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Between 2005 and 2011, IMC published Daily Tips every weekday on consulting ethics, marketing, service delivery and practice management. You may search more than 800 tips on this website using keywords in "Search all posts" or clicking on a tag in the Top Tags list to return all tips with that specific tag. Comment on individual tips (members and registered guests) or use the Contact Us form above to contact Mark Haas CMC, FIMC, Daily Tips author/editor. Daily Tips are being compiled into several volumes and will be available through IMC USA and Mark Haas.

 

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#693: What is Your Consulting "Killer App?"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 9, 2011
If many of the services a consultant provides (e.g., assessments, process reengineering, market research) are increasingly commoditized, and the pace of change in most industries renders "long experience" less valuable, what is left to the professional consultant to differentiate their services from any other consultant?

Every discipline, business and individual has something that differentiates it from its competitors. It could be the unique value proposition, the proprietary technology or the brand. Given the nature of the profession and the implied value of creative, customized service, the equivalent for a management consultant might be called the "killer app."

The definition of a killer app (applied to computer programs) is a program or element of a program that makes it indispensible to the operation of a larger program or a "must have" product that compels purchase of the platform on which it resides. Bill Gates described Internet Explorer as a killer app in that it was so useful that it would induce people to buy Microsoft products. In the same sense, consider consultants who have a similar service, database or capability that is so powerful that it compels clients to seek them out - despite the fact that most of their services are indistinguishable from those of other consultants. The platform is your suite of consulting services, among which is your killer app.

This is a similar to a strategic competitive advantage but does not have to be as grand in its scope. Since clients are selecting from your suite of (largely intangible) services, they are looking for some (marginally tangible) service they can relate to and appreciate as unique and valuable. In this sense, your whole practice does not have to be superior, just one or two compelling items.

Tip: Find (at least) one service, asset, capability, set of data or infrastructure that you have created, that few others could duplicate, and that you know is an easy sale to clients. This establishes your services as high value, making offering additional (non killer app) services easier and giving you a position of relative strength to negotiate their value.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  competition  consulting skills  consulting tools  innovation  intellectual property  knowledge assets  presentations  product development  prospect 

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#692: Make the Case for Raising Your Rates

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 8, 2011
With downward pressure on prices in general, and consultant rates in particular, how likely is it that I will be able to raise my rates anytime soon?

Although overall economic strength or weakness may mean overall prices "should" increase or decrease, this has little to do with rates clients will pay for your consulting services. In theory, skills in short supply compel people needing them to pay higher prices. In theory. But that is only part of the story.

When the economy changes, the types of services in demand also change. Don't confuse supply with demand. Just because there aren't many other consultants doing what you do doesn't mean that the demand remains high. Sometimes the demand declines along with supply.

Increasing your rates requires you to make the case to prospects and clients that your services will make them and their business more productive. When the economy slows, there are needs for new or different types of services. Your credibility to provide those services is your validation of your greater value.

Tip: Talk to your clients about specifically what has changed in their short term needs. Look at the trade press for points of pain for companies in your area of specialization. For example, for companies with tightened credit or decreased cash flows, how can you recast your services to alleviate these challenges? For example, if your area of specialty is training, often a discretionary expenditure for companies, recast your training to show how your training will increase employees' abilities to sell more products and increase cash flow. Show the direct link between increasing cash flow to increase profitability in the emerging economy and your ability to increase employee productivity through usable skills. Be fully prepared for any argument that your services are worth less because "the economy is slow."

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  fees  intellectual property  market research  marketing  proposals  reputation 

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#674: White Papers Have Multiple Avenues of Value for Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, October 13, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 13, 2011
Is there any value to consulltants in writing "white papers"?

White papers are short written discussions of topics, usually about trends in a subject or (presumably) an authoritative guide of how to do something. Companies use them to describe their position in the market or about how their products or services work. A consultant may write a white paper to describe their consulting services but more often it would focus on developments in their industry or functional discipline. The intent is to show a command of the subject matter, an innovative perspective, or a solution to a difficult problem.

The problem many consultants have is that they think of this as a book report or summary of the literature on a problem in their area of specialty. Many also do not think they have enough information or perspective to write anything groundbreaking. This is OK, because writing white papers has other benefits and can take time to develop a skill in writing them.

Having white papers benefits you in two ways. First, it can focus your thinking about your industry or discipline by forcing you to articulate the key factors that are driving an industry or important current issues in your discipline. This makes sure you are on top of these issues and not just relying on conventional wisdom. You'll have to defend your conclusions and recommendations in the white paper, so they had best be on target. Second, a well written and insightful white paper is an effective marketing piece. Sent to a prospective or current client, a white paper will almost always elicit a comment, thank you, alternative perspective, or inquiry about your services. In any case, you win by engaging a client in a discussion about their business, with your insight as the topic of conversation.

Tip: Pick three topics: one about the primary industry you consult to, another about an emerging issue in the general economy likely to affect this industry, and a third of how your primary technical discipline is undergoing changes (these are illustrative so you can choose others). Commit to writing a white paper on each in the next three months. Develop an outline, ask colleagues for feedback, conduct a short survey or some research, and then draft a 3-5 page version. Have colleagues or clients review the draft. Look for alternative or contrary views on your selected topic. Tighten the writing. Take the best of these three papers and identify colleagues, clients or prospects (or media) you think would appreciate hearing from you and discussing the topic. Based on the resulting exchange, refine the paper and post on your website. You now have a good first white paper - and some perspective on how to make the next ones even better. Having five to ten white papers enhances both your credibility as an expert but also makes sure you are on top of emerging trends in your industry.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  intellectual property  professional development  publishing  reputation  writing 

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#665: Consultant's Picks for Social Media Sources

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, September 30, 2011
Updated: Friday, September 30, 2011
All good consultants have their favorite research and data sources, usually specific to their industry and professional discipline. Given that traditional media is being overtaken by social media, where should a consultant go to get the best collections of social media generated news and information?

This is a great question. The issue at hand is where do we go and who do we trust for valid and timely information when traditional media sources are closing, merging or shrinking? At least for the US, we are going back to the early days of the country when we had more than 10,000 newspapers (admittedly many were of limited circulation), providing a lot of information, and a lot more opinions. Over time, these consolidated into the trusted news sources we have enjoyed for the last century. Now we are faced with the struggling business model of print news media and provided with thousands of sources, many of which we can't verify as to quality and veracity. So, who do you trust/

My suggested selection criteria relate to how news is collected, how well the news is presented, and how responsive the outlet is to its readers. More reporters from diverse sources, committed to long term relationships with the outlet is better than a steady stream of one-off submissions from itinerant reporters. Outlets that invest in an a platform that presents information in quickly searchable and accessible formats (including mobile) is better than an old-line media that just put all their content " on the web." Finally, 24-hour news cycles are no longer unidirectional, so the opportunity to comment on content and engage with authors, editors and readers is better than static content.

I recommend four sources to keep up with general trends in business, politics, social issues and technology (hard-core business wonks will have to find their nuggets elsewhere):These four sources provide a quick way to be current on news and to participate in topical discussions. Each has invested in the technology and design to incorporate the best of social media into their offering.

Tip: One of the best benefits of these type of new media is the ability to use the technology to create your own aggregator of information on the topics you most care about in a format best suited to your needs, including mobile applications. Examples are BBC's section on Ethics, ProPublica's Tools and Data, and Mashable's Trending Topics (to which you can subscribe).

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting tools  education  innovation  intellectual property  market research  professional development  social media  your consulting practice 

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#651: Never Leave Behind a Useless Leave-Behind

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, September 12, 2011
Updated: Monday, September 12, 2011
To stand out with prospects, we have a lot of our work products, research and data on our website that anyone can view and download (all nonproprietary and not our most valued information). What we are now looking at is non-web collateral that would be effective as a give-away or leave-behind to represent our brand and value to prospects. What are the most effective types?

Consider your reaction and the process you use when you get something in the mail (e.g., refrigerator magnet, inscribed pen) or are handed it by someone in a public setting (e.g., report, CD, notebook). The odds are very high that you are going to dispose of it, either immediately or by putting it in a place to look at later (i.e., never). The key to a recipient is how quickly they can figure out what it is, how it works, how they can benefit from it, and for how long.

This is why flash drives (containing a vendor's collateral) are so popular. I already know exactly what a flash drive is, how to use it, and how it can benefit me. Sooner or later, because I keep it with me and use it repeatedly, I will review the vendor's material. Furthermore, even if I decide to not use the vendor, I have a constant reminder of the vendor and a positive impression. Consultants are infamous for handing prospects beautiful reports of their work to show just how great they are. If someone hands me a white paper that I now have to figure what it is, find a place to file it temporarily, and then spend time reading, my odds of doing all of these things and connecting positively with the provider are really low (especially if I discover it is all about the consultant and not about my needs).

Tip: Don't burden the recipient. Never leave anything with a prospect unless you can guarantee they know exactly what it is, they know how to use it, and they can get value from it quickly. Ideally, they would want to use it immediately after you walk out of their office, and each time they use it, they can do so quickly and see it as valuable. What you consider high value may be seen as low value because its use is complicated to the uninitiated prospect. If your leave behind is hard to understand or use, or difficult to get value from, what kind of impression do you think your prospect will associate with you?

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  goodwill  intellectual property  presentations  reputation  sales 

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