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David vs. Goliath: 3 Ways Consultants and Small Consulting Firms Win

By Michael Zipursky

As a small consulting firm or independent consultant have you ever felt you can’t compete with a larger firm?

Have you found yourself shying away from going after larger clients and new business opportunities because you think you can’t compete?

Over the last 17+ years in the consulting business I’ve heard this concern from many consultants.

Don’t lean back and shy away. Instead lean in and share with the buyer why your expertise will help them to solve their problem and why you can do that better than anyone else.

Here’s how you can compete and win against larger firms

1. Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses.

Too many consultants try to compensate for their weaknesses. Instead they should be focusing on what makes them unique and WHY they are so well positioned to add value.

2. Be confident.

When a buyer says “you haven’t worked in our industry before” don’t go on the defensive or get knocked down.

Instead respond with “You’re right, that’s exactly why you need me.”

I remember being in a meeting with a large insurance company once when one executive questioned my lack of insurance experience. My response: “You’re right, that’s exactly why you need me. You guys have plenty of insurance experience. You don’t need me for that. I’m here because Mark (the partner) asked me to help you with your marketing and to attract high net-worth clients, which is my expertise.”

I then went on to tell him about the results I created for other companies – even when I didn’t have the subject matter expertise. He got the point and the project was won for well over $100,000.


Don’t lean back and shy away. Instead lean in and share with the buyer why your expertise will help them to solve their problem and why you can do that better than anyone else.

3. Turn a negative into a positive.

Buyers of consulting services often believe a large consulting firm is a safer bet. But what they often don’t consider (and that you should mention) is that a larger firm will also:

  • Deploy a group of junior consultants with less experience
  • Those consultants have to be paid while they learn
  • The buyer usually doesn’t have direct access to the principal
  • The buyer is just one of the larger firms’ clients, and as such doesn’t mean as much

Now when you flip all of that around you get some very compelling positive statements to share with buyers:

  • You have direct access to me, an expert in this area with 20 years of experience
  • You don’t have to waste time dealing with inexperience junior staff
  • You don’t have to pay a bunch of junior staff
  • You’re my top priority because we work with fewer clients at once, you mean a lot more to us
  • And so on…

You get the idea right?

Take every objection as a question. Recognize it as a concern the buyer has.

Be confident. Take their concern and flip it around so that it becomes a positive, a reason they should work with you over a larger firm.

Big opportunities to win BIG business are everywhere.

What has your experience been competing against larger consulting firms? What have you found to work best? Share in the comments below…


17 thoughts on “David vs. Goliath: 3 Ways Consultants and Small Consulting Firms Win

  1. remingtonmoyo says:

    Thanks a lot.
    Been limiting myself to the small fish because of the fear of the big players.
    I will include your advice in the next marketing campaign.
    Thanks again.

  2. Edgar Medina says:

    Thanks Michael, and I think that we should practice to turn everything that happens in our lives into positive, not easy, but practice is action and action make us keep going forward.

  3. S.R.Muthangi says:

    Thanks Michael for sharing good article. It is indeed very useful for many independent consultants. I have followed this path in certain occasions for projects consultancy and accepted by the buyer. Now following your views i shall go more aggressive with fortified confidence. Srinivas.Muthangi

  4. DEEPAK says:

    Thanks for clearing my doubts about dealing with bigger clients and competing with large consult firms .I am going to use your techniques for approaching big clients

  5. This really resonates with me as an independent consultant – and this article gives me a lot of confidence moving forward.

    I especially liked the idea of turning the negatives into positives and will be using this in my own business from now on.

    Thanks Michael!

  6. SeeW says:

    Perfect timing! I’m sitting here fleshing out my “brand identity,” and I got to the question: “What makes me different/better than my competitors?” I’m a small shop, and you answered my questions for me!

    Thanks for this!

  7. Shantana Robinson says:

    Great read ! I always tell my clients think “BIG FISH” !

  8. Steve Gall says:

    Here’s the basic problem I’m having. It seems that the system is rigged against small vendors when dealing with big companies because big companies only deal with other big companies. Basically, they have no way to plug you into this system, even if you are the very best and they would prefer to work with you. That is, specifically, you need to be on their ‘vendor’ list, and also, there is no way for you to bill them. For me, they just go back to their ‘big’ vendor/consultant and ask for someone to fill the job role I propose to them. I wish there was a way to break-in to this system, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

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