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The Consultancy Growth Network

How to grow your consultancy

Launching a consulting business is a remarkable undertaking, as the Growth Experts at The Consultancy Growth Network know only too well, having built and sold our own consultancies. We also know the hard work is only just beginning.

Whatever your current stage of growth, whether you are a team of one or one hundred, generating turnover of £1m or £50m, we’ve pulled together our insight and guidance to help you scale and grow your consulting business. It’s what I wish I had known when I started out and it is written specifically for you, a leader of a boutique consulting firm.

Consultancy growth insights from the experts

While no ‘best’ consulting model or single route to success exists, below we reveal the key tactics and strategies that you can learn from. This insight comes from eight highly experienced Growth Experts in the consulting industry. It’s fair to say we have ‘been there and got the t-shirt’ when it comes to growing, running, and selling our own consulting businesses, as well as having advised hundreds more firms. This guidance, together with The Consultancy Growth Network’s extensive research and benchmark data from 250+ consultancies aims to give you the confidence to build a sustainable, valuable consulting business.

Read on to discover the five most important factors to consider when building your consultancy. You can also access a short and practical ‘how to’ article for each of these five topics by clicking the button under each section.

be market led headline | The Consultancy Growth Network

Be a market-led consultancy

Many consulting firms are founded when someone – or a group of people – leaves an organisation saying, “We’re really good at this. Let’s see if we can sell it in the market and pick up some work”. Does this sound familiar?

Contrast that with the outside-in, market-led approach of an entrepreneur who identifies a gap in the market and asks themselves, “What is the problem I’m trying to solve?”.

Being market-led is naturally more difficult as your consulting firm grows, but it’s crucial if you want to build a sustainable business. Sarah Matthew, Growth Expert at The Consultancy Growth Network explains it like this: “A consulting business starts being customer-focused, then as the business evolves, crystalises and solidifies, it often loses sight of the customer need”.

Whatever the starting point has been for your boutique consultancy, now is the time to check in, revisit your business plan and ask yourself: are you continually making sure your proposition remains highly relevant to market needs and not getting overly distracted with internal process improvement?

With 47% of the consultancies who grew in 2022 putting their growth down to market demand for their proposition (source: Consultancy BenchPress 2022), it’s a great place to start.

What you can do

The latest Consultancy BenchPress report into the UK&I consulting industry reveals that consultancies that build and regularly review a fully integrated business plan significantly outperform those who don’t. Unlock the full potential of your strategic plan by making the time to work consistently hard at implementing it. And be sure to monitor where the market is going so you are ready to adapt to shifts in market dynamics.

Click here for insight into how to be a market-led, not competency-led consultancy

bg quote left dom moorhouse | The Consultancy Growth Network

Dom Moorhouse Growth Expert

Before setting off on my start-up, I took a week of leave from my employer, hid away in my then cramped attic office, and wrote a detailed 80-page plan – capturing my new company’s vision, values, growth objectives, strategies for growth, financial goals and incumbent risks…

Dom continues, “It was, by some margin, the most potent week of my professional life and the resultant artefact became the single most important reference point for everything that followed. I cannot claim that having such a plan will necessarily predicate your future success. I can, however, with confidence, say that not having one is invariably the precursor of meandering mediocrity.

Ensure that this is then regularly updated – as a whole team endeavour (annually makes sense). When it comes to your over-arching commercial ambition, success factor number one is investing the time and energy (and it does take time and energy) to develop your business plan.” Dom subsequently built his business transformation consultancy to £20m in 5 years.

output focused headline | The Consultancy Growth Network

Be output-focused, not input-focused

This comes down to how you define and articulate the value that you create – what you will bring to a client and why you are worth the investment.

As Richard Squire, Growth Expert, explains, “The consulting industry is about value – and what value you bring – more than any other industry. Consultants can be substituted by contractors, and consultancy can be seen as a discretionary service. This is where you have to demonstrate your value, and why clients will continue to engage you time and time again. Head off the question, ‘Surely I can do this myself?’ “.

What you can do

bg quote richard squire | The Consultancy Growth Network

Richard Squire Growth Expert

The biggest challenge for many consultancies is narrowing focus, so decide what you want to be famous for. Make sure you are the people that prospects/clients want to pick up the phone to for that one thing – whether a solution, proposition or model.

Richard continues, “Be important to your clients in the current market. As an SME you can still be a key vendor. Help your clients understand the mutual value you bring. Give mutual support and develop partnership relationships. Then quantify your value and share it with others.”

Once you have clarified the outputs your clients need, build your capability to meet that demand, develop bespoke processes to capture the value you create based on your relevant expertise and before you know it you will become one of the leaders in your niche.

Click here to learn how to be an output-focused, not input-focused consultancy

adapt headline | The Consultancy Growth Network

Define and regularly adapt your proposition

One pitfall that many smaller consulting firms struggle with is that the breadth and depth of their solutions aren’t sufficient to command enough revenue. Growing a consulting firm with lots of small value clients results in making an already difficult journey nigh on impossible.

Think of it this way: let’s assume you’re selling gearboxes. You will need to sell thousands of gearboxes, which can be difficult to manage in the long run. Instead, think of offering a more comprehensive solution that solves the entire problem, much like selling a fleet management service instead of just a part. It’s about developing high-value propositions that can yield large projects with dedicated teams.

What you can do

While building this capability may take some time, aiming for a high-value proposition that requires significant time and effort to implement will help you add to programmes, rather than constantly having to find and sell new ones.

At the same time, take a step back and be very clear about what your proposition really delivers for your clients. As Dom Moorhouse says, “Being clear about your service proposition(s) also entails being very clear about what you are not. So many start ups bleed into an ‘all things for all people’ and shake off this mindset far too late, elongating the feast and famine stage of newer businesses and delaying real sustainable growth.”

It’s a topic I’m passionate about because it underpins so many areas of your business:

  • sales and marketing – your Unique Value Proposition (UVP) is instrumental in helping with your messaging.
  • capability – it drives the kind of people you want to hire into your business.
  • referrals – it means that people can refer you even if they don’t understand the depth and complexity of what you do.
  • products/services – it helps you focus your new product development.
  • intellectual property – it’s much clearer where you should invest in terms of developing your IP.
bg quote left marc jantzen | The Consultancy Growth Network

Marc Jantzen Growth Expert

I’ve worked with some 60+ clients on their growth strategy. I reckon that in 80%+ of cases they lack clarity when it comes to their unique value proposition (UVP).

One particular consulting business owner believes that developing a compelling UVP was instrumental in them doubling their revenue in just 18 months.

Click here for 5 tips on defining and adapting your service proposition

how to be an a team headline | The Consultancy Growth Network

Seek out A-team players

Finding talent is one of the toughest internal challenges amongst consulting firms. Despite this, less than a third of consultancies are accessing the expertise needed to solve this challenge. Many firms are failing to look beyond their existing contacts for talent, and only one in four are investing in a conscious strategy to deliver a great candidate experience.

Instilling a sense of purpose that goes beyond transactional roles is critical to attracting and retaining a new generation of talented employees, making your business more commercially appealing as well as doing the right thing. In addition, as Sarah Matthew, Growth Expert explains, “The more clarity employees have and the better idea of where you’re headed and why you’re on that journey in the first place, the more emotional investment they will have”.

What you can do

First things first, look at your people strategy. As Caroline Boston, Managing Director of New Minds, a Network partner says, “In the simplest terms, a people strategy is the definition of who you need in your business to deliver against the objectives in your business plan and then how you will find them, and what you will do to engage and keep them in order to drive the performance of your business.”

Your employee value proposition must be compelling and align with your values. With ‘change’ an intrinsic aspect of the consulting industry, a calm and strategic approach is much needed, as Growth Expert Marcia Marini explains, “With many businesses growing quickly and transitioning to virtual operations, adapting to change has become a crucial part of the game. It’s essential to become comfortable with risk, even to the point of having an appetite for it. Conduct thorough risk assessments and make calculated decisions. Do a good people plan. Get a good career offer in place and invest in your people’s growth. And if you’re not sure, get expert guidance.” After all, seeking out A-team players is not just about your staff, but your advisers too. Don’t accept mediocrity.

bg quote right marcia marini | The Consultancy Growth Network

Marcia Marini Growth Expert

One of the best pieces of business advice I received was some 20 years ago, when I was growing my first business. We were in our third year of trading, with revenues of £2-3m. My mentor at the time recommended that I set up a board. This was one of the best pieces of advice I ever received and one I now give to my clients…

“We brought in experienced, independent people with complementary experience to ours, people who understood business growth, good governance, business financing, risk management, etc.”

  • We got together once a month for a few hours – with a proper structure, well prepared, with data in our hands and we thought through actions together.
  • Our Executives (including me) were challenged. We got good advice, we felt supported, and we drew on experience we did not have ourselves.
  • The main difference the board made? We simply made better decisions. For example, after a few years, the Board helped us build the courage for, plan, and tender for our largest contract at the time.

Marcia grew her health consultancy to £20m in 7 years.

Click here to discover how to be an A-team consultancy

value your time headline | The Consultancy Growth Network

Value your time – and change how you spend it as you grow

Despite a third of consultancy owners seeking to reduce their chargeable work, the average utilisation rate for a partner is 47%. That’s too high if you’re looking to grow a high-performing consulting business (that is, unless your growth strategy is to continue to add partners to grow your business).

As the founder and leader of a consulting firm, it’s easy to think you don’t have time to work on your business, only in it. But whatever your stage of growth, make sure you make the time to continually evaluate your priorities. It’s essential to regularly ask yourself questions like “Should I be doing this?” and “Is this the best use of my time?”.

By way of example, NextWave Consulting, one of our members, was listed as one of the 100 fastest growing companies in the UK on the prestigious Sunday Times Hundred 2023. Tony Clark, who is Founder and CEO, says “I wanted to scale my business quickly from the outset and I knew my time working on building the business was going to be more valuable than working on project deliveries.”

What you can do

You may need to consider outsourcing or hiring additional staff to lighten the load – if you hire good people, they will free up your time because you don’t do the thinking for them. By creating space in your schedule for evaluation, you can focus on creating value for your business.

Evaluate where you can add the most value and where you enjoy spending your time. Continually assessing your priorities and making conscious decisions can help you stay on track and achieve your goals. While planning does not come naturally to many entrepreneurial individuals, it’s critical to avoid starting too many projects without completing them, as this can increase risk and reduce overall effectiveness.

Finally, make time to celebrate success, review, measure, hold your nerve and continue to invest in your business, from infrastructure to team days.

bg quote right augusto negrillo | The Consultancy Growth Network

Augusto Negrillo Growth Expert

Don’t get fixated on money as the only measure of success because then you end up sacrificing quality for growth. Stick it out. Common sense is often right (and is often missing from the market)!

Augusto adds, “Nothing grows forever. Just as countries are realising that GDP is not enough to measure their success, so businesses are realising it is entirely misleading to look for constant growth for your business as measured by ££. Instead, ask yourself, ‘Is the quality of my business improving?’”.

Click here to find out how to value your time and change it as your consultancy grows

For more detail on these five topics, explore our five short and practical ‘expert top tips’ insights below, and discover key tactics and strategies to help you scale and grow.

be market led tall | The Consultancy Growth Network

How to be a market-led consultancy

output focused tall | The Consultancy Growth Network

How to be an output-focused, not input-focused consultancy

adapt tall | The Consultancy Growth Network

How to define and adapt your service proposition

value your time tall | The Consultancy Growth Network

How to value your time and change it as your consultancy grows

Article | Strategy and leadership

Written by

Marc Jantzen


The Consultancy Growth Network

Follow me on LinkedIn for more insights specifically for consultancy leaders