Skip Navigation
consulting process

Proven Consulting Process: 4 Steps To Successful Projects

By Michael Zipursky
13 Comments

Do you have a reliable consulting process?

In this post, you’ll learn how to develop a consulting process that makes your projects smooth, successful, stress-free — and create greater results for your clients.

If your current consulting process feels messy or disorganized, you’ll learn how to deliver your consulting services with more structure and confidence.

(Watch the video version of this post below or read the transcript below, where I’ve included additional details, examples, and best practices)

Three Benefits Of Having A Consulting Process

First, this 4-step consulting process makes your life easier.

Why?

Because it makes it easier for you to…

  • Organize how you deliver projects
  • Make a list of the tasks you must complete
  • Determine who is responsible for what
  • Start to delegate aspects of the project

With a repeatable consulting process, you’ll have a lot more clarity during projects. You’ll know when to do what, and when. You’ll work through each project in a logical progression.

Second, the more you develop and run your process, you’ll discover ways to make it more efficient.

It opens up the opportunity for you to scale your consulting business by scaling your delivery methods.

EXAMPLE: Instead of offering a customized consulting service for each client, you create a productized discovery offer that predictably and reliably creates your client’s desired result.

Using a step-by-step consulting process allows you to run your business in a more efficient, profitable manner.

The third reason is that clients like to see that you have a process. It’s a powerful method for building trust.

They want to know you’re not doing things “off the seat of your pants.”

If they know you’re using a process that has delivered the results they want, they’ll feel much less risk investing in your services.

Now, let’s dive into the four steps of the consulting process.

4 step consulting process
The 4 Step Consulting Process, taken from our Consulting Success® Framework

Step 1. Assess/Discovery

Step one is what we call “Assess.”

In this phase, you are assessing the client’s situation and current condition. This is also commonly referred to as a discovery offer.

This first step helps you understand…

  • What is going on in your client’s organization
  • What opportunities there are
  • What threat/problems exist
  • What can be done to improve their condition

This step gives you clarity on how to progress through the rest of the consulting process.

The outcome — the deliverable from this — is that you are going to put together a high-level plan. This plan includes your recommendations.

Your clients love this because they get a sense of where things are at and how best to move forward.

NOTE: Use meaningful questions to go deeper into the client’s situation. Use this step to identify the underlying problems and potential opportunities.

When you sell this phase as a stand-alone project — a “discovery offer” — there are major benefits for both you and the client.

You’re NOT saying: “Hey, this is going to be a $100,000 project. We’re going together into it right away, and we’ll figure things out as we start the engagement.”

Instead, in this step, you’re saying: “Here’s what I see, and here are the next steps.”

Unlike the former, the latter statement is all about assessment.

Assessing the client’s situation gives you clarity which helps you prepare recommendations for the client.

From there, you adjust the rest of your service delivery based on your assessment.

This step ensures that the rest of the process is more efficient, effective, and creates better results.

Remember: each part of this consulting process can be sold individually.

EXAMPLE: Let’s say your buyer comes in. They start with you at step 1: the assessment phase.

If for some reason they decide they don’t want to move on to step 2, that’s okay.

Give them that choice. Most clients will want to continue working with you through the remaining steps. They won’t get all the benefits and their desired result unless they go through every stage of the process.

But giving them that ability to say, “Hey, let’s take a break,” or “I don’t want to move forward,” helps with risk reversal.

They have a lot less hesitation because they feel like they have much more control over the process. And they can, because they get to choose whether or not to move forward.

Step 2. Plan

The second phase of the consulting process here is what we call “Plan.”

You might be saying, “You just said plan in the 1st step. What’s the difference?”

The difference is that the second step is a much more detailed plan.

Instead of a high-level plan, think strategic recommendations. Think step-by-step.

In “Assess” you’re giving high-level recommendations and a high-level plan of what should come next.

In “Plan” you say, “Okay. We’ve done the initial assessment. Here’s what we know we need to do. Here’s what has to happen for this project to succeed.”

EXAMPLE: Let’s say you’re a marketing consultant who works with accounting firms looking to get more clients.

In step 1, you assessed their marketing materials: their website, content, paid advertising, and social media. You provided them with a high-level assessment of what is wrong with their marketing and the opportunity for improvement.

In step 2, you will provide them with a specific, detailed, and tactical plan for how you’ll improve their marketing materials.

During “Plan,” you get into developing the specific, strategic, step-by-step plan of what’s going to happen during the next step: the implementation.

Step 3. Implementation

Next is what we call “Implementation” or “Implement.”

This is where you implement the strategic recommendations from step 2.

Continuing with our example.

In this step, you’ll implement the plan to improve your client’s marketing.

EXAMPLE:

  • Adjusting their positioning
  • Improving their SEO
  • Re-designing their marketing materials

Depending on how you structure your service offer, you may or may not be the person doing the implementation.

If you’re like most consultants, you’ll be guiding or advising the team responsible for implementation.

However, you don’t just implement a project and then you’re finished forever.

There are always going to be ways to refine, improve, and optimize the client’s situation.

That’s what the next phase, “Optimization,” is all about.

Step 4. Optimization

The final phase is one that many consultants don’t think about. It’s the “Optimization” phase, and it’s powerful.

If you’re trying to improve something (like a client’s business), you don’t just do a single improvement and think that you’re done.

There are always ways to refine, improve, and optimize. That’s what this step is about.

By now in the consulting process, you’ve implemented your plan. Now that you’ve implemented it, you’ll get some feedback and data.

You’ll learn what levels of success you’ve created and what can be improved further.

There’s still going to be more work to do if you want to continue improving your client’s condition — or if you want to maintain that level of improvement.

That’s when you’ll begin optimization.

In this step, the output is ongoing implementation.

You’ll deliver services like:

  • Ongoing coaching
  • Training
  • Mentorship
  • Working with or leading teams

There’s a lot of different ways that you can deliver value to your clients during optimization. It’s usually ongoing or for a set period of time. Retainer agreements are perfect for this phase.

During the optimization phase, you may find that you’re going back again and working on the early parts of the process. That’s OK. As long as you’re continually providing value to your client, they’ll continually invest in your services.

Imperfect Action: Plan Your Consulting Process

We’ve gone over the four steps of the consulting process that you’ll use to deliver value to your clients:

  • Assess
  • Plan
  • Implement
  • Optimize

There are variations to the process. Some consultants might have five or six steps. But these 4 steps give you a solid foundation on which to build.

Now it’s your turn.

Using these 4 steps, map the consulting process for your consulting business:

  • How will you assess the client’s situation?
  • What will your plan look like to help them reach their goals?
  • How will you go about implementing your plan?
  • Once the project is done, how can you optimize and continually improve the client’s results?

By answering these questions, you’ll build your solid consulting process — and create better results for your clients.

What’s your current consulting process look like?

Where do you feel you could make the most improvements?

Join the discussion and leave a comment below.

13 thoughts on “Proven Consulting Process: 4 Steps To Successful Projects

  1. Scott Gould says:

    Thanks for this Michael.

    I’ve long used variations of this approach, as far back as 2010 actually, so it certainly is a good one by my experience.

    I’m curious: what size report do you normally provide after Stage 1?

    • My pleasure Scott. The report can be as short as 1-3 pages, some people prefer to create some slides and take their clients through that either in person or online – and that can work well. The length isn’t the issue. The important part is ensuring that the client feels a sense of clarity, greater confidence and starts to have a benefit, result or value being delivered so they want to move to the next phase and continue the engagement.

      • Scott Gould says:

        Thanks Michael. What type of price range do you usually put this assessment into? I’ve heard of it being a ‘no brainier’ price of sub-10k, but am unsure myself

        • Discovery offers range from 1.5k to 15k. Will depend on the size and situation of the client.

          • Scott Gould says:

            Yep, my experience too. Thanks for verifying.

  2. Thank You, Optimization is not somethng I have been doing, but I will certainly include it in my process! I can see that it would b well received sometimes with somee clients.

    • Glad it resonated Anne and that you found it helpful! Keep us posted on your business growth!

  3. Thank you for sharing, Michael. This has been key for us to move clients forward and for assessing if the relationship will work for both parties. It’s a great for filtering and for decreasing anxieties. We’ve found that it’s great for building trust, the foundation for great clients.

    • Great share Daniel! You’re very welcome and excited to hear how your business grows.

  4. Hi Michael, thanks for this. How would you suggest pricing each phase? Sounds like optimise is a retainer?

    • You’re welcome Stephanie. If this is a new client starting with the first phase set at a lower fee to get your foot in the door works great. Allows you to demonstrate and deliver value, establish the relationship and leads to higher fees in the next phases. You’ll also be able to figure out how to price the next phases better once you’ve gone through the first phase. If you’re productizing your offer the fee will usually be set beforehand. Yes, Optimize is typically structured as an on-going or set duration retainer.

Leave a Comment, Join the Conversation!