4 Stages of a Consulting Business and How to Break Out of Each One

  • Maybe the consulting business started out with just you. You were going to add value to others through your knowledge and expertise…
  • Maybe it was more like a services business with you and a partner. One had the “ideas” and the other had the “tech skillz”…
  • Maybe you bought a franchise or got certified in a particular process. Now you must take another person’s work and make it your own…

In any case, you’ve found yourself stuck.

You’ve found yourself stuck at a certain “level” of business and you can’t seem to get out. You’ve read the books, attended the seminars, bought the tools, tried the newest systems…and you still feel stuck.

Why is this plateau so difficult to break through? Did you do something wrong? Is there a gap in your training? What is the missing piece you have yet to find?

Good news: There is nothing wrong with you. Every business leader needs the opportunity to step-back, re-strategize, and attack the market in a new way with a fresh set of eyes.

Bad news: What got you “here” won’t get you “there”. If you keep pounding away with the approach you’ve always taken you WILL end up back here again…stuck…but next time you will be stuck and irritated about it.

So what do you do?

The first step is take a very simple assessment of where you are.

Though you may feel a bit frustrated, there really is no right or wrong…just what “is”. In fact, each stage has specific traits that can be used to catapult your business into the next level. If you judge them too harshly you will miss their value.

See which phase you are in…

This article covers 4 phases of a consulting business. The phases are broken up by income level, but depending on your situation you might find yourself in a mix of two different tiers. What’s most important is that you identify (and then confront) the challenges that have you stuck.

Starting with Phase 1…

Phase 1: Getting Started

Summary: It’s a new adventure and you are excited about it. It’s an opportunity to see what you’re made of and discover the impact you can make.

Income Level: 0$ – $20K

Primary Thought: I know I’ve got some skills and knowledge that can help people. Let’s see if I’d be any good at this consulting thing.

General Questions:

  • Will people actually pay me to do this? Can I really get clients?
  • What is the best method for me to get started?
  • Who can I learn from? Are their books and programs I can study?
  • What type of certifications do I need?
  • What should I be selling, exactly?
  • Which of my friends and family will provide referrals?

Where You Get Stuck:

  • Constant trial and error while you “find your groove” can be frustrating.
  • You are offering a bunch of different services, but you aren’t sure which service is the best for you to offer.
  • The amount of information you’ve taken in via the web, books, trainings, and other resources has blurred your focus and you don’t know what to do next.
  • You give away lots of free consultations, meetings, and coffees…but they don’t always result in paid client arrangements.
  • Trying to decide which service is best for you to offer

How You Break Out:

You are getting started. You’re in the learning process, you know it, and you’ve having fun with it. But at some point you realize that “learning” isn’t bringing in clients and all of your experimentation has left you a bit scattered. The most important thing for you to do right now is identify a single service you know is going to impress the next person you talk to. You need to find someone with a specific problem, offer your specific solution, and see what they say.

If you’ve found yourself a bit to “all over the place” to get clear on what you offer, you should sign up for this free webinar to help you get specific on the best service you should be offering.  You can register for it right now –> Register for the webinar here


Phase 2: Getting Clients

Summary: You know what it means to close a client. You also know what it means to lose a client. This is where the dreaded feast and famine of consulting rears it’s ugly head. 

Income Level: 0$ – $60K

Primary Thought: Can I make this my “job”? Will it replace my full-time income?

General Questions:

  • How long am I able to keep clients? 6 weeks? 6 months?
  • How many clients do I need to make my consulting business a full-time effort?
  • How can I get more good clients, more often?
  • What marketing tools and systems do I need to make generating clients easier?
  • What should I be selling, exactly?
  • What is my marketing strategy once the referrals of friends and family run out?

Where You Get Stuck:

  • You finally know what you do, but it can still be hard to explain it to clients at times.
  • Enter feast/famine. When you are serving clients, you are not marketing to grow your business. When you are marketing to grow your business, you aren’t serving clients.
  • A couple of steady clients are paying the bills, but you don’t have a predictable way to find, attract, and close more clients.
  • You’ve had your chance to serve a really good client and a really bad client. The bad client experience didn’t totally discourage you, but you need a way to repeat the good client experience.

How You Break Out:

In this stage, you’ve had the chance to see what happens when a consulting arrangement goes really well and that’s exciting!  You’ve also seen what happens when arrangements don’t go so well (and you scramble to find a project to replace the one you’ve lost). You’ve got a clear service to offer…at least it’s clear to you…but if you don’t find a way to attract clients on a regular basis it might be time to consider full time work again.

I know, you DON’T like marketing. It’s pushy. It’s salesy. It would be so much easier if the clients came to you. Can I tell you that what you’re after is 100% possible?  If you are looking for a method to help you attract clients that doesn’t involve used-car-salesman-type tactics you can register for a simple training webinar here right now –> Register for the webinar here


Phase 3: Scaling into a “Real” Business

Summary: You’ve worked hard to build up a client base and the financial stability feels pretty good. Until you try to step away for vacation and you realize you can’t. Clients still need you. The emails keep coming. It feels like your support staff can’t do anything if you’re not giving direct instructions. You’ve created a (high-paying) “job” and you can’t seem to escape it.

Income Level: 60K$ – $200K

Primary Thought: How much of this work do I want to be responsible for everyday?

General Questions:

  • What are some systematic ways for me to reach larger audiences?
  • Where is my best work done? How can I focus on that more?
  • How can I delegate my additional tasks?
  • Who should I hire first? Where can I go to hire good people?
  • What kind of mastermind groups, networking communities
  • What business model is best for me? Celebrity business? Agency/Studio? Publishing company? Training/coaching company?

Where You Get Stuck:

  • You are so close to the work it’s difficult to see what you should and shouldn’t be doing
  • Trying to develop different sources of revenue that do not require your direct involvement
  • You want to grow your team, but the last person you hired was a flop and you are nervous about repeating the mistake
  • No one seems to “get” how you want things done so most tasks end up back on your plate
  • Trying to decide which service is best for you to offer

How You Break Out:

You cannot do it all. If fact, the more you do the less money your business makes. You need (good) help and you need time away to re-charge your thoughts. But how is that supposed to happen?  You need a new job description.  You’ve got to transition out of the head consultant role and into the role of leading a “real” business.

Your company needs to look more like an agency and less like solo-business . You need a business model. You need processes. Most importantly, you need to hire (and trust) other people to act on behalf of the business when you are nowhere around. How should you train these people? How do you scale the value you’ve been accustomed to offering by yourself? If it’s time to make the switch you’ll love this webinar training. Register for it now –> Register for the webinar here


Phase 4: Becoming a Brand

Summary: You’ve found a niche. Your business is known for something. There are circles where you logo is recognized, your articles are referenced, and your keynotes are anticipated. And now that you feel established, the conversation is less about financials (dollars and cents) and more about impact (lives/businesses affected).

Income Level: 200K$ – $1M+

Primary Thought: How do I grow my impact without becoming the center of the business again?

General Questions:

  • What are some systematic ways for me to reach even larger audiences?
  • Which roles in my company are most important as we scale?
  • What is my specific responsibility in the larger company?
  • What about my current role do I want to keep? What am I willing to give up?
  • What kind of mastermind groups, networking communities

Where You Get Stuck:

  • Attracting, training, and retaining team members is a daily responsibility.
  • Internally your team knows what you do. Your clients LOVE what you do. Still, it can be hard communicating the value to new marketing partners.
  • How do we balance the need for real business metrics with the desire to keep the “soul” in our business?
  • Now that I am letting go of more of the business day-to-day, how do I You give away lots of free consultations, meetings, and coffees…but they don’t always result in paid client arrangements.
  • Trying to decide which service is best for you to offer

How You Break Out:

You know the pain of being at the center of all the business activities. Not only does it stifle the business, but it stifles your health too! Now more than ever you can see how your behaviors can limit or expand your company. You want your company to continue to grow into “brand” that tackles deep industry problems from a number of different angles. What does that kind of company expect from you?

You’ve figured out how to solve problem #1. In fact, you’ve built a whole company around it. Now it’s time to tackle issue #2 (without sinking back into old behaviors). What is the new message? How do you keep the message from becoming your job description? There are 4 big questions you need to answer and we can tackle them together on this free webinar training. Register for it now –> Register for the webinar here


Make Your Move.

It doesn’t make any sense to solve for problems that don’t exist in your business. Focus on your phase and do what is necessary where you are. However it is VERY important to remember that what got you here, won’t get you there. There is a (very) necessary re-setting of your thinking that needs to take place. If you accept that challenge, your next level awaits.

You can join a group of entrepreneurs discussing (and solving for) these same challenges. Register and join us on the free webinar here –> Register for the webinar here