What Truly Effective Consultants Do

They Focus

  • Luk Smeyers
  • June 23, 2021
What successful consultants do

After almost 20 years of experience in the consulting industry, working with hundreds of consultants, and being one myself, I learned that there’s one key difference between real thriving consultants and those who constantly struggle to survive—their ability to focus. The lack of focus is a problem across all industries and professions, but apart from a lack of concentration, consultants are mostly struggling to narrow down and build authority in a specific expertise domain.

Instead, most of them say yes to every potential client, accept all sorts of inquiries, and end up in this vicious loop:

  • Because they say yes to almost everything, they have no time and resources to improve their visibility and expertise.
  • Because they are not visible and not perceived as an expert, they don’t have a reliable pipeline and processes.
  • Because they struggle with their pipeline, they lose the confidence to narrow down and stand out as an expert in a single expertise domain.
  • They end up having no other choice but to say yes to every opportunity because they’re afraid of failing to meet their target income.

The truth is, every consultant I met in the past decades dreams of being recognized as an expert. They all want to be in the leading position in their industry and charge premium prices, but most of them struggle because they’re constantly accepting projects and clients that are outside of their areas of expertise.

They say yes to projects even if they don’t have the required knowledge to solve the problem. And they do so because of two reasons: 

  • They’re afraid of losing opportunities and are desperate to get the job to pay the bills, even if it’s a low-paying opportunity.
  • Their ego is holding them back from saying no because they think they can master every problem, no matter how challenging it is.

But if you want to be known and hired as an expert, you need to go deep instead of wide. You need to stay in your lane, protect your expert reputation, say no to the wrong opportunities, and focus on the few clients and projects that want to work with you because you’re the expert. If you always stay available to all sorts of opportunities, you’ll end up neglecting the clients and projects that can truly make an impact in your career because you’ll be too busy dealing with unsatisfying customers.

Truly thriving consultants say no to almost everything

As a consultant, your level of expertise is in direct proportion to your ability to stay focused.

The difference between a generalist and an expert is that the expert is hard to get. They don’t need to follow up tens of times and do all sorts of activities. Instead, they say no to non-ideal clients and focus on the transformation of customers they can truly support through their expertise. What do you typically say when a prospect calls and asks, “Could you do this for us?” In my experience, 95% of consultants say yes to any opportunity—regardless of if they have the expertise and knowledge or not.

A lot of consultants can’t differentiate between a relevant opportunity and a distraction. At first, saying yes to every possibility might sound smart and profitable, but the truth is that your yes isn’t credible if you never say no. When you say yes to everything just to make a living, you’ll attract the wrong clients, work on the wrong projects, and end up feeling burned out instead of fulfilled. Additionally, you’ll likely get stuck in a loop of doing activities for clients and never being able to build authority in your market by being visible. You’ll be one of the many consultants who are craving work without the negotiation power in a crowded consulting market.

But what’s worse is that you’ll end up in the bottom consultant quadrant. You’ll be easy to replace, experience humiliating discussions with procurement, give excessive discounts, face poor daily rates, and it’ll be impossible to get a value-driven recommendation from your previous clients because you’ll be known as the jack of all trades instead of an authority in your market.

If you’re still afraid of saying no to every “could-you-do-this-for-us” request, it means you’re not an expert yet. Experts fanatically protect themselves from distractions and are masters at focusing on the few things that matter. They focus on consistently winning profitable clients who value their expertise and pay premium prices. They shut the doors for most requests and go deep instead of wide.

You get 60 seconds to convince your prospect

The most common excuse I hear from consultants who struggle to focus and narrow their focus is their fear of missing out (also known as FOMO). I know it sounds counterintuitive to achieve more by saying no to opportunities, but that’s the reality of the consulting industry. Most consultants think and say they don’t have enough time to build their expert status and authority in the market. The truth, however, is that they are risk-averse.

If you’d say no to irrelevant and unsatisfying customer requests, you’d immediately have more time to build your authority and visibility.

As a consultant, you need to be able to clearly describe how exactly you can help your prospect solve their problems:

  • What are the typical outcomes or the impact of your approach?
  • What does a typical project roadmap look like and how will you build it?
  • What’s the typical TTR (time to resolution) of your roadmap?
  • Who, on the client’s side, should be involved in the project?
  • What kind of education will you provide? Will you help the client to become self-sufficient over time?

Ideally, you’re able to answer these questions within 60 seconds. If you’re a generalist consultant saying yes to every opportunity, you’ll likely struggle to provide convincing answers.  If you, however, specialize and focus on a narrow niche, you’ll know exactly what the pain points and struggles of your potential clients are. You’ll be a much more efficient problem-solver because you’ve provided similar solutions to other clients with similar problems in the past.

Narrowing down and building authority in a specific niche will not only lead to a more balanced and fulfilling career, but it’s also more profitable. By going deep into a single subject matter, you’ll be more attractive and relevant for clients who’re in search of an expert and willing to pay a premium fee.

Focus on progress instead of perfection

It takes focus, specialization, and authority to stand out in today’s crowded and highly competitive consulting market. But the good news is you don’t need to niche down overnight. Finding your focus and building authority in a specific market is a process. You can do it step-by-step and start small. You don’t need to fire all your existing clients and prospects at once. It’s more about the mindset and courage of neglecting opportunities that won’t take you to your desired future destination by slowly and carefully fading out “the old”.

Focus takes courage, but once done correctly, it’ll profoundly change the way you work and live. Generalists will always struggle in the consulting market of the future as they have major difficulties quickly demonstrating their distinctive value and therefore risk facing a race to the bottom. It’s the specialists and authorities who’ll be in demand, charge premium fees, and organically grow their consulting business by providing distinctive value and solid social proof.

In a world full of opportunities, those who can focus on the essentials and relentlessly eliminate all sorts of distractions will win. They’ll be the experts in demand without having to chase their next clients.

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