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Your Consulting Firm’s Worst Enemy

It’s easy to imagine your consulting firm’s worst nemesis is a competitive consulting firm, a procurement department, your prospects’ internal staff, or gingivitis. However, the biggest threat to your consulting firm’s growth is much closer to home and much more personal. (Well, not closer and more personal than gingivitis.)

There’s a problem you confront over and over as you try to grow your consulting firm. It’s the issue you butt up against, wrestle with, and consistently struggle to surmount.

Pause for a moment and consider that one growth problem your consulting firm faces most often.

Now, what causes that problem?


You can’t help but crash into your doubts over and over again, because, by definition, your current fears define your current limits.

That’s why your consulting firm’s greatest threat isn’t outside the firm. You, your consulting firm’s leader, tether your firm to your concerns, uncertainties and worries.

I quickly cataloged a dozen common fears that hold consulting firms back. Below are five from that list.

Losing Control

Consulting is a leverage game and to exercise leverage, you need to hand over the reins of some tasks to other people. Whether your consulting firm’s full-time staff is one person or 100, you need to let go of more to break through your growth barriers.

Being Exposed

The impostor syndrome is particularly prevalent in consulting, where the line blurs between who you are and the value your consulting firm provides. This leads to a fear of success, which, understandably, undermines further growth.

Disappointing a Client

Your consulting clients’ satisfaction is paramount. However, too many consulting firms turn down engagements they could fulfill with high quality, out of concern that they won’t delight every client.

If you have evidence that demand for your services has outstripped your capacity, then bulk up your delivery engine. Otherwise, your trepidation is hurting your consulting firm and your clients.

Suffering Rejection

Rejection’s never fun. But unless you can embrace it, your consulting firm will tiptoe toward higher fees rather than jumping in full throttle, and you’ll promise anything to prospective consulting clients rather than holding your ground with a firm, “No.”

Facing Ridicule

Boosting your consulting firm’s reputation and renown requires you to visibly stake out a controversial position or broach a provocative topic. When you take that step, you’re bound to attract naysayers, doubters, skeptics and nincompoops.

Said otherwise, if you never hear from killjoys then your consulting firm isn’t taking a leadership stance that will attract a raft of new prospective clients.

How to face down these fears is the subject of next week’s article: 5 Steps to Overcome Fears That Hold Back Your Consulting Firm.

Until we get there though, recall that I drew lightly from the list of consulting firm worries. What other fears do you think hold back consulting firms? (Other than the obvious: running out of chocolate.)

  1. Jonathan Verney
    March 13, 2019 at 11:11 am Reply

    Nice one David. I fear the fear. It hobbles our marketing efforts more often than most of us care to admit.

    • David A. Fields
      March 13, 2019 at 11:43 am Reply

      “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Except, that’s not totally true. Most consulting firm leaders’ fears do have legitimate underpinnings. The question, which we’ll dig into next week, is how we get past the fears. Thanks for chiming in, Jonathan.

  2. Julie-ann Pina
    March 13, 2019 at 12:29 pm Reply

    There’s a great book called War of Art which deals with how our fears come in and how to arrange your time so that the fears don’t win.

    • David A. Fields
      March 13, 2019 at 12:36 pm Reply

      Good tip, Julie-ann. Many of the lessons from that book will overlap with next week’s article too!

  3. Barry
    March 13, 2019 at 1:03 pm Reply

    Thank you for you insightful thoughts, ideas and direction. Started this a little late in life and it helps to have the perspective from someone who has been there.

    • David A. Fields
      March 13, 2019 at 1:22 pm Reply

      A little later in life would be tomorrow or next week or next year. You’re already started, which means you’re ahead of the game.

      Welcome to the world of small consulting firms, Barry. We’re glad to have you in the community!

  4. Paula
    March 13, 2019 at 1:22 pm Reply

    OMG so true, so true. Ever notice how difficult it is to make a call for business right after a rejection? And how easy it is after a win? It’s ourselves we must manage. Thanks David!

    • David A. Fields
      March 13, 2019 at 1:27 pm Reply

      Great insight and example, Paula. We know that our consulting clients act on emotion and their fears will keep them from signing with us; but are we paying enough attention to our own fears?

      As you elegantly said, we must manage ourselves.

  5. Michael Goold
    March 13, 2019 at 3:32 pm Reply

    I went to some crazy calls during my time in law enforcement. Making business calls is right up there with pursuits and arresting really bad dudes.

    • David A. Fields
      March 13, 2019 at 5:08 pm Reply

      Now that’s some interesting history. Isn’t it amazing that picking up the phone to reach out can be as terrifying as a gun-wielding thug? Emotions, by their very nature, aren’t logical.

      Thank you for sharing your invaluable perspective, Michael.

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