Getting Started in Consulting by Alan Weiss

My Notes on “Getting Started in Consulting” by Alan Weiss:getting started

Ten Traits

    1. Humour and perspective. Retain objectivity. Humour is a sign of high intelligence and mental agility.
    2. Influence. You have to be able to speak formally and informally in such a way that you can command a room or persuade an individual.
    3. Confidence and self-esteem. The greatest danger to the start-up venture in this profession is a lack of self-esteem. If you don’t believe you can help others, no one else will believe it. And if you don’t manifest it, no one else will see it.
    4. Fearlessness. Different from confidence. This is the ability to walk away from business you don’t want and buyers you don’t like. Nothing increases credibility (and business) like standing your ground or disagreeing when you have better information and insights and offer a differing view.

  1. Rapid framing. Is the ability to quickly summarise the issues – not to propose solutions, which are premature in early meetings – so that the discussion can focus rapidly on the next steps.  Many clients aren’t sure themselves how to articulate their concerns and needs, and the consultant who can do so for them becomes a partner and solidifies the relationship. The best answers can come from within in which case you are a facilitator to pull it out, keep the project on course, prioritise the solutions and hold the team accountable to implementation.
  2. Value generation. Most consultants make the mistake f zealously guarding what they consider to be their intellectual property. Provide real value with from the initial contact that creates a subliminal message “If I’m getting this much from our preliminary discussions, how much would I gain if I actually hired this person?”
  3. Intellect. Use examples, paraphrase, historical analogies, recognise weakness in an argument, ask penetrating questions. To be seen as at least a peer and probably as an invaluable asset.
  4. Active listening.
  5. Instantiation. Is making abstract examples and concepts tangible
  6. Bang-bang responsiveness. Promise 90-minute responses to all phone calls. Don’t leave it a few days.  State that promise on your voicemail to create an expectation for the caller and a commitment for yourself. If you only have a few moments, return the call and set an appointment to have a lengthier discussion. People greatly appreciate the mere thoughtfulness in getting back to them quickly.

10 Time Investment Tips

  1. Integrate your professional life and your personal life. You only have a single life. Don’t compartmentalise to create standard work days. If you think of an article idea at 9pm on Sunday evening, go for it. If you have a family occasion on Tuesday morning, go for it.
  2. Use lists to create forward progress.  Integrate personal and professional needs on the list, so that your life and business are moving forward together, and you’re not leaving one behind to advance the other.
  3. Don’t do things that are easily delegated and/or for which you aren’t’ skilled. Eg lawyer, accountants, or a student for research. Place a premium on your time.
  4. Don’t dally over low-priority decisions. Make a decision and move on. Don’t agonise over the look of your business card. They can always be change later.
  5. Do what feels right at the time. Don’t sit uselessly at your desk and force yourself to make phone calls if the spirit doesn’t move you. Likewise, don’t watch TV at 8pm if you have energy to burn.
  6. Maintain a sanctum sanctorum. Ensure focused work space.
  7. Spend money to maximise efficiency. Call waiting, voice mail, speed dial, high speed copier, laser printer are all investments and time savers.
  8. Be selfish with your personal time. Tell people on the phone that you’re busy and can spare only a minute. Tell your family you need another hour to finish what you are doing.
  9. Plan your long-term time investment. Start with the deadline and work backwards to plan large projects.
  10. Allow for the unexpected. Build in slack time.

“Working for yourself is like being in group therapy, with your clients as the group. They are constantly giving feedback. The better the relationship with the client the richer the feedback!”

Components of a Press Kit for prospective clients

  1. Presentation folder
  2. Results a client can expect. Prospects don’t care how good you think you are; they care about how they might benefit if they hired you. So include the heading “typical client results” or “benefits of our approaches”. State these as client outcomes, not as your inputs. Eg “Accelerate sales and build business” not “Lead sales training programme”
  3. Testimonials. If you don’t have any yet, start by asking everyone you do related work for, for a testimonial, or do pro bono work.
  4. Biographical Sketch. A brief description of who you are, not a resume. Keep it simple, honest and relevant. Don’t be afraid to use some humour. It will also double as an introduction when you speak, and/or can be distributed to people in your meetings and presentations.
  5. Position Papers. Aka “white papers”, are a powerful marketing tool for beginners. It’s your firms’ position on an issue in an area about which you consult.
  6. References. Use character references when you are new. Fill up one piece of paper with references including all contact details. The more references you provide, the less likely the prospect is to call any of them.

How to Network

  1. Learn who will attend, create a target list of prospects.
  2. Begin casual conversations during the gathering to identify your targets and to learn who else could be of help to you.
  3. Introduce yourself to people without describing anything about your work and simply listen to them.
  4. When one on one, offer something of value based on what you’ve heard. Eg suggest a book or a website or promise that you’ll send an article by email on the subject, or ask permission to give their name to some people that might need their services.
  5. If you’re asked what you do, provide succinct responses. Eg “I assist clients in improving their marketing strategy so they get more customers”.  If they ask for more or ask how, turn it back on them and ask them “Well, if you tell me something about the issues you are facing, I’ll show you how the approaches may apply specifically to you.”
  6. Exchange cards. Write what you promised on the back
  7. Immediately (the next morning at the latest), deliver what you promised.
  8. In a week or so follow up to see if the value you provided them with worked out. Ask if there is anything further along those lines that might be helpful. Summarise or reaffirm your offer of further help.
  9. In a few weeks, send still more value
  10. If the other party replies with a thankyou, then get back to them and suggest a brief meeting. Simply say that you’d like to learn more about what they do and also get their advice about what you do

“Offer a specific service to a predetermined-sized market (i.e. based on revenues). Don’t offer everything to everyone and burn out, stick with 1 or 2 areas of specialisation”

Pro Bono Work

Confine pro bono work to nonprofits, never for profit making organisations. Otherwise it will stereotype you as a desperate consultant who will work for nothing for exposure only, and will present difficulties if you ever want to bid on a project with them.

Volunteer for tough jobs like fund-raising and seeking corporate sponsorship so you will have the opportunity to meet more potential buyers.

Tip for writing content for listings:

Don’t talk about how good you are, demonstrate how clients will benefit eg “Our clients are able to deliver their message crisply and powerfully to potential customers and the media.” Instead of “We provide superb presentation skill coaching”

Marketing Methods

  1. Website
  2. Commercial publishing in books or magazines for a fee or royalty
  3. Self publishing
  4. Media interviews for print, cyberspace, radio & television
  5. For print: suggest to your local newspaper or trade association newsletter that you have an interesting story to tell (Like how I quit my job to start consulting). Think of their readers. Provide an angle or slant that the editors will look on as novel.
  6. For radio and television, talk shows are thirsty for topics and personalities. If you are told that “It’s not something we can use right now”, ask what topics are of interest, so that you can adjust your approach
  7. Public speaking. Start with associations whose membership and meeting themes are relevant to your work. Write to the executive director in a letter and enclose your press kit. Suggest why your topic and techniques would be of immense help to the association membership. (Tape your presentations for use as marketing aids later)
  8. Newsletters. Should not be blatantly promotional. No one is interested in taking their precious time to read about how good you are, what clients you’ve worked with, where you’re speaking, or your latest merit bade. What people want to read about is how they can improve, personally and professionally. Write 3 or 4 in advance. Cite other books, articles, websites and useful resources. Encourage readers to write with letters, questions and comments, and include the pertinent ones in future issues.

“It takes money to make money. If a $500 ad creates $10,000 in business, you’ve done better than the stock market”

Initiating the sales process and acquiring business

Selling consulting services is about creating relationships, not about making sales calls.

5 key principles for acquiring business:

  1. It’s totally dependent on building solid relationships, not making sales
  2. Relationships are with people, not with organisations
  3. Build the relationship by placing yourself in the buyers shoes and think from the outside in
  4. The buyer doesn’t care how good you are; they only care what’s in it for them, so focus on business outcomes, not methodology
  5. Trust is the key to strong and healthy relationships. Engender trust by demonstrating that you have their best interests in mind

Find the right buyer

  • What is the value-added that you bring to clients?
  • Who is likely to write a cheque for that value?
  • How do you reach that person?
  • The economic buyer is not always identifiable by hierarchical title.
  • It is self-defeating and futile to attempt to develop long-term relationships with non-economic buyers, no matter how friendly, promising, or likable they may be (a chronic mistake of new consultants)


  • Gatekeepers can be wonderful people. However, they see their jobs as shielding the buyer, and your job is to get to the buyer
  • Convince the gatekeeper that it is unfair of you to allow the gatekeeper to serve as your marketer, and that the two of you should devise a plan to approach the true buyer.
  • You have to be certain that the buyer is not expecting things that you can’t deliver, and that the buyer is clear on the degree of support, sponsorship, and resource commitment required internally.

The attributes of your relationship with the buyer:

  • Honesty and candour. You and the buyer feel comfortable disagreeing
  • Peer-level perception. You are a peer who is jointly evaluating with the buyer whether a business relationship will be mutually beneficial.
  • Patience to develop. Sometimes you can hit it off immediately, sometimes it takes months
  • Respect. You can agree to disagree, you respect the buyers value and intent, and the buyer respects your approach and professionalism
  • The aforementioned trust

Questions to ask to gain conceptual agreement

  1. What are the objectives to be achieved through this project?
  2. How will we measure progress and success?
  3. What is the value or impact to the organisation?
    Only by obtaining the buyers assessment of the value to the organisation of the objectives being met can you generate:

    • Leverage to guarantee the buyer’s continuing sponsorship
    • The commitment of organisational resources
    • The proper priority among other client activities
    • Justification for your fee

“If you don’t work with the prospect to determine the worth of the project, you have no basis upon which to establish value-based fees. If you charge by the hour or time unit as a consultant, you’re an amateur who will never be very successful in this profession.

Questions to establish value

  • What would be the impact or result if you did nothing at all?
  • What would happen if this project failed?
  • What does this mean to you, personally?
  • What is the difference for the organisation/customers/employees?
  • How will this affect performance and productivity?
  • Who will this affect profitability/market share/competitive advantage?
  • What is this currently costing you annually, and what might you save or gain?
  • What is the impact on return on investment/equity/sales/assets?

Create a succession of small “yeses”

  • A series of small closes are a series of small “yeses”
  • Never attempt to sell a project, service, product, or approach over the phone. Sell the initial meeting. Get a small yes.  At the meeting get some agreement on basic values, the beginnings of a relationship, and the willingness to meet again on more substantive issues. Several small “yeses”. At the next meeting get conceptual agreement, and then agreement to entertain a proposal.
  • To accelerate you way through the process and small yeses, provide value to the prospect early and often. You want them to think “If I’m getting this much value from this consultant already, what would I get if I hired him?” Some consultants feel that they should share virtually nothing unless they are paid for it. Wrong. Predispose them to formalising it.

How to provide value early in the relationship

  • Provide experiences similar to the buyer’s from elsewhere
  • Offer suggestions (not solutions) from experience, reading, research
  • Refer books, articles, websites of relevance
  • Provide contacts or references who have experienced similar issues
  • Provide a concise description of what you’ve heard, with analysis
  • Ask questions to help clarify the issues and problems
  • Provide reactions to what the buyer is already doing well.

The nine steps of great proposals

  1. Situation appraisal
    • Reminds the buyer of the nature and urgency of the issue to be addressed, and gaining a connection with your prior conversations and conceptual agreement
  2. Objectives
  3. Measures of success
  4. Expression of value
    • It’s vital for fee acceptance that the buyer be intimately and emotionally connected with the benefits to the organisation (and to the buyer) so that the fees that appear later in the proposal are seen as appropriate and even a modest investment for the perceived value return. Otherwise, the fees will be seen as costs and will be attacked to try to reduce them.
    • Costs are always subject to attempts at reduction, but investments are almost always justified if the return is perceived to be significant and proportional.
    • The value that the organisation will derive from the successful completion of this project will include but not be limited to:
      • Decline in overheads and admin expenses through xyz
      • A growth in the customer base of x %
      • Additional revenues because of xyz, at a growth rate of x%
  5. Methodologies and options
    • Provide the buyer with an overview of the varying ways you may address the issues (not deliverables). Present 3 options. Explain to the buyer that there are several ways to achieve the objectives, that all of them will work, but that some options provide more value than others.  Offer the buyer a choice of “yeses” in the form of increasing value, to migrate them up the value chain to more expensive fees.
  6. Timing
  7. Joint accountabilities
    • One of the most frequent causes of a consultant’s being accused of not doing a good job is that the client actually didn’t support the project as agreed or didn’t supply resources in a timely manner. Stat what is the clients responsibility. State your responsibilities. State joint responsibilities.
  8. Terms and conditions
    • You want to prolong the head nodding in agreement right through the fee section. Cite the fees clearly and in an unqualified manner. Cite expense reimbursement policy in the same way, also stressing what is not gong to be billed.
    • “One-half of the fee is due upon acceptance of this proposal, and the balance is due 7 days following the completion of the project”
    • “We do not bill for fax, courier, administrative, work, telephone, photocopying, or related office expenses.”
    • Conditions: The quality of our work is guaranteed. Once accepted, this offer is non-cancellable for any reason, and payments are to be made at the time specified. However, you may reschedule as your business needs may unexpectedly dictate without penalty and without time limit, subject to mutually agreeable time frames in the future.
  9. Acceptance

Don’t provide the initial proposal in person if you can avoid it, to give the buyer time to read it and think about it.

If the buyer says that your fees are too high – for all of your options – do not offer to lower fees. Instead, offer to reduce value. All buyers want to reduce fees, but they seldom want to reduce value.

How to handle Scope Creep: “I’ll be happy to add that, but since it’s not within our current scope, I’ll get a new proposal to you tomorrow which will cover that.”


  • Always work on a project fee or value-based fee.
  • Always demonstrate to the client that this arrangement is in the clients best interest.
  • Charging by the hour is ethically questionable and a direct conflict of interest, because the more you work, the more you get paid, and there really is no impetus or benefit to resolving the client issue rapidly

Ways to increase fees

  1. Establish the fee collaboratively with the client. Work through the objectives, measures, value sequence so the fee in the investment
  2. Base fees on value, not tasks. Don’t’ specify how many of each task you will perform
  3. Never, ever use time as the basis of your value
  4. Don’t stop with what the client wants, but pursue what the client needs.
  5. Think ahead to the fourth sale. Don’t be overly greedy.
  6. Engage the client in the diagnosis – don’t be prescriptive. Don’t confront the client with set solutions, pigeon-holed responses, and off-the-shelf products.
  7. Never voluntarily offer options to decrease fees.  Be confident in your own work, don’t undermine your fee and your credibility
  8. If forced to reduce your fee, reduce the value
  9. Provide options every time
  10. Always provide an option that is comprehensive and over their budget
  11. Ask the questions that guarantee higher fees: “What are your objectives?” Always begin with end results that can be equated with a value and demonstrateable return to the client
  12. Broaden the objectives as appropriate to increase value
  13. Ensure that the client is aware of the full rang eof your services. Not a laundry list of options, rather provide examples of how you have worked (or a capable of working) with other clients.
  14. Subcontract minor parts of the proposed project beyond your competence, talent or interests
  15. Ask yourself “why me, why now, why in this manner?” If you are virtually alone in your ability to provide a service due to unique talents, experiences, timing etc, you are much more valuable
  16. Determine how many other quotes the buyer is getting
  17. When the buyer insists on nailing down rates to a daily rate, respond “I don’t know. In your best interest  I don’t have a daily rate. I can’t provide you with an estimate of costs until I learn more”
  18. Raise your fees as your value, experience increases
  19. Find out what consultants are charging and what clients are paying. Decide your level: low-end, mid-range, high-end.
  20. Psychologically, higher fees create higher value in buyer’s perceptions
  21. Vlaue can include subjective as well as objective measures. Eg “Higher moral would be priceless to me”
  22. Introduce new value in existing clients to raise fees within those accounts
  23. At least every 2 years jettison the bottom 15 percent of your business. They hold you back from growing, don’t pay well, tie up time
  24. Start with payment terms maximally beneficial to you every time.
  25. Never accept payment subject to conditions to be met upon completion. They will find something wrong, and since you’ve already done the work, you will have no bargaining chip at all.
  26. Focus on improvement, not problem solving. Anyone can solve problems.
  27. Provide proactive ideas, benchmarking and best practices
  28. Practice stating and explaining your fees
  29. Always be prepared to walk away from business

The ideal project is one after which the buyer says “that was a bargain” and you say “I was well compensated”

Never stop marketing. The creating of a long-term successful practice is dependent on marketing, not delivery. Schedule it in to every week.

How to Generate Passive Income

  • Obtain ISBN numbers for all products and make sure they are carried by and other internet providers and others. (For newsletters ISSN)
  • Take pains to create and maintain timeless products. Don’t use examples with dates, or examples that can easily be dated.
  • Include product catalogues as a normal part of your press kit, speech handouts, client info, and other packages
  • Be contrarian. Stand out from the crowd with different points of view. Challenge the potential buyer

Investing in longer term potential

  • Become a trade association leader
  • Publish a column. A column will provide credibility, leads, reprints, exposure to additional publishing opportunities, the core material for a book, introduction to people in the media, and very high visibility.
  • Develop into a professional speaker. Clients don’t want to educate a lot of people about their business. One person who can do many things is that much more valuable and economical to them.

Paid to learn

  • The wonderful thing about the profession of consulting is that you are paid to learn, which make you more valuable to the next client, who will pay you even more to learn still more

Working for Retainer

Retainers are simply variants of project fees. Never guarantee a number of days for a retainer relationship. Simply promise to be available as a resource. Minimum of 90 day retainers. 30 days before the end, talk with the client to determine whether to extend it for another similar period.

How to get your first clients

  • Make a list of everyone you know, no matter how distantly or casually: colleagues from old jobs, alumni, past clients, store owners you’ve patronised, extended family, professionals you employ, friends locally and removed, professional association colleagues, neighbours, sports colleagues, elected representatives.
  • Contact every one by email, or phone, or mail. They really don’t know what you do, so tell them.
  • “I’m writing to you because… my purpose is to provide small businesses and nonprofits with marketing that they simply don’t have time for. If I can be of help to you directly, contact me, in addition if you know of anyone who could benefit from the value I’m delivering, I’d greatly appreciate your passing on those names to me… learn more on my website… I’ll be in touch again as I increase my customer base and add new services… thanks in advance”

Target 12 dream customers. Write a letter to them with the following components:

  • Focus on clear and high value need “my impression is that you are facing unprecedented challenges…”
  • Include specific techniques and help “enclosed is one of our position papers…”
  • Cited a specific contact point “I will call you at 10…”
  • Use very little time and ask for very little time “…to determine if the position paper is helpful…”
  • Suggested additional resources and value “… and if you would like additional resources sent, and how we might best pursue the discussion”

“Create a list of the ideal prospect traits.  This will ensure that you focus on the most promising areas of potential business, and that you are selecting and not settling for your prospects.”

0 Replies to “Getting Started in Consulting by Alan Weiss”

  1. Hi Sheldon, thank you for such comprehensive notes. I’m not sure I could’ve done it this well. This sure will save a lot of time reading the book.

    Have a good day.

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