What the Interim Executive Needs to Know Before Consulting
Whether independently developing a management consulting practice or striking out on your own as an interim executive, the challenge of finding clients remains the same. Here’s what not to do…
By far the biggest question an interim executive has when considering the development of an independent consulting practice is where to find clients. Most find clients from past associates and connections that need help with their business. This lasts a few months to a year. Then it’s ‘now what?'. How do you develop a regular flow of clients when you don’t have a well-known personal brand and years of past client history to draw from?
The first thing to understand is that you need to be able to find, close, and deliver engagements to be revenue sustainable. If you are only interested in delivering, then you’ll likely be looking at a much smaller paycheck, but it’s worth considering an established consulting firm as there are few options in which you’ll be able to replace your income, if any. Also, realize that senior executives with the ability to deliver an engagement at this level are a dime-a-dozen and easy to find by those who can close business. If you’re only interested in delivering, you have lots of competition, less control over your work, and will make less income.
Secondly, if you are acquiring your own engagements, you won’t find any client lists out there to access. That is unless you’re willing to sacrifice autonomy, flexibility, and significant income to join either a Big-5 firm or one of the many smaller boutique firms (in which the coveted Senior Partner position is compensated mostly on the finding and closing of business anyway). If you’re interested to create an independent practice however, the greatest and most frequent opportunities are at the small to medium market level; the companies with revenues between a few million and a few hundred million. These companies don’t advertise their issues and definitely aren’t receptive to cold calling strategies.
Another common client development myth that I hear about from interim executives:
“There are companies that will plug me into engagements.” While some companies purport to be a middleman between small to medium business and the interim executives that they are looking for, the reality is that middle-market CEOs are not comfortable with the idea of someone simply coming in from the outside to help them grow or turn their company around. It takes a high degree of comfort and trust before these CEOs are willing to even discuss the problems in their company, and most will not reach out for help from people they aren’t familiar with or referred to. Where you may find a prospective client or two through a middleman, it’s important to know going in that you’re not likely to find enough opportunities to develop a consulting practice around, much less replace the income from full time positions. It’s a long list of people that have gained nothing from paying into companies that promised leads or engagements, but didn’t deliver either. Given the high standard middle market CEOs have for choosing whom they will work with, it's simply not practical to expect consulting or placement companies to regularly bring engagements to support your consulting practice, no matter how much you pay them!
Where you may be plugged into an engagement or two, it’s necessary to have your own business development 'engine' as your default.
What are your thoughts?