Advanced Six Figure Consulting
In 2012, I doubled my revenue. Did I work 2x as many hours? Of course not. I used “pinpoint systems” to surgically improve the most critical areas of my business. Read on to find out how I did it —and how you can use this same system to discover your “Critical Growth Levers.”
It’s funny when you think back to first charging for your services. Remember how it felt? We were nervous…scared…who would ever pay me for my services? How do I find them? What do I say? What do I charge? What if they say no?
And yet, we took the plunge. We found an idea. We overcame our fears and decided to charge money…and clients paid! And over time, we realized we know how to turn our services into income.
But then…we get stuck. We maximize our hourly rate and wonder… where do we go from here? Because even with premium services, there’s a limit to how much you can charge hourly.
We find clients…but they only have a certain budget. (And those are the good ones! Let’s not even talk about the ones who haggle on price over and over.) After the project concludes, we’re back “pounding the pavement” to find more clients. All of this instead of doing the stuff we actually love! How much time do we waste every time a client churns?
And for some of us, we jump from client to client, frantically doing the work, marketing ourselves, perfecting our craft…and knowing we need to grow, but being “stuck.” How am I supposed to grow when there’s only one of me? In the back of our heads, we wonder about “systems” and hiring, but it’s tough to know where to begin. Who do I hire? How do I know they’ll do the job right? How much should I pay?
At a certain point, we find that we’ve built a machine that’s running our lives…not the other way around. We’ve created a monster! If we stop, the entire operation will grind to a halt. We started this to be able to control our lives…but how are we supposed to take a vacation when we have clients to respond to and 10 deadlines to hit? I thought I started this to have more free time…so how is it possible I have LESS free time than ever before?
We’re trading time for money, which is fine to start, but what’s the endgame? How do you grow when there are only 24 hours in a day?
Do we get more clients? (How? We’re already swamped with our clients right now)
Do we charge more? (Sure, but there’s a limit to how much you can charge…right?)
Is there some secret strategy we don’t know about? How do the highest-level consultants do it?
The typical advice sounds logical — but when we try it, we realize there’s something missing.
For example, we’re told to “prioritize.” OK. What does that mean? How do we do it, specifically? How do we say no to clients who’ve stuck with us for years?
I used to take this advice. I’d try tactic after tactic, none of them working, and I’d blame myself: Maybe I’m doing it wrong. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough.
I want to share the worst business mistakes I made as a consultant so you can avoid them. See if you recognize these.
The Top 3 Business Mistakes for High-Level Consultants
Mistake #1: Studying mediocre players
When I started consulting, I obsessively followed what my competitors were doing. How much are they charging? How come they got covered in that newspaper? They get all the good clients.
It drove me nuts. I had Google Alerts set up…I read their blogs and got frustrated that I couldn’t work with the same clients they had (who wants to put in years to get there?).
But years later, with hard work and some luck, I had passed these competitors. I was charging more than 10x what they were charging. I was getting covered in Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times. And I realized:
I’d been comparing myself to the wrong people all along!
In fact, those people charging $20/hour were only doing a little better than I was. But back then, that made them the best to me.
Remember when you were a kid, and your elementary school seemed huge? When you visit it years later, it doesn’t seem so big after all.
Same with these other consultants. They were giants to me…until I passed them and realized, my real competitors are much, much larger.
We look at people who charge $30 or $40/hour more than we do. What about the people who make 5x what we make?
I got jealous when they got press coverage in the local newspaper, or the blogs I read. But they were playing a local game — and only later did I realize the world is a lot bigger than my ZIP code.
I heard about them handing off work to an assistant, and I didn’t even know how to find one. Where do you get an assistant? How much do you pay? I’m not a serious enough “businessman” to hire someone! Years later, I have a full-time recruiter, a sizeable staff, a content team, a support team, a data analyst…and more. We focus on the assistant. But, we never think about how we can build systems to hire amazing people so we can work ON the business, not IN it.
Here’s what I learned: We study who we know. We envy who we know. We model who we know. And, we get jealous of who we know.
But there’s a bigger world out there!
If you’re a designer, you read design blogs. If you’re an analytics consultant, you read analytics blogs. But by limiting ourselves to just the obvious players, we miss out on the true masters — the ones generating 2x, 5x, even 10x per client, implementing systems to hire top performers, and building a business that lets them focus on high-value clients.
In other words, why focus on someone who makes $30/hour more than you…when the very best are earning 10x that?
For most of us, there’s a game being played around us that we don’t even know.
Mistake #2:Nickel and diming
After dealing with time-sucking clients who constantly badgered me with question after question — “it’ll just take a second!” they said — I instituted very strict rules for contacting me. They had to honor X time, Y format, etc.
I essentially treated my early clients as criminals!
Who the hell wants to be treated like that?
So I was fascinated when I visited a luxury hotel in Thailand. The manager greeted me by name with 2 glasses of champagne for my guest and me.
(Hilariously, my guest was my brother. The manager greeted us, two guys who look basically the same, with “Welcome, Mr. and Mr. Sethi.” Does he think we’re a couple? Is this weird? Whatever! I’ll take that champagne!)
Why would a hotel give us champagne, I wondered? How do they measure it? Does it really make us come back and stay more frequently?
Then I realized, I was looking at this all wrong. Because this high-end hotel charges us premium rates, they can afford to give us outstanding, top-of-the-line service.
Because they target the right customers and charge top rates, they don’t have to nickel-and-dime us. In fact, they can provide an incredible experience—and we’re happy to pay.
In my early days, I was caught up in nickel-and-diming. Extra charge for this! Extra charge for that! I didn’t want clients to take advantage of me.
As I became an advanced consultant, I charged much more — hundreds per hour, then thousands per hour. And as I moved to serving clients who could afford to pay these rates, I could offer more services without nickel-and-diming.
You want to talk to me for a quick question? Sure, no charge. You want me to refer my bookkeeper or web designer? Not a problem, happy to help.
If you’re able to move up the value chain, you’ll find that the worries you had fade away. Better clients pay more, pester you less, and take your work seriously. Ironically, as I charged 100x what I used to charge, I got fewer inquiries about “Why did you charge me for that?”
And that’s the point: When you’re able to work with selective clients, they respect your time, you can over-deliver, and you’re paid handsomely for your services. Best of all, these clients exist and they want to pay you top rates — if you can position your services as a top-tier consultant.
Instead of dealing with bottom-barrel clients who negotiate fees, pay you late, and make you dread dealing with them, you can start working with premier clients — the ones who WANT your help, WANT to listen to your expertise, and WANT to pay on time.
Mistake #3: Staying tactical
I walked into a meeting with a CEO who was considering hiring me. I’d prepared my Briefcase Technique and I was ready to wow them. So when he said, “How will you increase our revenues?” I had my answer ready.
The only problem was…within seconds, his eyes were glazed over. I’d lost his attention (and I lost the deal).
I made this mistake time and time again.
Only years later was I able to realize why. He wanted to know how I could help them increase their revenue. I answered with pointless tactical minutiae like, “It would really help you to add graphics to your emails!” and “Research shows that removing XYZ on your signup form will increase signups by 16%.”
So? How are those tactical tips going to affect the bottom line? Those are tactical tips. For the price I wanted to charge, I had to offer STRATEGIES with a variety of tactics. Unfortunately, as I was moving up, I was “stuck” in a tactical mindset.
How many of us do this? Every day, we worry about responding to all our emails…we remind ourselves we “should” post on social media…we go to yet another networking event…we obsess over sending that email to a prospect…and on and on, spinning our wheels.
You want to know how this plays out?
Years ago, I hired a very talented guy to help me build my initial IWT systems. At first, he did a great job helping me launch two courses. I realized this could be a serious business, so I started thinking bigger. I began reading strategy books. I wanted to grow the business by 2x, 5x, even more — and it was very possible!
I told him my goals: I want X more customers and Y revenue. “Come to me with recommendations,” I told him. He said “Sure” and came back a couple weeks later.
Unfortunately, his recommendations were all tactical. He wanted me to change the copy in paragraph 2. Okay…that might help on a micro-level, but how would that help me drive a 25% increase in revenue?
As my business scaled, he wasn’t able to — he was stuck in tactical hell. After I told him he needed to scale with the business, he couldn’t. I had to let him go.
We all do this. You know how to get 1 or 2 clients. What’s next? Why are we still doing the same things we did a year ago? What got us here won’t get us to the next level.
We focus on the tactical parts of our own business — our email copy, our calendar, even our 3 clients — without thinking of the BIGGER PICTURE.
How are we going to grow? How are we going to build the right systems so we can handle more clients, do better work, charge more…and live a lifestyle we want?
While most of your competitors are focused on pointless tactical minutiae, the very best consultants understand how to pick 3-5 key drivers to relentlessly focus on…ignoring the rest while becoming world-class at the very few, critical strategies that actually matter.
They don’t do it by trying harder. (There are only so many hours in the day.)
They don’t do it by coming up with some blinding insight. (Successful business are steady, boring, and highly profitable.)
Here’s how they do it…
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