I've been a big fan of Alan Weiss's work for a number of years.
It was probably reading Million Dollar Consulting while on holiday in Hong Kong many years ago that inspired me to go solo.
I don't always agree with everything he says (I suspect Alan would say those are the times when I'm wrong). But his arguments are always well made and based on probably more experience of high level solo consulting than anyone else.
One of the thing's I've heard Alan say on a number of occassions is that “finding the pain” went out with the ark. That it's no way to sell your services.
That had always puzzled me. Finding the pain for me means diagnosing the client's problems and understanding which are the biggest priority (and so motivating them to buy).
I always wondered what he didn't like about it. Perhaps he considered it to be manipulative or something?
Thanks to the power of the web, these days we have a chance to interact with “superstars”, not just read their books. So when Alan repeated this statement on a blog post recently I asked him to elaborate.
His answer was incredibly significant.
His point was not that “finding the pain” was unethical – or even that it didn't work. But that it led to commoditisation. Problem solving to address clear areas of pain is something most organisations have got good at, and that a whole bunch of consultants and coaches can do pretty well.
Or put it this way, lots of car mechanics and engineers can fix a broken engine. But how many can design and build a new one?
Who is it that gets paid the big bucks? Not the guy down your local repair shop.
So by focusing on aspirations and innovation instead you set yourself ahead of the pack. You're not easily copied, and you're not doing work that the client finds difficult to justify paying high fees for because they could probably have done it themselves.
To my mind, this is more important today than it's ever been.
Whether we're talking about decreasing purchasing costs, writing a marketing plan, creating a website or improving your people management skills: 5 years ago if you needed to do it you had a very limited choice of people you could find to help who you were confident would do a good job.
These days you can go online and find decent free guidance, buy a training course, or hire one of a myriad of competent advisors willing to help at highly competitive rates.
So for consultants and coaches, the days of an easy six figure income just because you're skilled in something clients need are over. It's just too easy for clients to find competent help at low cost.
If you do want that six figures and more income then simply solving problems isn't going to be enough. You have to help them innovate. Achieve something they didn't even know was there. Deliver something remarkable the problem-solvers can't match.
Sure, you might have to start by fixing some core problems – find the pain and stop the bleeding in medical terms. But you then have to move on to something much bigger.
If that's making you feal uneasy, it's a good thing. It makes me feel uneasy too because the implications are big.
It means we have to constantly stay at the leading edge of our field. We can't just learn our trade then happily ply it for 20 years.
And it means we have to find the clients that need more than problem solving. That have the appetitie for something bigger.
But it also means we're going to have an interesting and rewarding time doing it.
Image by A Strakey