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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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#596: Consultants Need to "Jump the S-Curve" in Their Own Business

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, June 27, 2011
Updated: Monday, June 27, 2011
Consulting practices occasionally hit a wall with their businesses when they run up against serious new competitors or technologies or their talent peaks. Is there a general model of sustaining a consulting practice other than the same advice we give our clients (i.e., continuous improvement in people, processes, technology)?

The mechanics of managing a consulting practice are too complex for this forum. Better would be to talk about what to look for that tells you, well in advance of a revenue plateau, that your practice needs some work. Once you know where your practice is getting wobbly, then you will have a clearer idea of how to fix the mechanics.

We tell our clients that they are on an "S-Curve" in which slow and steady growth occurs at the start of the business or a new product, followed by gaining momentum and rapid growth, then tapering off as markets get saturated or competitors enter. This "S-Curve" applies to your business as well as theirs and really has several curves hiding inside. Watch these components for advance warning :
  1. Competition - any market or product attractive to you will also attract others, so monitor new entrants starting to chip away at your customers.
  2. Capabilities - you created or bought some new technology, skills or other assets to start your growth, but the distinctiveness of these eventually wears off and they are likely to be available to competitors once their value is clear.
  3. Talent - you had it when you started your growth, but people increasingly move between companies more frequently and you may lose a key asset (less of an issue for small consulting firms, but this makes the impact of a single departure all the more risky).
There may be other components unique to your practice and market. The point is that there is more than meets the eye in a simple growth curve. Figure out exactly what assets and activities are part of your particular growth and watch each one, as well as how each component affects the others (e.g., a departure of talent from your firm to a competitor, along with knowledge of a key technology is a triple blow).

Tip: Researchers at the Accenture High Performance Business Research describe this "Jumping the S-Curve" phenomenon in a book and articles.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  innovation  planning  practice management  your consulting practice 

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#595: Consultants Can Build Client Team Solidarity

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, June 24, 2011
Updated: Friday, June 24, 2011
Much of my strategy practice involves helping clients set up teams to help with change. When clients assign staff who don't know each other to the team, it just adds to my job of creating solidarity in the team. Are there any ways you can suggest to help create this solidarity so that the team can continue after I depart?

It seems like there are two issues. The first is how to get staff who don't know each other connected into a real team, and the second is how to help them retain that solidarity after you are no longer around to facilitate that connection. Here's one idea that may help with both issues.

One of the first times you meet as a team, create a notebook sized sheet of paper for each team member with their name on it. If you have a place where you do meet, post these sheets on the wall. It is a good idea to have a fixed physical place, a "war room" if you will, to hold your regularly scheduled progress meetings.

After a meeting or two, you will begin to notice something about each team member that defines them. It could be an expression, a figure of speech, a behavior, a concern, or other type of contribution. These are positive and desirable contributions to the team dynamic (including amusing behaviors that contribute to the unique culture of the team), not negative characteristics.

With you taking the lead, and doing so in front of everyone, declare that you have found a member's contribution helpful and write it on the posted sheet (e.g., their comment "how will this help with sales", or "are we following the agenda"). Once the team gets into the practice, they will feel free to put up their own observations about other members (members shouldn't make notes about themselves). This will encourage members to start thinking about the team as an entity and to focus on positive aspects of the task. You'll know when this is a success when team members really make this their own and actively look for positive contributions. It is OK if people want to note neutral, but obvious, behaviors (e.g., "always has to have the chocolate sprinkle doughnut") as long as everyone recognizes it as a unique behavior.

When the project is over, combine these sheets and make them available to each team member, including, if possible, a public reading of each person's sheet, along with the team leader's thank you for their effort.

Tip: As the consultant, get out of the way as quickly as possible, turning over to the client project leader the responsibility of encouraging and managing the notation process. Your role is to facilitate the development and integration of a positive team culture, but doing so from behind the scenes.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  business culture  client relations  client service  client staff  consultant role  goodwill 

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#594: Commit to Act on Your Ideas

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, June 23, 2011
Updated: Thursday, June 23, 2011
In trying to develop new consulting service offerings, my firm has a process to select the top three potential services and then focus our efforts on developing the best one of them. I would prefer to try a range of approaches, even if they were not as well developed when we took them to market. What approach seems to work best?

It is unclear which approach works best for a given market or firm capability but there is one principle that should help frame the question among your team. Most professionals, especially entrepreneurial consultants, are constantly generating ideas. These may be for a new services, knowledge management approaches, partnerships or alliances, practice management practices, billing practices, geographic markets, etc. The one characteristic we all share in this regard is that there are a lot more ideas generated than we implement.

You asked about moving forward with one well-developed idea vs. many partly-developed ideas. I suggest that the biggest cost in an innovative field like consulting is the many ideas that, while potentially significant for your practice, never get past the paper napkin stage. We either lack the energy, intellect, or will to take them to the next step and see whether they might work. In effect, we kill our own (possibly) best ideas.

Tip: Create a process to capture practice management, marketing or client service ideas and put them through a vetting process to see which ones are worth pursuing. Don't let any idea go to waste. If it is not for your firm now, keep it on file and reconsider later. Above all, demand of yourself what you would suggest of your client: impose some order and give your innovation a fair chance to create new value for you and your clients. Commit to act on each idea until you can safely eliminate it.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  analysis  creativity  knowledge assets  learning  planning  your consulting practice 

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#593: Get a Fast Start When Consulting to a New Industry

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Every so often I get a client with whose industry I am unfamiliar. I am a process improvement specialist, so this is not a problem, but I would like to get into the industry culture and perspective more than just talking to my client. Suggestions?

Your client and your colleagues who work in that industry are your first choices. Getting the culture of your client's organization is as important as the climate of the industry overall. However, I understand that you want to get a broader, industry wide perspective.

There are two quick resources (among many) you could turn to. One is the relevant trade associations, of which there are often one or more for any given company or industry. Probably the most comprehensive sources is Thompson Gale Publishing's Encyclopedia of Associations, which has over 4,000 pages of descriptions of the more than 100,000 nonprofits in the US (there is an international version as well). Unless you plan to pursue lots of new industries, this annual directory is something you might look over at a library, where you can take advantage of other industry directories to which the research librarians can direct you (university or business school libraries have lots of access to proprietary databases as well, if you can arrange for access to them).

A second source, and one that will give you some deeper insight over a longer period of time, is an industry's periodical (again, many industries have more than one). For example, the petroleum industry has more than 25 publications covering a range of industry segments. A source to help identify available periodicals is BNET, the Business Network. BNET's website lists hundreds of industry publications. Some of these are free and some are subscription based. 

Tip: Since some of these may take a few weeks to begin arriving if you are considering hard copies), you may be able to subscribe to newsfeeds from them. This will provide you with not only the top stories from the print periodical, but also additional up to date news between issues. Feedzilla is a great utility to access feeds or build your own feed.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  learning  market research 

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#592: Charge Wisely for Travel Time

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, June 21, 2011
I have a few clients for whom I have to spend a few hours per month on a plane. Should I be charging for travel time?

This is truly something that should be worked out in your consulting agreement before the project starts. If you are working during travel, then this question is moot: you are working on behalf of your client so you can legitimately charge for hours worked. This will likely be at full rate if you believe you are working at full productivity.

I presume, however, you are referring to time you are not working for a client but are prevented from billing any other client. If you take a morning flight of several hours, then half a potentially billable day is lost. On one hand, you provided no services to a client so the client might claim you should not be paid. On the other hand, the travel was needed for you to be on site to provide services you couldn't otherwise provide off site. Recognize that a hard line on either position is likely to create some tension.

How you resolve this depends on how well your client trusts you and how much travel involved. If your client is generous, then travel both ways might be chargeable. However, a fair approach for most clients is to split the difference and pay for half the travel, assuming you are traveling and not working for another client or on your own firm's administrative duties during that time.

Tip: Talk to your client and come to an equitable arrangement. Explain your rationale and why you are willing to share the cost (since you are incurring real costs). However, make absolutely sure that you are being ethical and not being paid to travel by one client and charging another for work you are doing on the plane - double billing for the same time.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  fees  goodwill  practice management  travel 

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