There is a mostly unspoken belief in consulting circles that strategy is more upstream than execution.
That you will reach a higher-level client and deal with bigger issues than a focus on pure execution will bring you.And that is generally true.Generally because a lot of firms—solo, boutique and mega—have made a big impact plus plenty of money by implementing a strategy
they didn’t develop.And more than a few have done both strategy and execution, although that’s trickier. Fee-only financial planners, HR specialists and technology wizards can sometimes skate on both ponds.But if your aim is to be an authority as a soloist, you’ll usually get there faster if you focus on the strategic end of the spectrum (for more on moving from execution to strategy, check out our podcast episode on that here
).And that means getting exquisitely clear on the niche you’re serving and the client transformation you’re midwifing. For example, which of the following “titles” sound like they’re selling strategy?
PeopleSoft expertStructural engineering consultantBrand strategistWell, that was kind of a trick question. You probably guessed the last one.And yet any of the three might be able to position themselves on the strategy end of consulting.A deep PeopleSoft expert who has seen multiple implementations go sideways could be exactly the one clients want to call in before making a big software decision.The structural engineering consultant might not be about fixing what’s broken, but about how to make the right decisions before the build (strategy).Some “brand strategists” are really more about creating collateral to sell product than strategic positioning. Yet they are also uniquely positioned to focus on strategy and let the bulk of the execution go to others.
The key is to know exactly what you’re selling.
And why.Take the owner of a boutique firm that was billing around $10 million every year doing implementation. He decided he should sell more strategic work to give his people some new challenges and the firm a new revenue stream.The problem? When he did strategy work, he had to be agnostic about the implementation, which meant his firm wouldn’t always get that work.A typical strategy project paid him about $100,000, but implementation revenues on that same project were at least 5X that.Which meant that every strategy project he said “yes” to meant potentially leaving $400,000+ on the table.That was a tough swallow. Plus, he’d have to make a long-term change to position his firm for strategy—changing his staffing mix, prices and marketing niche—so no surprise he stopped that experiment right quick.My point is not that one is better than the other, but you need to know EXACTLY what you’re selling.Is it strategy or is it execution?Related: When You Want To Trade Money For Speed