Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). If you’re in the technology industry, you’re already familiar with these terms. If you’re not in tech, the concept is simple … take what you already do and package it up as a consumption-based service that you can replicate easily to scale across more clients and monetize with a subscription model.
Thus, I present to you Consulting-as-a-Service. But wait … hasn’t consulting always been a service, you ask? Well, yes, in a manner of speaking, consulting is the very definition of a professional service—often upsold with deliverables or campaigns to land the strategy achieved through the practice of consulting. But, the challenge is that consulting, in the traditional sense, isn’t very scalable. In fact, by the time a consultant has gathered the industry experience and professional expertise to legitimately be considered a consultant, that individual becomes a siloed tower of knowledge—highly sought after, but with limited bandwidth to serve a portfolio of clients.
Often, such consultants find themselves in a position where they have more requests for their time than they have time available. In these cases, seasoned consultants will either refer business to others, or attempt to manage a contract with a more junior consultant—often leaving clients frustrated that they are paying for a senior-level resource but receiving junior-level results. Consulting-as-a-Service is a slight variation on this traditional model that enables everyone to be successful.
The trick is that the senior consultant has to be willing to guide, coach, and enable a team of junior consultants to grow, while being completely transparent with clients. Here are five keys to developing a successful Consulting-as-a-Service practice.
1. Hire entrepreneurs
I haven’t always worked for my own company, but I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I’ve always been able to see a path to greater profitability—better service offerings, streamlined processes, improved marketing efforts. For many years, the single source of my dissatisfaction as an employee was that my managers weren’t interested in listening to my ideas—they always told me I was too valuable in my current position and they weren’t open to taking risks that could potentially grow the business … which meant I had no growth potential within those organizations either. I would have been more inspired to have been given a chance to try an idea that was sure to fail than to be told I couldn’t try at all. Likewise, as you set out to grow your Consulting-as-a-Service business, you will need creative, innovative ideas to help you differentiate your consulting offerings. You will also need to be able to replicate yourself—how many times have clients asked for a “carbon copy” of you? Let me share a piece of advice … an entrepreneur (such as yourself) cannot be replicated in the form of a non-entrepreneur. It just doesn’t work that way—two different brain types simply do not think the same way.
2. Trust your team
You are going to have to take some risks. The old adage about the CFO who asks “What if we train our people and they leave?” only to hear the CEO respond “What if we don’t train them and they stay?” is nothing new in the world of employer/employee relations. But, Richard Branson put it best when he said “Train people well enough that they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” When you hire entrepreneurs, you have to know that they are smart, creative, capable individuals who could very well compete with you one day. Companies try all sorts of tricks to force people to stay … non-compete agreements, long-term contracts, threats of litigation. The truth is, if you are trusting your team, valuing their ideas, and fostering a collaborative environment, consultants will be inspired by working with you, and stimulated by working together. Sure, life happens and some consultants will move on to new opportunities. But, if you are actively enabling your consultants to learn and grow and stretch their entrepreneurship skills, while fostering an environment of transparency and trust, fewer of your team members will be actively seeking new opportunities.
3. Control quality
It may sound counter-intuitive that if you trust your team you also need to control the quality of their work. Let me be clear … I’m not talking about micro-management. You don’t have the bandwidth for that. That’s why you are scaling out your consulting services, remember? But, your clients did come to you because they respect and require the quality of work you produce. So, while you are training your junior consultants, it is important that their work receives your seal of approval before it is sent to your client. Because, let’s be honest … without satisfied clients, you don’t have a scalable consulting model.
- Hire professional editors to review and standardize copy.
- Contract with designers who can help polish the work of your consultants.
- Set expectations up front.
- Make it clear that nobody will send content directly to a client without checking all of the boxes of your quality control process.
You can’t look at everything, but you should look at everything at first … for the first few months of every onboarding consultant. Give feedback. Help them improve. Inspect what you expect. And, in the case that you can’t look at it, trust your editors and designers and colleagues to be a second (or third) set of eyes.
4. Know your client’s business
The kiss of death for every consulting agency I’ve ever seen fail is when the account managers disengage from the clients. Your clients hired YOU (and your team), because they want YOU engaged in their projects.
- It’s not enough to swoop in once a month and ask how it’s going with your consultants.
- It’s not enough to scope the project with a client and then hand it off to your team of junior resources completely.
- It’s not enough to lose track of your clients’ business strategies.
- It’s not enough to attend a meeting just to “listen in.”
YOU were hired because YOU add value. Continue to do so. Your team should be shadowing you, learning from you in real time, and learning the business from the ground up. You are still your client’s consultant. Stay engaged.
5. Communicate clearly
Err on the side of over-communication. Let there be no surprises. Clearly define your team’s roles and responsibilities—internally, as well as to the client. Scaling means you cannot be in every meeting or on every call. But if your clients are expecting you to be in those meetings or on those calls and you fail to show up, you risk client dissatisfaction. If your consultants feel like you don’t trust them or are micro-managing their efforts, you risk employee dissatisfaction. You can avoid all of this with clear expectations established from the beginning—in the statement of work, in the job description, in your team’s weekly status reports, client sync meetings, and email communications. Be sure to clarify expectations.
- Articulate your strategic role as the consultant on each project.
- Clarify client expectations—your team members are running client engagements on a daily basis—be sure clients know how to reach each member of your team.
- Establish how often meetings, calls, and status reports will be delivered and by whom.
- Define the escalation path—for clients and consultants.
Establishing a Consulting-as-a-Service model doesn’t require any new consulting skills, but it does require you to polish your leadership abilities as you scale to exceed more client expectations with a team of smart, capable, willing consultants eager to learn from your expertise. If you do it right, your clients will succeed, your consultants will succeed, and you will have more time to enjoy your own success.