One of the aspects of The Consultancy Growth Network that our members particularly value is the openness and honesty of our expert advisors.
Recently we put them on the spot by asking what two things they would pay more attention to if they had the chance to grow their consulting business all over again.
Here’s what they said.
Augusto Negrillo – started, scaled, acquired and sold businesses from data and analytics to business and IT transformation
1. Use equity as a tool
“Too late we realised that we had a powerful tool at our disposal that we were ignoring. I now know that it’s a very useful tool to both motivate and attract people. I’ve gone from holding onto it all myself, to giving it to minority stakeholders, to sharing it amongst the whole team. The change was radical. Had I known earlier what its value was as a tool, I would have used it very differently.”
2. Embrace tension
“If can you manage it in a positive way, conflict is a beautiful thing. My board needed to have opinions that were different to mine, because the gold dust existed mostly within the fine lines of compromise.”
Sarah Matthew – entrepreneur and mentor who has scaled and sold two consulting firms. Now a NED, angel investor and coach.
1. Balance the rational and the intuitive
“As my organisation grew, and particularly given that I employed so many scientists, we had an ever-increasing need for rational proof in decision-making. I wish I’d had a better appreciation of how to maintain the invaluable contribution of the right-brain’s confidence, creativity and daring.”
2. Identify your limiting beliefs
“Just like people, organisations can have unconscious limiting beliefs. As successful as my business was, I should have realised earlier how to identify those beliefs. We could have been even more successful had we known them at the time!”
Marc Jantzen – built and sold his consultancy for £10m. Now advises consultancy owners via TheNub
1. Invest more in the business
“We made £1m profit in our first three years and we distributed 100% of it. If we’d taken a longer term view, we would have invested in our methodology, understood the marketplace, developed our proposition, brought in senior people and more.”
2. Strategic partnerships
“We should have taken more time and worked harder to find organisations with whom we could jointly go to market. One particularly complimentary strategic partnership took a lot of effort to secure, but our first project together was £1m. We didn’t replicate that enough.”
Dom Moorhouse – built his consultancy to £20m in 5 years. Author, mentor, NED and angel investor.
1. Network with peers
“As we grew our business, 80% of the challenges we went through were not unique. I realised late that the ability to bounce things off peers is hugely valuable. If I was back in that early stage of my business, I would jump at the chance of being in a broader peer network.”
2. Important others
“I would pay more attention to the gradual attrition of my most important relationships. I would make sure I had a friend outside of work who kept me calibrated. I would give them permission to call me out if I was spending Sunday nights on calls with colleagues when I didn’t really need to.”
Marcia Marini – led the growth and sale of several consultancies. Now holds four NED roles and is a coach and mentor.
1. Internal potential
“I would invest more in the development of loyal staff, with good potential for growth, and recruit from outside only for key strategic appointments. It’s an easy trap to fall into, to think that experience is more important than potential and overlook internal people. In SMEs, creating a path for people to develop their careers within the organisation is essential.”
“I would introduce a board and good governance arrangements in the business at a relatively early stage, and have the good discipline of having key decisions challenged and supported by an experienced non-executive director. It never ceases to amaze me the added value they bring to an SME board.”
David Bailey – professional services advisor since 2009. Built and sold his firm to Hitachi consulting.
1. Internal delegation
“As we grew we were too command and control from the centre. A member of our team, who was running a £140m IT transformation programme for a client, had to come to the board for approval of a £1,000 unbudgeted IT spend. That was a real wakeup moment. In hindsight I would have delegated much more, much earlier.”
“We started out doing a particular thing, then our clients asked us to do more, different things. So we obliged. Before we knew it we had as many proposition as we did consultants. It was such a distraction. We should have kept our focus on what we were best at.”
Chris Parry – steered her consultancy through a series of mergers and acquisitions. Now an investor, NED, mentor and coach.
1. Avoid distractions
“I wouldn’t be dazzled by opportunities that really aren’t! We wasted a lot of time and money on geographical adventures that were impossible to integrate (Chile/South Africa/Qatar!!) and we got distracted by potential partnerships that could never deliver a win-win.”
2. Become CEO
“I would have bitten the bullet and become a full time CEO sooner. Once I focused all my time on the big picture, creating the right culture and developing and mentoring my staff, our business really took off.”
Richard Squire – built and sold two specialist consulting firms. Now a board advisor, Fintech founder and CEO.
1. Create IP
“I would build in a mechanism for creating IP into the consulting services we provided so that we could generate increasing value for clients and our firm.”
2. Support in the sales process
“I would bring in as much support for the executive team as I could as we went through the sales process. It’s really hard to continue to grow a consulting business and increase its value while also trying to sell it to a potential acquirer.”
Article | Operations
Ali El Moghraby
Head of Marketing
The Consultancy Growth Network