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Why “Gettin’ Jiggy” Means Big Money for Your Consulting Firm

There are two truths that govern the success of your consulting firm: your Revenue Truth and your Leverage Truth. Today, we’re talking about leverage and the extraordinary benefit of building jigs.

While a deft artisan with a lathe can craft a breathtaking bowl from a block of maple, my attempts at turning produce only piles of shavings and misshapen chopsticks. Alas, woodworking isn’t my forte.

Nevertheless, countless hours spent sawing, drilling, sanding and poring over woodworking magazines taught me the value of jigs. (And shopvacs.) More about jigs in a moment.

If you’ve been leading a consulting enterprise for a while, you already know the importance of leverage. Leverage expands your capacity to create value and lifts the cap on your earnings. You also know that creating leverage requires you to delegate, systemize and productize your consulting work.

So, why aren’t you creating more leverage?

Because of the crazy amount of work required at the front end.

In your ideal world, leverage looks like Alpine skiing: you push off at the start, immediately gain speed, and thrill in the cold wind tearing at your parka. In the real world, leverage resembles childhood tobogganing—and you’re the parent. You slog uphill through deep snowdrifts, tugging unappreciative kids until your thighs are burning, your hands are freezing and you’re hallucinating about scotch. Then the youngsters scream downhill while you shiver at the top, gasping for breath.

That’s where jigs come in. Well, not in the snow, exactly. Leave the kids out in the blizzard and wander into my workshop. In woodworking, a jig is a device that guides your tools, enabling you to produce high-precision work, over and over again.

A jig could be as simple as a few blocks of wood, meticulously measured and joined, that ensure you mark all your toboggan slats at the same length.

Unfortunately, effective jigs require an investment of time and money. Both can be in scarce supply.

When you’re anxious to commence cutting toboggan parts, do you really want to divert precious hours to constructing a jig–something that won’t even show up on your toboggan? No. And that’s why impatient woodworkers produce shoddy results.

Professionals build jigs.

In consulting, your jigs are detailed systems, tools, templates and training aids that enable other folks to consistently, repeatedly produce work that will delight your clients. Alas, just as in woodworking, assembling your consulting jig requires an extraordinary investment of time and slavish attention to details.

“I didn’t delegate it because it took far less time to just do it myself” is a common refrain among consultants in boutique and solo firms. You may have sung that one yourself a time or two.

If you weigh the near-term payoff of constructing a consulting jig against doing the work yourself, you’ll set aside the jig and jump into the work. In the near term, you come out ahead, but your leverage and upside is limited.

Looking for payback the first, or second or even third time you bust out your consulting jig will just leave you frustrated. Set your sights on the distant, larger gain.

Build your consulting jigs with an eye on the payout you’ll receive the 20th, 30th or 50th time someone other than you produces exceptional work on your behalf.

At that point, your Leverage Truth is working in your favor, your firm is spinning off cash, and you have time to carve hunks of mahogany into tiny chopsticks. (Or to sip on scotch while the kids are off skiing.)

You’ve probably built at least one jig in your consulting practice already.

Tell me about a jig you’ve constructed (or a jig you want to build) so other consultants can be inspired and learn from you.


 

16 Comments
  1. Christopher O'Dell
    February 14, 2018 at 7:59 am Reply

    Fantastic and inspiring article! I am in the process of building a jig for my work called an IDP, or Individual Decelopment Plan. It helps a person think through a one year plan for their wellness, connectnedness and effectiveness by helping them see how these three are inter-related and how they can help create something of a symbiotic relationship when fed by a unified vision. I’m trying it with my team and plan on implementing it across various structures in our organization and beyond if it catches :-). Thanks again for the inspiration and language to describe the meaningful work I’m doing.

    • David A. Fields
      February 14, 2018 at 9:43 am Reply

      Wow, Christopher, that sounds like an extremely interesting project. You’ve also given a great example of a jig elevates the firm, but isn’t focused on clients.

      Sometimes consultants push for leverage on delivery and forget about the 30%+/- of resources spent elsewhere in a typical boutique consulting firm. Thank you for contributing such a terrific example.

  2. Don McDermott
    February 14, 2018 at 9:03 am Reply

    Outline of each report. Most assignments following a fairly consistent approach and data analysis methodology. The basic part/process is the same so I use pretty much the same language.for those standard parts. No need to be a creative writer . The energy is them spent on the unique features of the a client. Really helpful when the timeline gets tight.

    • David A. Fields
      February 14, 2018 at 9:47 am Reply

      Excellent demonstration of jig-building. (Probably some good jig dancing going on there, too.)

      Professional woodworkers organize their shops to make their tools, and oft-repeated jigs easy to find and access. In consulting, instituting a filing system for frequently used language, reports and methods makes the work easier and higher quality. Nice job, highlighting that point, Don.

  3. Debbie
    February 14, 2018 at 9:51 am Reply

    David,
    What about your Script Bank? Would that be an example of what you mean by a jig?

    • David A. Fields
      February 14, 2018 at 10:37 am Reply

      Interesting question, Debbie, and I’m glad you asked. The ScriptBank is a collection of jigs, as long as you actually refer to the scripts before your conversations.

      For instance, a lot of time, productivity and effectiveness is lost when consultants spend 5-10 minutes mentally rehearsing what they’re going to say before every outreach call. In the ScriptBank program you built a template for your outreach call and, if you keep that on your desk, your prep-time is reduced and the quality of your calls is improved. Voila!

  4. Catrin
    February 14, 2018 at 10:11 am Reply

    We have what we call a “Tracker”. It to some extent has to be custom a bit, because each client is slightly different, but the shell is the same, project to project. It enables us to track our opportunities for the clients and it support internal reporting at the same time. The jig was clunky for years, but went through overhaul last year and has recently been rolled out as the shiniest new jig on the block thanks to our super crafty magical wizard of programming and coding. The practice is excited and it reduces hours and hours of reporting work. But agreed, it took months to build and improve.

    • David A. Fields
      February 14, 2018 at 10:41 am Reply

      Congratulations on putting in the months of effort (and hiring the Harry Potter of programming/coding) to build the tracker. Removing countless hours of administrative work is a huge benefit.

      As with Christopher’s example, it looks like you’ve built a jig that elevates the internal workings of your firm’s practice, though in this case it seems your jig simultaneously allows you to deliver better work while reducing administrative overhead. That’s a double win!

      Is there any one piece of magic in that jig that you think would help other consulting firms, Catrin, that you could share?

      • Catrin Dancewicz
        February 22, 2018 at 10:04 am Reply

        Yup, it’s online and therefore live. Allows for real-time reporting and easy templating.

        • David A. Fields
          February 22, 2018 at 10:14 am

          Cool. Web-based is the bomb, especially for geographically dispersed teams. Thanks for the input, Catrin.

  5. Derek Fields
    February 14, 2018 at 10:29 am Reply

    Your article about Jigs made me think about the related issue of continuous improvement. When you build your first jig, you probably did it wrong. But until you used it, you may not have known what was wrong about it. So, you try it and then you build another one that is better than the first but not as good as the third one you will build as you gain more experience. I think it is important to recognize that the jig we build is only temporary and that we should be constantly looking for ways to improve.

    • David A. Fields
      February 14, 2018 at 5:12 pm Reply

      Great point, Derek, and one I hadn’t covered at all in this article. There’s a temptation to exclaim, “Whew!, glad that’s done” once you pull together your process or template or tool. We need to buck that urge and continue to enhance our systems. I’m glad you raised that idea.

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