The other day I was having a discussion with a client about the challenges of owning a consulting firm. It’s funny how these types of conversations force you to reflect on your own experiences. I quickly realized I made some mistakes along the way as all business owners do when they first start out. I’ve also been witness to mistakes by other consulting firms that have reached out to us for help. From these past experiences, I have identified 9 deadly sins owners of consulting firms should avoid.
- Not Staying True to the Purpose – When you started the firm you had a purpose, your mission, vision and principles. Don’t lose sight of how you became a successful consulting firm, even through the tough times. It’s important to diversify and be innovative, but it must always fit what you stand for. When you leave your core business, you also lose your core loyal clients.
- Failing to Innovate – When firms fail to see the changing tealeaves and adapt to their client demands and the competitive landscape, the business can become stagnant and may even die out. Innovation opens your firm up to the next big success. Ideas may fail, but continually innovating and adapting will keep a consulting firm growing.
- Not Planning for Growth – Alan Lakein said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” This couldn’t be more true when it comes to thinking about how you will grow your firm. The demise of any consulting firm is hoping to stay where it is and not planning for future growth. Change is constant and you can rest assure that your competitors are looking at ways to grow their staff, revenue and client base.
- Misunderstanding Profitability – You would think this would be a no brainer for consulting firms, but you would be surprised at the excuses made by Project Managers and Owners about why the profit number is declining. Most consulting firms watch profitability for the company, but are you watching the profit on each project? Even worse is when you make the same mistake with the next project. It’s important to take those lessons learned and circle them back to the proposal process.
- Not Tracking Cash Flow – Firms that do understand profit often forget that it is only half the problem. Clients that do not pay can derail the best profit and growth program and impact cash flow. Having a consistent feedback program with clients can decrease payment issues. By constantly collecting client perceptions about the service delivery, firms can quickly resolve issues and reduce the firm’s payment issues.
- Misguided or Lacking Process Improvement – Processes deteriorate over time for all kinds of reasons, including addition of new technology, employee turnover, and cutting expenses or resources. Periodically reviewing your processes - whether technological or how staff approach clients or issues - keep staff trained and technology up-to-date. Technology that allows for automatic workflows is an easy way to improve efficiency, decrease redundancy and create consistency. Keep in mind that pursuing too many process improvements at one-time can also be detrimental to the goal. Process improvement must be clearly defined, have an internal champion and sometimes done in stages.
- Treating BD as a Part-Time Lover – For smaller firms especially, business development can be a challenge to juggle getting the business and doing the work. However, if your firm isn’t constantly selling to existing and new clients, your sales pipeline will eventually run dry. Setting goals and monitoring those goals through a CRM system, for example, can provide visibility to ensure business development is consistent.
- Ineffective Risk Assessment – The moment we start a business we run into unpredictability and risks every day. Sometimes leaders don’t even know there is a risk issue. Understanding the risks facing your company – from professional liability issues to growing into a new market – allows you to minimize the risk while still being able to “take a chance”.
- Improper Planning of Disasters - Failure Happens! However, many firms don’t realize until it’s too late that they don’t have an effective backup and recovery solution for their database, email, and network. Even if your firm has a back-up method in place, many times it can’t be deployed quickly. The scary stat is that 60% of all firms that lose their data will close in 6 months. Instituting a Disaster Recovery System that allows for redundant offsite storage and system restoration within a 36-hour period can greatly reduce the chances of complete loss.
Ask yourself, if your consulting firm is committing any of these deadly sins? If so, what can you do about it? Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It would be insane to keep repeating any of these deadly sins.