12 Mistakes that Business Advisors and Consultants Frequently Make.

If you are a sole practitioner in your own Business Consulting or Business Advisory practice, you will recognize that every time you complete a successful assignment, that you need to go out prospecting to win a new client or two. Experienced practitioners anticipate the end of current projects and start their prospecting early, so that they may have a pipeline of future business waiting for them to turn their skills to.

Working in the small and medium business sector from 2008 onwards has been difficult for some sole practitioners, as discretionary spending has dried up in the pool where they have fished successfully in the past. This means that they need to start prospecting far earlier than usual, and they also need to be much more mindful about making mistakes.

So what are the typical mistakes made by Business Advisors and Consultants?

  1. Not pre-screening prospects before you meet them. As a small business owner, you really cannot afford to give away a lot of your time to prospects, which turn out to be time-wasters or tire-kickers. As a skillful practitioner, you are entitled to be paid for your time and experience and you need to avoid potential clients that are really only looking for a free sample. You also need to engage solely with those prospects with whom you believe you can do your best work. You can save a lot of time and heartache by pre-screening potential clients before you agree to meet them.

  2. Giving too much or too little time in get-to-know-you sessions. Once you have pre-screened your prospect (usually by sending them a questionnaire to complete prior to agreeing to a face-to-face meeting), you need to accurately forecast how much time it is likely to take to cover your mutual agenda and make the right impression. If you give too little time, then you risk walking away from the meeting prior to a satisfactory conclusion being achieved. If you give too much time, you risk the prospect taking advantage of your generosity and getting more value than they deserve during a first encounter. This latter instance can make you and your services redundant. By way of an anecdote, I once agreed to give a free four-hour session to a prospective client, and he got so much value from the session that he decided that he did not need to engage me on a paid basis.

  3. Doing free sample sessions instead of finding the hot buttons. The free session should not be a taster that covers all the ground of a paid session. Your job in the free session is predominantly to listen, where the prospect gets an opportunity to articulate what is on his mind and what his expectations are. You need to listen acutely to discover what the underlying or sometimes hidden issues are, before you respond with an offer that is both meaningful and difficult to turn down.

  4. Talking too much about yourself and your services. Your prospect is not really interested in you – he is only interested in himself. Therefore, try to avoid waffling on about yourself and the great things you have done for other clients. If you were not credible from the start, the get-to-know-you meeting would not be happening.

  5. Not having frameworks that explain what you do. Once you have experience as a business advisor, you will find that you will develop frameworks that simplify what you do, and give the prospect confidence that you have a process to follow in addressing their issues. Focus on specific, tangible, emotional wants and worries and promise a result that the prospect desires. Don’t just try to wing it.

  6. Not having a program name. If you give your program a name it will make it more tangible for your prospective clients. For example, you might offer a “business health check” at the beginning of an engagement, which is simply a program name for your discovery process. By taking a method, technique or insight and then naming it, you increase the perceived value dramatically.

  7. Over-complicating your offer and the options you can deliver. Keep it simple and translate the value of what you can deliver into terms that are meaningful for your prospects. It is essential that you help them to understand the value of what you are offering them.

  8. Charging by the hour or by the day instead of a total program cost. Clients often get hung up on hourly or daily rates because they don’t fully understand the value of what consultants deliver. Putting this value in hourly or daily terms just confuses the issue and makes it seem expensive. Return on investment should be the key metric used by clients and it should not matter to them how many hours or days it takes you to deliver the value you promise. The time risk should be entirely yours.

  9. Feeling bad about discussing fees. Even well seasoned consultants and business advisors struggle with talking about money and often get embarrassed when it comes to this stage of the process. A good friend of mine uses a technique called “Double it” to get over these fears. It works like this – think of the value you are delivering to your client and the amount you might charge for your services. Truly believe in the value you can deliver relative to the cost. Then double it and say it our loud – “ It is going to cost you $10,000”. Then double the figure again and say it out loud –“It is going to cost you $20,000”. Then do it a third time. Finally go back to the initial price you wanted to charge and it will seem entirely reasonable to you.

  10. Trying too hard to close the sale. In many ways, you should not care whether the prospect closes the deal with you or not. After all, you have something of value to deliver and you should be ambivalent as to whether you deliver it to this particular prospect or to some other prospect with similar problems. Stand back from the closing process and simply demonstrate your understanding of the situation and how you can solve the business issue. In most cases, the prospect will then do the closing for you. Never appear to be desperate or in fear because the prospect will inevitably sense it from your body language.

  11. Not dealing properly with objections or prospects that don’t commit. Objections are really just points that require clarification. You should in fact welcome them as it gives you the opportunity to demonstrate why it makes sense for the prospect to proceed with an engagement. Understand the specific, emotional, measurable desired outcome that the prospect wants and simply show them how you will deliver. Procrastinators are just evidence of the fact that you did not do your pre-screening properly. You have obviously let a tire-kicker through your client selection process. If they procrastinate, simply be polite, reiterate the value you can deliver, thank them for their time, and move swiftly on to your next engagement.

  12. Taking on clients you know will be problematic just because you need the money. This is always something that will end in tears. If a client has too much leverage over you because you are broke, then you will end up in arguments about fees, arguments about the amount of time you are committing or perhaps suggestions that you are not delivering on the promise. Listen to your gut and have the courage to walk away at the end of the get-to-know-you session. You can always offer to recommend a different consultant that might serve their needs better.

Niall Strickland
CEO GrowthOracle.com