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How to Create a Strategic Plan for Consultants

By Michael Zipursky

As I lay in bed the other night reading for the second time a book by Verne Harnish (the Rockefeller Habits) it dawned on me that there’s a lot of people that don’t know what ‘strategy’ really means.

I thought about all the consultants, freelancers, and business owners that I’d spoken with over the years and the ones that came to receive advice…few really understood the meaning of the word…and even fewer were putting it into practice the right way.

To many, having a strategy is about having an overly complicated plan to grow their business.

A list or several steps they need to take to achieve their goal.

Frankly, as an idea that approach makes complete sense.

However, the problem is…

most plans miss a critical check to see whether
or not they are actually strategic.

The firm Strategos says to have a real strategy it must…

“…really matter to your existing and potential customers; and second, it differentiates you from your competition.”

Now, let’s dig a bit deeper into both of these points:

1. Matter to your existing and potential customers
A) If your strategy and plans don’t offer the value your customers are looking for there really is no point. If someone needs chopsticks for their business and you’re trying to sell them a better kind of fork, you’re probably wasting your time.

Make sure that your focus and offer is what your market wants and that it really matters to them.

B) If it doesn’t, you’ll need to refocus on a different market where you can sell your offering or go back to the drawing board or modify your current offering for a better fit.

C) How will you know? The best way to find out what matters to your customers is to ask them. Ask as many customers or potential customers as you can…and then try to make the sale. In business talk is cheap…money speaks and you’ll want to see people give you their hard earned cash for what you’re selling – that’s the ultimate validation.

2. Differentiates you from the competition
This one sounds simple, but it can be quite hard.

A) You may think what you’re doing is unique. But if it’s not you’ll have a hard time convincing the market to buy from you.

B) While searching online and doing research from your home or office is a great way to get an initial look to see if what you’re offering is unique…it’s just a start.

The best way to find out whether or not you have a real unique advantage over your competitors is to get out into the market and speak with the people who know the market better than you do.

A potential client will tell you quickly if what you’re showing them or saying to them sounds the same as another firm.

C) And you’ll know when you have a real differentiation strategy – because the people you talk to will say things like: “wow, that’s really great” and “I’ve been wishing someone would do that”.

So, before you do anything else today, take a good look at your current strategy and business plans.

Do they pass the strategic test?

If they do, great job! If they don’t, I hope this article gives you some ideas of how to correct the problem and helps you get back on course.

12 thoughts on “How to Create a Strategic Plan for Consultants

  1. Jim M says:

    Strategy (Greek "στρατηγία" (strategia) = "office of general, command, generalship"), a word of military origin, refers to a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. This is a simple but very accurate definition. The above are two goals which could make up a strategy.
    Strategy can be very simple or complex however the KEY to strategy is not the plan of action itself. As McKinsey and others have pointed out (and experience proves time and again) the hardest part of a strategy is its implementation – going from a high level course of action to detailled acion points that together achieve the desired goal or outcome whatever that may be – and THAT takes a lot of experience, focus and willpower.

    • Jim – thanks for your comment and the Greek lesson. I agree, the implementation is the hardest part to pull off. I'd go one further and say that even when you have a set of detailed action points, far too many people don't actually implement them.

  2. Ron Johnstone says:

    Great article! Really enjoyed this.

  3. I think this is a great definition of what strategy should be. Many times we believe strategy to be too literal, this is much better and applicable. Thank you

    • Matt – right on. I agree and that was the reason I wanted to write this post. Sometimes taking words that we use out of the academic and plain word form into a concept and giving it relevant meaning can be much more powerful to help us to put it to use.

  4. The biggest takeaway from this post has got to be the reflection. Everyone thinks they are different and unique and that they are the only ones that do what they do for their clients. Myself very much included. I totally need sit back and reflect. It’s not always about being different but just being focused or even more compassionate. Thanks for the food for thought from

    • Nunzio – thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post. I agree, reflection is a great word to mention. Both in business and personal it's really something most people should do more of.

  5. Joel L. Goldman says:

    Great Article! Liked it! I just started my career as a business consultant in kpmg.Articles of this quality are really helpful for guys like me who are new to the industry.

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