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What Your Consulting Firm Needs Most: Perspective

What’s the heaviest chain restraining your consulting firm’s growth (in revenue, margin, lifestyle, or all three)? You already know the answer, because it’s in the article’s title: your perspective.

You may believe, and even eloquently argue, that your consulting firm is limited by your capabilities, the size of the market you serve, your buyers’ particular predilections, or your need to always be within one mile of an emergency hot chocolate.

However, the evidence is incontrovertible:

Your consulting firm’s success is bounded by your self-perception.

You’re well aware that other consulting firms win more clients, or deliver more profit into their owners’ pockets, or afford more time off from work or, again, all three.

“Yeah, but they’re different because <fill in the blank>,” you protest. You’re actually half right.

The two most reliable predictors of a consulting firm’s growth are: the leadership’s vision for the firm, and the market for the problem the firm solves. I’ll bet rupees to rumballs* that most of the differences you chronicle between your firm and those more successful firms when they were your size, boil down to vision and market.

Vision and market are both perception limits.

They’re artificial and self-imposed by your consulting firm’s leader. (That’s you.)

Your mental map of your consulting firm’s present and future business resembles the iconic, oft-imitated Saul Steinberg illustration: A New Yorker’s View of the World.

The path to the Hudson River is clear, if long, but the world beyond is depicted as unimportant, murky, poorly understood, and with no desirable route from here to there.

Similarly, the consulting world you’re most familiar with looms large and in devastating detail, whereas possibilities more than a few blocks away appear distant and unreachable.

But look again at the options and opportunities that could transform your firm for the better. Are they really so remote and inaccessible?

If you step back and correct your perspective to be more objective, you’ll realize more audacious goals are within reach.

The Perspective Corrector Map™

I recommend you draw two Perspective Corrector Maps, one for your consulting firm and one for yourself personally.

A Perspective Corrector Map contains five concentric rings (described below).

Step 1: Populate the Five Rings

In the consulting firm version, each ring specifies your market, capabilities, offerings, and any other parameters you feel are relevant.

Now ring: This is your current, self-perception.

Near ring: Your firm could move here easily (i.e., within 12 months).

Middle ring: Your firm could only move here with some struggle (i.e., 3-5 years of effort) and investment.

Far ring: This isn’t impossible, but it feels close (5-10 years and substantial investment).

Outer ring: This is nigh on impossible.

I bet some of those consulting firms you admire—the ones performing better than your firm—live in the Near or Middle ring. You could live there too.

Step 2: Choose a Compelling Future

Pick a spot on the map in the Middle ring; a compelling definition of your consulting firm’s market, capabilities and offerings in 3-5 years that’s possible, though challenging.

Step 3: Reset Your Perception

If you knew, without any shadow of a doubt, your consulting firm could reach that point in three years, what would you do? What investments would you make? What changes would you set in motion? What actions would you absolutely commit to taking during the next 12 months?

Step 4: Jump Into Motion

Commit to those actions, changes and investments now.

Step 5: Don’t Give Up Before You Even Try!

Most consulting firm leaders give up on the idea of change very quickly. Too quickly. “Oh, my consulting staff has capability X, not capability Y, so we can only do X.”

The truth is, massive change is 100% possible. Two of my clients have raised their average project size from five figures to seven figures! How? By challenging their self-limiting definitions of their offering.

My consulting firm has completely shifted its target market twice in the past 15 years.

Yes, with 20 or 200 or 2,000 staff, redefining your consulting firm becomes progressively harder, but not impossible.

Even an oil tanker can turn around in the open sea. And you, my friend, are steering your consulting firm in an open sea of possibility. It just takes more time, effort and conviction.

Your future success isn’t as far away or difficult to attain as you think. It’s your perspective that’s holding you back.

If you could change one limiting, self-perception about your consulting firm, what would it be?

    May 22, 2019 at 10:47 am Reply

    I believe that my perspective is limited by my understanding of the needs of the market. If I had more “right side up thinking” about what clients needed, then I could better imagine what I could create. Right now I only know what I’ve done with clients and what those close to me have done. Hmmm. I can’t create what I can’t imagine!

    • David A. Fields
      May 22, 2019 at 1:47 pm Reply

      Well said, Sarah. Our perspective is always limited by our knowledge of the world around us. Fortunately, a bit of research among clients (and other consulting firms) can open up amazing vistas of opportunity.

      Every day at least one of my clients or prospects opens my eyes to new avenues to provide value and grow my firm. I’m sure the same can be true for you too. I’m glad you provided your perspective, Sarah!

      • Sarah Lightfoot
        May 24, 2019 at 2:55 pm Reply

        Thanks for the suggestion of researching other consulting firms. Good one.

        • David A. Fields
          May 24, 2019 at 3:07 pm

          You’re welcome. We learn by sharing and reflecting on what others have learned too. Part of the joy of our profession!

  2. Lori Silverman
    May 22, 2019 at 1:04 pm Reply

    Hi Sarah. I don’t know the sort of work that you do so this idea may not be workable. I find LinkedIn is a great place to learn about what prospects need, albeit only certain kinds of folks post each day. You can study what ideas have traction, which don’t, whose voice is being heard above others (and then you can research them), identify immediate shifts in thinking and markets, connect to new folks around the world to explore new avenues, etc. Example: Today I had a Skype call with someone in Amsterdam. The questions she asked about a problem she’s having were a surprise given her education/experiences. I’ll use it as a pulse check for one of my firm’s offerings. I do chats like this a couple times a week. Over time, they open doors I’d never have seen on my own.

    • David A. Fields
      May 22, 2019 at 1:46 pm Reply

      Those are all excellent suggestions, Lori. Thanks for sharing them!

      • Sarah Lightfoot
        May 24, 2019 at 2:50 pm Reply

        Thanks Lori. That’s a fascinating approach and one that doesn’t take resources beyond time and brainpower to implement! Appreciate the suggestion.

        • David A. Fields
          May 24, 2019 at 2:54 pm

          Hooray for community input! Sarah, thanks for asking, and Lori, thanks for your suggestions.

  3. Joe Gregory
    May 23, 2019 at 7:28 pm Reply

    The irony is that one of the main things consultants get paid for is bringing a new/different perspective to their clients. Having a coach is key.

    • David A. Fields
      May 23, 2019 at 9:26 pm Reply

      It is ironic, isn’t it, Joe? Many, large, innovation consultants are incredibly rigid and old-school in their approach. As the saying goes, it’s hard to see your own label from inside the bottle.

      I’m with you 100% on every business (and business leader) needing a coach, and appreciate your insights.

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