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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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#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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#580: We Can't See What We Don't Look For

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, June 3, 2011
Updated: Friday, June 3, 2011
My partner and I run a boutique consulting firm with essentially no competition. We are looking to expand and wonder what markets are likely to have similar low competition, sort of a "Blue Ocean" strategy.

Claims that "we have no competitors" are fairly common among small consulting firms. At first glance, this would seem to be because service quality is so exceptional and client access so robust, that no other firm could hope to break into this gravy train. What is more likely is that the market for services is so provincial that it is overlooked by any serious competitors. This is not a bad thing, but shouldn't be mistaken for noncompetition.

Service commoditization, globalization, fast cycle mimicry of new services - all are trends that may make a consultant's small parochial market in danger of being invaded. Around the world, native species of plants and animals are being overwhelmed by invasive species. Most of these invaders have been ignored by most governments, despite warnings from biologists. Finally, after commercial losses have mounted into hundreds of millions of dollars, suddenly snakehead, kudzu, lionfish and melaleuca are household words to farmers, ranchers and fishers. So much for protected "markets."

Tip: If we presume there is no competition for our services, we will never see it coming when it does. Be proactive and ask your clients if they didn't use you to provide advice and technical services, who would they use. How would they go about finding another source, including insourcing, to receive what they receive from you. Conduct a survey in your space of what consulting services are most valuable for your industry. Then, ask how users of those services would cut expenses or increase speed or breadth of service delivery. If you think hard enough, you may come up with some troubling answers on your own. But don't presume you are free from competition.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  competition  market research  planning  product development 

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#565: Choose Information Sources Carefully When Prospecting For New Business

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, May 13, 2011
Updated: Friday, May 13, 2011
My consulting firm focuses on improving operations but with, the economy starting to grow again, we see a lot of companies seeming to prefer expansion or acquisition of new facilities rather than improving current operations. With a diverse client base, how can we identify growth markets so we can best position ourselves?

You are right that what passes as a growth opportunity increasingly includes acquisition. During, the recent phase of the economic cycle, many companies hunkered down, trimmed staff and expenses and improved efficiency. Now it's time to pursue the prudent expansion (but still not much hiring) strategy. I infer that you are asking how your consulting firm can get a sense of where your clients might go next.

The particulars of your industry will dictate what regions might best suit your positioning needs, but there are several sources of information you might find useful. Many trade and business journals regularly publish articles describing the "best" places for business. These address different perspectives such as best to start a business, best for small business, best for green business, best places to reduce your taxes, etc. Each publication comes with its own perspective, data sources and (pay close attention to this) their own political perspective. One source's "best" may differ significantly from another's based on relative emphasis on work-life culture vs. taxes vs. support structure vs. innovation systems vs. education/training capacity vs. recent population or job growth/decline vs. housing and land prices, etc. Be clear what sources and perspectives you (and your target client) think relevant and the validity of their data sources and analysis before settling on any one "best" list.

Tip: Since you are going to be divining what is in the mind of executives at your client companies, look first at articles aimed at CEOs. An independent business publication or journal is probably more objective than gathering city or regional business marketing materials. For example, annually lists the best and worst states for business, at least according to their selected criteria.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  market research  planning  prospect  trends 

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#542: Put Your Client in the Headlines

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, April 12, 2011
What are some effective visioning exercises to use with my clients in strategy development processes?

As with all such techniques, think through whether or not this process works well with your client's culture and fits with the rest of your strategy development. Clarity in strategy always starts and ends with simplicity - start with a clear, focused concept and expand it as needed but, ultimately, it has to be easily communicated to stakeholders.

Here's an idea that seems too forced or trite to work but is incredibly powerful. If not constrained, a client team can consume a day of enthusiastic debate on this one exercise.

Have each member of your working group imagine a headline about the company at some point in the future, say in 5-10 years. Ask them to select a newspaper, journal, or industry magazine - whatever they individually think would provide the best visibility and credibility for the company. This means not just the local newspaper but the most influential journal or opinion source in their industry. Have them write down a headline and a sentence or two of the story lead. You may be surprised how different each person's aspirational view of the future is.

Tip: Create a mock up of the newspaper or journal. Start with the consensus headline and build out the story, in journalistic style, starting with the key features, followed by subordinate facts. Add a picture if appropriate. If you have time and interest, sketch out the adjacent stories that might appear on the page to reflect conditions and trends in associated industries, contemporary political or economic events of importance, and maybe even a view of what might come next for your company. There is no best format - let it organically grow from the enthusiasm and needs of the group.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  consulting tools  methodology  planning  process 

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