When you first start out as a consultant, leadership coach, or other solo expert, you’re typically not thinking about how to scale your business. The only thing on your mind is how to get consulting clients or get executive coaching clients.
But before you know it, your task list is a mile long.
In addition to being the sole person responsible for delivering services to your clients, you’re also the chief content creator. You’re the IT help desk. You’re the head of payroll, accounting and banking. You’re the administrative assistant and the travel department. You’re the chief purchasing officer.
You’re the makeshift graphic designer, the social media team, and every other “department” you can think of. And oh yeah, don’t forget you’re also the entire sales and marketing team — which can’t go on break because then you’ll create a feast-or-famine cycle.
It doesn’t take long for you to realize that there’s a “time-money wall”: the only way you’re going to make more money is to work even more hours in your business than you already are.
Um… what happened to all the freedom of a lifestyle business you wonder?
So the next thing you know you fall down Alice’s rabbit hole.
You know the one.
It’s filled with promises of working just a few hours each week and making money while you sleep on your yacht as you cruise the British Virgin Islands, thanks to paid ads, marketing funnels, online training courses, continuity programs, membership sites, and other digital scaling strategies.
But before long you come to another realization.
There’s a heck of a lot more money, hard work, and advanced digital marketing expertise required to get those strategies into a consistent profit-making, lifestyle-sustaining level than you could ever have imagined.
Plus, you find yourself isolated behind your laptop (the Covid-19 pandemic aside), instead of working with clients you love doing the work you love.
Feeling deflated you think something is wrong with you, or that maybe you just don’t have what it takes to build a scalable business.
But the truth is, it’s not you.
There’s a lot that the digital marketing gurus don’t tell you.
For starters, those in the consulting and coaching space who are highly successful at digital scaling strategies, by and large, have already figured out what sells like hotcakes.
They have already honed in their unique messaging and positioning, built a proven target audience, and have consistent sales coming in the door. They also know their baseline conversion numbers and profit margins before they invest tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars building out their online strategies.
In other words, you first need to know what your business is really all about and what truly makes a profit — with a degree of predictability and repeatability — before you invest heavily in those digital scaling strategies.
I’m probably going to get lots of “fan mail” at this point from those in the digital marketing space telling me how wrong I am about all of the above.
But I speak from experience.
And I don’t just mean my own experience learning some rather expensive lessons. (Here’s looking at you $50,000 up in smoke for a go-nowhere evergreen webinar. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what we’ve invested in testing.)
However, I’m also speaking from the experience of the last 10+ years of working with hundreds of consultants, executive coaches and other small business owners who’ve come to our doorstep from more than 72 countries around the world.
Often they’ve invested unfathomable amounts of time especially, not to mention money, into digital scaling strategies — when they had yet to build a solid foundation in their coaching business or consulting business of at least $250,000 to $350,000 a year.
And when I say $250,000 a year, I don’t mean a one-time “fluke” of hitting the jackpot where a big client opportunity lands in someone’s lap, yet they have no idea how to make it happen again.
I’m talking about the point in time when a coach or a consultant can create that kind of revenue with predictability, again and again, and the top line is seeing consistent growth quarter after quarter.
But what if you aren’t at that milestone yet? How can you scale?
The good news is that there’s a proven, low-tech, high-profit way to scale your business.
I’m talking about building your “bench.”
The term bench is adopted from the corporate consulting world… where companies like Accenture, Deloitte, Bain & Company, and so on have consultants “on the bench” where they sit while they are in between working on corporate client projects.
When one of these big consulting companies lands a new engagement with a corporate client, they go to their bench and pull a team together.
Obviously you’re not a huge consulting company. But the concept still applies.
Your bench is a group of independent experts — such as coaches, consultants, trainers, speakers, content developers, subject matter experts, and more — that you can “put in the game” to support your client projects whenever you need them.To be clear: your bench is a PROFIT CENTER in your business. Click To Tweet
When your bench members are in the game and earning income, YOU are earning income.
The more you utilize your bench, the more money you make.
But that’s not all.
Bench members can provide a wide-range of benefits to your consulting business, executive coaching business, or solo practitioner business.
You might for example:
- Land bigger and more exciting client projects because companies will see that you have the team and experience to handle it.
- Suddenly spot potential business opportunities that you couldn’t “see” before because they were hidden in your blind spot. (When you have a bench, you will look for bigger opportunities you weren’t even thinking about before.)
- Win even more clients because you can offer a wider array of capabilities, expertise and services.
- Take vacation or other personal time off and still make money while your bench delivers services to your clients.
- Stay consistent with your marketing and business development strategies (avoiding the feast-or-famine cycle) because you’re no longer doing 100% of the client service delivery yourself.
- Have more joy and energy because you get to collaborate with other smart, fun people. (And let’s face it; being a solo consultant, executive coach, or self-employed expert can be a lonely existence at times.)
- Focus more time on building your thought leadership platform and getting your bigger mission-driven message into the world.
- And yes, have more freedom in your life.
That’s a pretty great list, yes?
Even better, building a bench requires no digital marketing capabilities whatsoever.
And it also doesn’t cost you anything up front because your bench only gets paid when they are “in the game” working on one of your client engagements.
But as with everything in business, all of these benefits also assumes you structure and manage your bench the right way.
Sadly we often seen folks have one bad experience with the bench concept, and so they “throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Which is tragic because having a bench can be one of the best ways to scale your consulting business or scale your executive coaching business.
So let’s talk about what big pitfalls to look out for with this business scaling strategy.
Here are the top 5 bench-building mistakes we see again and again.
Mistake #1: Paying bench members WAY too much money.
Here’s the thing about bench members. You are handing them client opportunities on a silver platter… opportunities to do the work they love to do without all the other stuff that usually comes with it.
You brought the client to table. You closed the deal. It was your investments in your business that made that happen. It’s also you and your company that is responsible to the client from start to finish.
Because of these facts, often times your bench members will earn considerably LESS than they do when they are the ones landing their own clients. It’s important to factor this in when determining how much to pay your bench, as well as setting clear expectations with them.
Mistake #2: Creating a situation where clients only want to work with you.
If you’ve named your company after yourself, if you constantly say “I” in all your marketing materials and client proposals, and if you don’t lay the groundwork with prospects from the get go, then your clients will see YOU as the entire business.
Fortunately, there are ways you can shift this rather quickly. But it’s a lot easier to set expectations with new prospects from the get go that it’s not just you doing the work, as opposed to trying to extricate yourself later.
The best approach is to shift the language you’re using and the expectations you’re setting with the market place from day one. And if you haven’t been doing this already, then make today “day one.”
Mistake #3: Not selecting the right bench members.
Having the wrong person or the wrong people on your bench is the surest way to sabotage this strategy, and then it will take years for you to circle back around to it.
Just because you like someone personally doesn’t mean they will be a good fit for your bench. We see this happen all the time in the coaching and consulting space. Folks will meet each other through live events or mastermind programs and so on, they hit it off, and then decide to “partner up.”
Please don’t do that.
First and foremost you need to profile out what you actually need on your bench. From there, you need to develop an objective way to evaluate if someone if indeed the right fit, looking at it from multiple angles. For example, we teach our clients how to use our X3 Success Profile in order to find that optimal fit.
Mistake #4: Not having systems and tools to manage the bench.
One of the great ironies of any attempt to scale your business is that, if you haven’t put in place the right systems and structures, it can actually make running your company more stressful and time consuming than it was already.
That’s certainly the case with building your bench. But by putting in place a few simple checklists, standard operating procedures, and a handful of very low-cost cloud based tools (like Asana for example), you can systematize managing your bench from start to finish.
Mistake #5: Not setting clear expectations every step of the way.
The best business relationships are built on clarity, boundaries and expectations from the start. And building your bench is no different.
From the very first conversation with a potential bench member you want to set clear expectations about how YOU will structure your bench for YOUR company. For example, you’ll want to make sure the potential bench member knows upfront that everything is under your brand umbrella so that it’s seamless to the client.
And of course you need to have a professionally drawn up legal agreement that spells out the key terms of the arrangement.
Now that you know what key mistakes to watch out for, it’s time to start thinking about what type of expertise and capabilities you need to have on your bench.
Running a consulting business, executive coaching business or solo practitioner business absolutely takes work. To meet your financial goals, you’ll ultimately have to employ a number of strategies that allow you to scale.
Building your bench is one of the very best places to start if you want to scale your consulting business or scale your coaching business.
If you’d like some help with learning best practices for how to put all of this in place for your business, this is something we help our clients do all the time. Feel free to schedule a call with our team here.