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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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#237: Turning Down Business

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, February 9, 2010
I am now at the point in my consulting life where I can't handle all the business coming at me. What is the best way to turn these assignments down?

Although most consultants want to secure as much business as possible, sometimes you can be offered more work than you can handle. If turning down work is a necessity, you must find a way to do so without alienating the client (and perhaps running the risk of losing out on future business opportunities with them). Here are some suggestions:
  1. Express regret for not being able to take on the additional assignment at this time. Let the prospect know how much, under normal circumstances, you would enjoy working with them and that you would really like to have another opportunity to work with them once your schedule frees up a bit. You might even provide a date when this might be (e.g., "I am currently on a heavy assignment, but work is expected to wrap on that in 3 weeks. If you have some flexibility, perhaps we can re-schedule this work for then.")
  2. Avoid taking the "full bucket" view (i.e., once the bucket is full, no additional water can be added.) What if you could drain some of the existing water out of the bottom of the bucket and replace it with some fresh, high quality H2O? In other words, consider carefully if this is truly an assignment that you want to turn down. Take a "whole system" approach, evaluating all of your current assignments. Perhaps this is the type of work you have been striving for! If so, look at some of your other, less significant (or no longer desirable) assignments and see if there is a potential to scale back on those (once your immediate responsibilities on each have been fulfilled).
  3. Offer the prospect an alternative (smaller scope, extended timeframe, off-hours work, limited deliverable.) They can always say "No", but at least you offered them an option.
  4. Refer them to other trusted and qualified consultants.
Tip: When turning down work, treat your client with the same level of care and respect as you do when you readily accept an assignment. Do your best to defer, re-prioritize, offer alternatives or refer your client's request rather than give an unqualified "No" to their proposal.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  engagement management  planning  referrals  sales  your consulting practice 

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#220: Do You Really Have a Consulting Model?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, January 15, 2010
I am always amazed by the diversity of approaches consultants use in their work. However, it does concern me when these approaches seem to vary over time, with almost each implementation seeming to be different. Is this normal for consultants?

I can't comment on whether this is normal or not but my sense is that it is not a good practice. Each intervention in the management, governance, operations or culture of an organization should be tailored to the current needs of the organization. However, the core process of intervention should be standardized, for three reasons. First, every change strategy should be a scientific experiment, a hypothesis-driven approach to reach an objective. If the process can be codified (allowing for necessary adaptation to local conditions and needs), it can be replicated and tested for efficacy.

Second, a codified and tested process can be continually improved. The common complaint about the book In Search of Excellence and other anthologies of "great companies” is that they are backward looking cases where the strategies were connected to outcomes without testing the specific strategy for efficacy. We have to be able to describe a process before we can predict its results, and only then can we develop the capability to control it.

Third, consistency and simplicity in a process increase your ability as a consultant to effectively communicate its value to clients and staff. If I understand the theoretical foundations, inherent values and effort required to implement a change process, I am more comfortable implementing it in my organization. Clients are right when they complain about consulting processes that are so theoretical and confusing that they are of little interest or perceived value. If you can't express the premise of your change model in 30 seconds, then you have no business using it.

Tip: Take any one of your intervention processes and commit it to paper, either through prose or (better) a process flow chart. Give it to a colleague for a client and see whether they understand it and could replicate it. Don’t worry about "giving away trade secrets." First of all, your process itself is probably not that unique. Second, like a good cook, your finished product owes a lot to your skills in implementation, regardless of who uses the same recipe.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  intellectual property  knowledge assets  learning  performance improvement  planning  practice management 

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#168: Are Your Clients Measuring Numbers Rather Than Results?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, November 4, 2009
We help our clients design and implement sophisticated performance measurement systems. However, it is always a struggle to keep these from being hijacked by the finance departments, who focus on month to month data and not long term goals.

Performance measurement systems are affected by the culture of the group designing and using them. There is nothing wrong with a financial reporting system, but this should not be confused with a performance management system. The latter is intended to guide an organization to results. The finance function, however, is grounded in a culture of risk avoidance and control. The effect of that perspective is to focus on process, accuracy of predictions and variance with expected data.

How much variation in month to month results are typical for your industry? Are long-term trends heading in the right direction? Does your executive team have evidence that past variance with plans is a good predictor of failure to meet goals? Is there a basis to believe this is the case now? Is the finance function being given undue influence over business operations? Remember, accounting is a trailing indicator and, while a provider of important data, it is a supporting function, not a business driver.

Tip: Discuss with your client during performance measurement system design what the specific culture, perspective and impact each department will have on providing data and interpreting those data. Talk about how decisions will be made if one set of data are well outside of expected predictions. How are accountabilities to be set, i.e., how much allowance is appropriate for variance and who is accountable for "fixing" that variance? Have these conversations during the design phase so that your client is not embroiled in conflict about a number rather than measuring progress against long-term organizational objectives.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  business culture  communication  information management  planning 

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#163: What Won't You Do As a Consultant?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, October 28, 2009
My consulting strategic plan lays out my financial goals, objectives, marketing and delivery strategies and target clients. Anything else I might have missed?

You have covered most of the bases but what about looking at this from the other side? A common practice in consulting brainstorming is to take an issue and look at the opposite point of view to see if you can generate some insights. Strategy is as much about what you will not do as it is about what you will do. Instead of just creating a wide open space in which to work, you are most effective if you concentrate your efforts on projects and clients that satisfy both your business and emotinal needs.

Tip: Make a list of all the things you will not do in your practice. This includes lifestyle (no weekend work), client selection (no Gen Y clients), project scope (no long term projects), staffing (no employees), fee (no time and materials), etc. This will help further clarify your perfect client/project and focus you efforts.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting lifestyle  planning  product development  your consulting practice 

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#161: Give Your Clients a Choice of Services

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, October 26, 2009
To reduce operating costs, we have trimmed our consulting offerings to just one high margin service. Should we keep just this one, which seems to be in demand, or build more?

Risk and opportunity are the first things that come to mind. Specifically, the risk of a single product and the lost opportunity of such a limited set of offerings. Let's discuss risk first. Your one offering may be in demand now but the market may change and reduce demand, another competitor might offer the same or a substitute product, or you might lose the people or control of an technologies for information components of your service. Without a robust service offering, you put your company at risk.

A one product company loses opportunity. First of all, you become known for that product rather than your suite of possible services. Eventually, prospects don't think of you offering anything else. Second, by not having a route for people to buy lower cost or more commoditized products, few people will place the trust in you to even try your product. You may like all clients to arrive at the high margin, high value service but, by reducing a choice of what types of your services to use, you are making it hard for them to buy.

Tip: Consider the value of a portfolio of services. First, provide a few low cost or free white papers, tips (like these), or blog of relevant topics. Next offer some modest cost, commodity-based, easy to use, short term services, such as workshops, seminars, assessments or one-day consultations. Then offer a suite of medium-term services, perhaps through partnering with subject matter experts, to broaden the appeal and value of services across a client's enterprise. Finally, offer some high value, high margin, and high touch services at the executive level. This portfolio approach allows a user of consulting services to enter your desired path to high value services at any point, and move up the pipeline to the point where they find value/cost equilibrium. This will lower your risk, increase opportunities and provide valuable market data on what service offerings you need to expand.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  brand management  client development  customer understanding  market research  marketing  planning  practice management  product development  reputation  sales  sustainability 

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