Your business is doing well - so well, in fact, that you’ve suddenly hit a wall. Or, maybe three walls. You have hit the billable hour wall. You have hit the personal bandwidth wall. You've hit the profitability wall. You just can't seem to find a way to make more money without mentally going crazy. So you need a picture of growing your consulting business while respecting your personal bandwidth. It’s time for you to scale up.
When we talk about scaling, here's the definition that we're going to use: scaling equals making more money with less effort.
Let's talk about how to scale a consulting business and how to think through the scaling process.
Consulting isn’t magic - it just looks that way
When we think about the term consulting, what are we saying?
- You sell a service.
- That service is intangible; it cannot be seen or touched
- That service is built off your expertise, experience, and unique knowledge
This makes consulting hard to scale because it seems so personal. You just do a thing. And that thing just happens to make money and you do it as well, and as fast, as you know how to do it. But there's no sense of, or little sense of system or process. You just “do the awesome thing that you do!”
Now, the issue on top of that is, when you think about scaling your business, it is as intuitive and as invisible to you as it is to your client base. So this is one of the number one things that make scaling so difficult, is that it just all seems magic to you. It’s intuitive, invisible, intangible.
One of the first things you have to do, if you're going to scale anything, is you have to unpack this wizardry. You have to unpack this magic. You have to unpack all these complex ideas that make your business go.
Your Consulting Business Model Framework
Let’s give your business some structure. We want to look at your business in terms of three core systems:
- CLIENT ACQUISITION
- CLIENT SERVICE
- CLIENT RETENTION
Now, in many situations, just seeing your business in this shape immediately changes how you see everything. All of a sudden there's less magic going on.
- CLIENT ACQUISITION: There needs to be a method or a process by which you acquire clients. You're probably doing something right now, but you'll see it as a method, it's just kind of a thing that works. Quite literally, you could spell this out step by step.
- CLIENT SERVICE: When a client signs on, there's a way you deliver that service. It has a step-by-step set of mechanics.
- CLIENT RETENTION: When you've delivered something for your clients, now there's a method that you use to retain them. And that client stays for months and for years on end.
These three things need to exist inside your business. They can't be magical, or assumed, or “Intuitive.” They've got to be playbooks. They've got to be concrete, so that you know what you're repeating, your team members know what they're repeating and your clients know what's being repeated so they have a clear scope of work.
So these three systems make your business scalable because now you know what tasks can be repeated, and if you know it's being repeated, you can do it faster. That allows you to make more money with less personal effort.
Three Scaling Strategies
There are three strategies of scaling. Let's highlight those so you can make your next decision.
- First Tier: One-on-one work
- Acquisition. This is where the majority of us get started, and it's a good place to start. So scaling your one-on-one client acquisition is about growing your personal network, asking for referrals, doing classic prospecting. This is work that you do yourself in an effort to attract a new client.
- Service. One-on-one service work is typically doing a service one-on-one directly with the client: it's a customized, direct service.
- Retention. One-on-one in retention is an extension of what you just did for the service. So if they liked the first thing you made, we'll make another. If they liked the first thing you did together, we'll do it again. That creates an ongoing relationship with your client.
- Scaling Up. Start with doing what you currently do, only better. Spell it out better, give it a better process, allow yourself to do it faster, understand it more clinically, give it playbooks, hire people and delegate work. That will give you efficiency, make more money with less personal effort.
- Second Tier: Content
- Acquisition. Now we're talking about using blogs, search engine optimization, or creating white papers and eBooks. We take our expertise and our knowledge and use that knowledge to attract clientele. We start putting content out into the world.
- Service. Now we start selling courses and programs, education, and learning, and selling those as services to be delivered to our client base.
- Retention. If they liked the first book you wrote, well then write a second book. If they liked the first webinar you offered, or the first paid training you offered, then offer a second paid training.
- Scaling Up. So in summary, we accomplish this second tier through content we create ourselves.
- Third Tier: Aggressive Automation
- Acquisition. We use advertising to acquire clients. So now whether you're advertising in Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, YouTube, or some other platform, you are calculating the value of a customer because that determines how much you can spend on advertising to acquire that person
- Service. We use some application of software to deliver our services and automating further with software on the backend. Whether you have hooked up some tools or created custom software inside your own business, delivering your value to your end client is a function of software deployment.
- Retention. Retention is an extension of what you did in the service model. So if they enjoy your software, well they can stay on as a subscriber. If they liked the first piece of software, well then you'll make them a second piece of software.
- Scaling Up. This is the most aggressive, almost automated, way of scaling your consulting business.
Now, is there a hybrid here? Can you mix and match this? Absolutely. But you're going to find yourself in one of these three main categories. The majority of your leverage, the majority of your scaling power is going to be found in the fact that you do one of these three things well.
Tradeoffs in the Tiers
Here's what frustrates me about these three options: they're all presented like magic bullets. Like you can just pick one of these tiers and go. Like, “Once you're aware of one of these strategies, that's all you need, and growth is imminent!”
That is untrue and leads to some very poor decisions.
Each of these tiers has its set of trade-offs and you need to understand what those trade-offs are in order to make the best decision for your consulting business.
Let me give that some context.
- What is good: One of the first things that draws us to scaling the one-on-one is we can hire people who will do the one-on-one work for us. And that's good.
- What we miss: We still need the insight from those interactions. Being able to look a client in the eye and hear what their main issue is, is an incredible opportunity for client understanding, for insight to leverage. When you start hiring people to do these tasks for you, are you delegating the insight? Are you giving the insight away? Are you still capturing the insight?
- How to balance: Make sure that as you hire people to grow and scale, the insight is still being considered, still being valued, still being leveraged inside your business.
- What is good: We're drawn to content because we know that content can give us some evergreen leverage. If you create good content and you put it up on your website, it lives there forever. It can always attract new clientele. It can always attract new traffic. That's a good thing.
- What we miss: Creating content that attracts clients, that is useful to clients, and that clients will continually want to buy for the long term, is a very new skill for most of us. You're used to creating content from an expert's point of view. You'll find yourself spinning your wheels, trying to create what you think to be sexy content.
- How to balance: But if you want content to really give you an evergreen advantage, you're going to have to create it from the client's point of view. And that's a different skill. If you don't adopt the skill of creating content, it's elusive leverage.
- Aggressive Automation (Advertising).
- What is good: Speed. You can reach so many people so much faster with advertising. Software gives you speed. It allows you to deliver a repetitive task very, very quickly. And that's what it's for. Nothing wrong with that.
- What we miss: What is hidden from us is the need for investment. You have to spend money in advertising in order for advertising to work. You have to spend enough money on enough advertising so you have enough data to decide what you should keep investing in or not. Developing software is an expensive thing. And if you’ve never done it before, the length of time it takes and the number of iterations it takes to develop successful software can be absolutely intimidating.
- How to balance: Be aware of, and prepared for, that level of investment.
In summary: Choose your scaling method wisely
If you've reached a moment where you’re meeting your personal bandwidth, and scaling is on your mind, you owe it to yourself and to your business to think through this moment cleanly.
We have to admit that your business right now could very much be a mix of activities. You must break it apart into major essential functions. So I'd offer you that there are three core functions: client acquisition; client service; and client retention. Spell those things out as steps that you're comfortable following.
Once you see those things as steps, then you can decide how to accelerate those steps: through one-on-one, content, or automation. There is no right or wrong, but you owe it to yourself to make a sober assessment of where you are now, and which of these three scaling strategies makes the most sense for you and your business. As you decide, consider what those trade-offs are - what you get and what you might lose - because your profitability lives in the balance.