • Jury duty
  • Cacao supply chain disruption

As your firm grows and advances through the 10 Stages of Consulting Firm Growth, fewer and fewer spinning plates are held aloft by you, personally.

That’s good and bad news in terms of disruptions.

On the plus side, if the focus of you or one of your colleagues is abruptly pulled away, fewer responsibilities are at risk and there are more hands at your consulting firm to fill the gap.

On the down side, your consulting firm has additional points of failure. More people walking the path increases the odds someone at your consulting firm will hit a rock and faceplant.

When you, a member of your team, or your entire consulting firm stumbles into a attention-stealing disruption, there are two plates to keep in the air; to prioritize above all others.

One plate is obvious: client work.

Your consulting firm has a contractual and ethical obligation to deliver high-quality work to your clients despite whatever train wreck or balloon ride threatens your focus.

The other plate is less obvious: network maintenance.

In all circumstances, keep your consulting firm’s contact network warm.

Even firms with outstanding marketing engines rely on their network for most of their work. And when marketing sputters or outside forces throw a wrench into the normal stream of inquiries, your network keeps your firm afloat.

Your network of contacts is your consulting firm’s most valuable asset. The energy required to warm up a network is many multiples of the energy needed to maintain it. Hence, letting your network cool will set your firm back or, potentially, cripple it.

Network maintenance is easy, too. Simply ensure every contact receives a nice, personal email from your consulting firm every quarter.

If you find a way to deliver your client work and maintain your network, you can see your consulting firm through virtually any circumstance, no matter how disruptive.

Are there other plates you would prioritize when life gets in the way of your consulting firm’s daily business?

  1. Jay Arthur
    July 19, 2023 at 8:52 am Reply

    Answer the phone.
    Help the caller find a solution, even if it isn’t yours.
    Be a resource.
    They will come back.

    • David A. Fields
      July 19, 2023 at 8:54 am Reply

      Right on with that, Jay! Even if you’re been totally pulled off course, make time to reply to people who reach out to you.

      Thanks for jumping in on this one, Jay!

  2. Derek
    July 19, 2023 at 9:01 am Reply

    Question: If you are facing a significant, unanticipated time problem – such as your spouse getting a total knee replacement that sucks up much more of your time as caregiver than you had expected (just asking for a friend) – should you be transparent and share that information with the clients or should you try to mask the personal problem while managing expectations?

    • David A. Fields
      July 19, 2023 at 11:31 am Reply

      That’s a great questions, Derek, and your “friend” is fortunate to have you in the mirror by their side.

      If you are able to meet client expectations, then the client doesn’t need to know. If, as you imply, you’re not able to meet client expectations and there’s not another way, as a firm, to manage it, then you need to sit down with the client and have an honest conversation.

      I don’t find that “masking” is typically the best answer. By and large, clients are very accommodating and helpful when you present a personal plight. Consulting is a human-to-human business, and most of the time clients react as compassionate people when they can. The challenge is when they are constrained too, for instance if they have a deadline to hit and you no longer enable them to hit it. At that point, you collaboratively brainstorm how to deliver them to their goals. It’s possible, that will require some (financial) sacrifice on your firm’s part. After all, it’s not their obligation to bear the consequences of your friend’s wife’s knee replacement.

      What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

      Thanks again for posing the question, Derek!

  3. Carol
    July 19, 2023 at 11:10 am Reply

    The other area is continue to show love to your team. Even if you personally can’t talk with each person 1-on-1, communicate with your team collectively about what is going on and give them avenues to resolve urgent items.

    • David A. Fields
      July 19, 2023 at 12:32 pm Reply

      Oooh, good on you, Carol, for bringing a third element of the consulting firm model into the picture: infrastructure. Yes, giving your team some love could easily be added to the “must do no matter what” list.

      Well done, and thank you for chiming in!

      • Zac
        July 19, 2023 at 1:43 pm Reply

        Does your response about being transparent apply the same to your team as it does to clients?

        • David A. Fields
          July 19, 2023 at 1:57 pm

          Level of transparency within an organization varies quite a lot–it’s an element of your firm’s corporate culture. Some firm leaders are very transparent with everything going on in their lives; others keep their home celebrations and tribulations completely hidden.

          If your are encountering a derailing event that will affect other members of your team, then you need to let them know and have a discussion about how the team can pull together to fill the gaps. You’re not obligated to share the personal details. Transparency is required about the issue at hand (capacity to live up to expectations), not the root cause.

          No matter what your level of transparency, though, as a firm leader do not dump your worries, doubts and fears onto your team. You’re the leader. Even a collaborative leader is still the leader rather than “just another team member.”

          I’m very open to other opinions and points of view, of course.

          Thanks for the follow-up question, Zac!

  4. Debbie
    July 31, 2023 at 10:13 am Reply

    Don’t forget to send out your invoices. LOL

    • David A. Fields
      July 31, 2023 at 10:52 am Reply

      Good point, Debbie. Cash flow is important and we don’t want to forget asking for payment!

      Thanks for adding in your smart thinking.

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