Starting a consulting firm has been great fun and a surprising, sometimes frustrating, but fulfilling and rewarding experience. In this blog post, I share my ten learnings from my first-and-a-bit year of becoming a consultant and running Asamby Consulting.
#1 I didn’t have much love for consultants. Now I love being a consultant.
When I was working for a larger corporation and especially when running my first own company, I always used to say:
A consultant is someone who takes a look at your watch and tells you what time it is.
And I meant that in the most disrespectful way. But then, during a phase of a professional reorientation, when I looked into my drivers and things that motivated me, I found that “Helping people” was a big one for me.
So I became a management consultant.
And I must admit, I was wrong about my initial assessment. Especially for my consulting focus, where I work with companies between 5 and 100 employees, the value I can generate and the progress I see most of my clients make is lovely.
I still believe that there’s a large number of consultants who are overpaid and consider a pretty slide-deck a successful project. However, especially smaller organizations sometimes need some outside input and some hands-on support.
And also, for myself, I love the insights into different industries, different organizational models and different leadership styles.
Today I am proud to be a management consultant.
#2 For small organizations, you often can’t separate consulting from coaching
In most cases, I work with the founder or owner of the company. The organization they have built is usually an evident reflection of their understanding of leadership and management.
Therefore, organizational change is, in many cases, not possible without starting with the leader. As this holds for any organization, it is essential for the often leader-centric early stages of a business.
In many of my projects, there’s a blurred line between consulting (analyzing, developing solutions, and implementing) and coaching. Counterintuitively, this is especially true for clients who want to detach themselves from the operational side of things. The owner’s understanding of control and decision-making is often reflected in the organization, so to remove the owner as a bottle-neck, it is necessary to develop trust in the team.
#3 More often than not, communication is the problem
I recently had an interesting chat with an MBA student. He asked me where I derive the knowledge to consult clients from a large variety of industries. Here’s the thing: My focus on operations, organizational behaviour and strategy execution does not require in-depth industry knowledge in most cases.
My clients are usually very good at what they do – they know a ton about e-commerce, digital marketing, social media marketing, games development or dentistry. Their profession and industry-specific work are not why they seek outside help.
Instead, it’s the challenges of managing a growing organization that create problems. Most of my clients are remote-first or remote-only organizations, so I found that communication (or a lack thereof) is a ubiquitous challenge. Helping clients solve these kinds of problems does not require you to have in-depth industry knowledge. It helps to understand the mechanics of their business model quickly, though.
#4 If I had to choose three things I would recommend to any business owner, it would be these
TALK TO PEOPLE
My most frequent recommendation is to implement a regular meeting structure between the owner and the team. Today’s asynchronous communication tools like email or chat leave many of my clients feeling that they communicate extensively with their teams. Often they do.
But in many cases, there’s no regular verbal communication between the individuals, which creates a lack of alignment. Also, the bottom-up flow of information is likely non-existent when there are now 1:1 or team meetings in place. So implementing (and sticking to) a regular meeting schedule with the team is frequently a game-changer.
IMPLEMENT A CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT PROCESS
Helping your organization to learn and establish a constant process of solving problems for the future will be one of the most important things you can do for your business. Many business owners struggle because it is always them that have to put out fires, that have to create new fields of business or to work on new processes. Suppose you can create a learning organization ti will do the learning and improvement for you. Establishing a continuous improvement process and mindset will be a big part of this. Constant training is another.
ALIGN YOUR ORGANIZATION BEHIND YOUR STRATEGY
I use Objectives and Key Results for myself and have implemented them with some of my clients. They’re a simple tool to ensure that the company objectives are broken down into actionable steps for each department and individual. Especially for growing organizations, making sure everyone is moving in the same direction is difficult, even more so for remote organizations.
5 If you deliver the right value, your price point doesn’t matter so much
It might seem obvious, but especially when starting new in a service-based industry, I found it very beneficial to resist the temptation to compete by price. Asamby consulting is financially stable and can invest in growth because I can charge premium rates.
I can charge premium rates because the value I deliver is worth more than the client has to pay for my services. So, in the end, it is a classical ROI calculation. This relation between the value created and the cost is what counts for my clients. I had clients who hired me after working with a cheaper consultant, but it didn’t yield the results they were looking for.
To deliver great value and results, there are a few critical things: Constantly learn and improve your skills and approaches. Listen to the client and don’t try to apply a prebuilt model you have in mind, but always stay focused on solving their problem. And, especially for smaller organizations, always have one eye on implementation and adoption. Don’t get fancy, but keep it simple and involve the client’s team.
6 Knowing isn’t doing
My clients are getting bombarded with ads for online training, e-books and other informational products. There’s a narrative among today’s online-focused entrepreneurs that service isn’t scalable and only products are cool. And if you’re still in the service industry, you just haven’t found the right approach to productize your service yet.
While this approach is not wrong, it leads to an overload of information available and a shortage of personal relationships, attention and real help.
As Tony Robbins says, knowledge isn’t power – using knowledge is. Many of my clients have taken online courses to work on fields they identified as opportunities. But it just didn’t stick.
This is why my approach to consulting is heavily implementation-focused. Because my clients often know what they need to do, they just need some help implementing it. My experience is that when you genuinely care about your clients and their success, it is a scarce thing these days. Can’t get that from an online course.
7 If you think you have understood a problem, ask more questions
We, humans, tend to jump to conclusions prematurely. We have a hard time seeing a problem as it is without phrasing it already as a possible solution. How often have you heard yourself saying: I should work out more. This is framing the actual problem (I don’t get enough exercise) as a solution.
The same thing happens in business. And where it generally could be a good thing to think in solutions and not in problems, it has its downsides. It will prevent you from seeing the actual problem because, at the first layer of symptoms, you stop digging to come up with a solution.
Throughout my work as a consultant, I have found it both tremendously hard and super necessary to stick to learning mode longer than you would intuitively think. Especially in the first projects, I found myself saying things like “Ohhh, now I got it” when presenting the first draft of a solution and hearing the client’s feedback. I just didn’t dig deep enough in the first round.
8 Remote relationships can be as intense as onsite ones – even without video
For personal and practical reasons, I have started my consulting firm solely remote. A move that paid of big-time in 2020. But even besides the necessity of working remotely during Covid, I learned a lot about remote work. First and foremost, I experienced that remote organizations can develop a similar coherence and dynamic as ordinary ones – it just works differently.
And the biggest surprise was that whether you use video in your calls or not does not necessarily have an impact on the quality of relationships you’re building. Sure it helps, but you can create great relationships without having seen a person. Mutual respect, challenging and exciting tasks and a shared mission will form a team, regardless of whether you watch your own little picture on the screen during a call or now.
9 It’s all about the relationships
Your work as a client, the success you can generate at your clients’ as well as your own success depends on the quality of your relationships with your clients. And while this makes it harder to scale a consulting firm than a product business, it also is one of the most rewarding parts of what I do.
I love working with and for my clients, helping them find sustainable and scalable solutions to their problems. And I love seeing the actual adoption of new practices and results. Also, I usually stay in contact with many of my clients for quite some time after completing the assignment.
I am convinced that it all comes down to this: When you are in any service-based industry, the people are what matters. Honestly care about your clients, and you will be successful.
10 Everything is compounding
One of the fundamental effects of life and business life is the compounding effect was also very present with everything related to Asamby Consulting: Little, seemingly insignificant steps over time add up to something great. This has three implications for me:
First, stick to what you do for a while. Give each positioning, marketing or sales channel a chance to develop traction. For some things, this takes a few weeks, then, for others like SEO, it takes months over months.
Second, understand that certain things get easier over time. Getting your first client without reputation or referrals is hard. But as you accumulate reviews and build a reputation, things get easier. But don’t worry, there’s an unstoppable supply of difficult things to master.
Third, just start – and start early. If you want to achieve something, just get started today. No matter if it will take you a year to accomplish, just imagine yourself in that years’ time being upset that you hadn’t started a year ago. Just go and do it.
These are my Top 10 takeaways from my first year running Asamby Consulting.
I am excited to hear about your learnings when starting something entirely new.