50 Ways to Ruin Your Proposal: The Problem is All Inside Your Head

50 Ways to Ruin Your Proposal: The Problem is All Inside Your Head

      The many common mistakes performed by consultants while preparing their proposals are not just inside their head. Mistakes often enter into proposals and presentations in the most awkward time and manner.

The following is a list of many of the possible ways we have seen consultants ruin their proposals. Examine the following list with care (and humor) because the proposal is often the first impression you make on the client and you know the saying: “The first impression is always right, especially if it’s a bad one.”

  1. Call your client by another name. They like that; it’s like role playing! Even better, if you forget the name of their entire company, that will really impress them. They’ll think, “Wow, they can’t remember our name? Their business must be booming!”
  2. Forget the name of a previous client on your document. Who cares about confidentiality? I mean, isn’t a name on a document just like a referral?
  3. Present a generic presentation. Like people, all businesses are the same, so you don’t need to put too much effort into building your presentation. Right?
  4. Don’t insert the company’s logo, or if you do, use the wrong one. What’s in a logo, anyway? Chances are, the client won’t even notice.
  5. Don’t customize the resumes of the project team. No one cares about who the guys are on your consulting team. Their seniority and expertise don’t actually have much bearing on the project. Besides, the client should trust your judgement in personnel. That’s why they’re hiring you, isn’t it?
  6. Don’t answer the questions of the clients. If you’re not careful, you could learn a thing or two about the context of the project and better tailor your proposal. Yikes!
  7. Forget the criteria of choice included in the RFP. The client included that just for kicks. It’s really not that important and definitely not worth your time to include.
  8. Present a bland presentation. Graphics and images are much too distracting. Keep your documents black and white with 12-point Times New Roman font and no formatting, except for paragraphs. That will catch their attention and show them that you mean business.
  9. Don’t explicitly state your pricing. When it comes to pricing, it’s better to keep your client in the dark. He should just trust you on this one. After all, trust is rarely earned through clear communication.
  10. Hide some fees here and there. It is just like an egg hunt. Clients love it, and it keeps them on their toes.
  11. Forgo details about your approach or the deliverables. If the client has done their research, they should already know how your services will fit with their business needs.
  12. Don’t explain the governance of the project. You might give the client a good understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the different parties involved. This would give the client the elements to estimate their internal cost for the project; see point 9 above.
  13. When you change the pricing, don’t say so. Especially when it goes up! Clients love hidden surprises, almost as much as they love egg hunts.
  14. Don’t talk about timelines or milestones. It is very often a minor subject for your client. Focus on how this is going to be a long-term relationship with no clear results or predictable costs. That will reassure your clients that you have everything under control.
  1. Send the proposal by email, and wait for the client’s answer. Don’t give them the chance to ask questions. You could end up having to rework the proposal. What a waste of time!
  2. Ignore the timeline explained in the RFP. The client will not include that element in the evaluation, unless you actually think they need your services in a timely fashion.
  3. Use psychedelic color schemes. The tie-dye theme was a great hit at your seventies party. Your clients will love it too!
  4. Don’t ask questions. You already know their business. Why would you waste all that time and energy? You are the consultant, and they’re here to learn from you, right?
  5. Provide solutions to issues not found in the RFP. After all, you know their industry/product/market better than they do. Why not “wow” them with your prescient ability to create solutions in areas without any problems?
  6. Don’t listen to the client. Listening to the client talk about their needs is a pain. You might have to collect more information or even have to rework your proposal to better meet their expectations.
  7. Base your price upon a client’s ability to pay. Larger companies can pay more. It’s not like they picked you because they thought you would offer a better price, right?
  8. The longer, the better. Need we say more?
  9. Give them a long, comprehensive overview of your company. The client really needs to understand who you are, as a company, before anything else. You’ll get extra points if they fall asleep.
  10. Don’t demonstrate an understanding of the scope and goals. Go directly to the pricing section. That’s what really matters to the client.
  11. Offer them the moon. Sure, you know that you can’t actually deliver the customer a 500% return on their investment in the first 6 months, but hey, the customer is really excited about that guarantee.

Okay. So, you get the idea. This list could go on and on, but these points are starting to sound like variations on a theme. (Speaking of variations, if you have never listened to the Paul Simon song this post is parodying, enjoy.)

In truth, these points are guaranteed ways to start a bad consulting relationship and probable ways to never start one. Some of them are even possible causes for litigation. The best way to avoid them is to do these 5 simple things: ­

  • Customize ­your presentation for each client. Every time.
  • Work on the form ­of your presentation. People are visual, visuals do matter.
  • Be clear on how you will do the work. Definitions and roles give everyone guidelines on how to move forward.
  • Be transparent about the pricing. Customers really don’t like hidden prices, and it’s not like an easter egg hunt.
  • Start working the relationship with the client. Communicate, listen, ask questions, and understand that this is their business. Your job is to help their business succeed.

Do these five simple tasks and you can avoid any number of ways people ruin their proposals.

Never Miss Another Opportunity with the Right Collaboration

Never Miss Another Opportunity with the Right Collaboration

Most talented small and medium-size consulting firms are likely to have run up against the same type of frustrating conundrum while securing new work: staffing limits. No, this is not simply a matter of the number of colleagues on board. Instead, we are focusing here on other staffing-related limitations:

  • What if an opportunity at hand includes a specific area of expertise that your firm currently lacks?
  • What if a given opportunity requires widespread geographic and/or cultural challenges?

The good news? There is one word to ensure you never miss an opportunity: collaboration.

Effective consulting firms innately understand and value the idea of collaboration. The internal work habits of effective consulting firms reflect a constant flow of interconnecting collaboration. After all, consultants collaborate with clients all the time—and train clients’ staffs to strengthen their own internal collaboration.

Let’s take a closer look at turning to collaboration to enlarge your consulting firm’s circle of opportunity. But first, we’ll briefly review impractical paths to avoid, as they may end up doing more harm than good.


Impractical Paths

The Eager Beaver

The eager beaver is the one who jumps up and says, “Yes, we will do it!” while not quite knowing whether the specific expertise is there, sufficient consulting time is available within the client’s timeframe, or the ability to reach the client geographically is practicable. It’s similar to that old joke about the piano mover who says, “I got it, I got it, I got it …I don’t got it,” as his end of the piano crashes to the floor.

We’ll just call Charlie Whatshisname.

An opportunity comes your way, and you realize that you will need to add one specialist to round out the best team to tackle the job successfully. Possibilities race through your mind until you recall that at a recent conference you met Charlie (what was his last name again?) who has just the right experience. Or does he?

  • Do you know the depth and breadth of his expertise?
  • Does his value proposition complement or clash with yours? What about his consulting style?
  • Have you checked references?

The downside to precipitous consulting decisions? Damage all around: to your reputation and professional relationships, to your ability to attract new clients, and most importantly, to your and your client’s bottom lines. It is much better to take a pass than jump in too hastily and unprepared.

So how can you accept and deliver on the opportunities that come your way, without taking one of these impractical (and risky) paths? Read on to learn how collaboration can rescue you from missing future opportunities and provide the value your customers seek.


Preparing for Those Forks Along the Path

Different forks along the path can stop consultants in their tracks—or worse, lead them astray—unless collaboration is built into the equation. Understanding those forks is the best preparation for deciding to create new collaborations. Here are six forks to look out for:

1. If yours is a generalist firm, you often face the tough choice of whether to take on a job yourself, take on a subcontractor, or take a pass in favor of a specialist.

2. On the other hand, as a specialist, you may be asked to expand a project into areas outside your expertise.

3. In today’s global economy, some assignments will require a simultaneous presence in more than one part of the globe. For example, a manufacturing firm may need you at headquarters and at their plant, half a world away. A high-tech enterprise may require simultaneous services at their site and the site of an important partner on another continent. In other words, while some assignments are manageable with minimal travel, others require you to decide which fork to take: a consulting partner, or a pass.

4. Globalization also provides the chance to land choice assignments with clients and stakeholders anywhere in the world—an exciting opportunity to be sure, but yet another fork along that path. I remember the story of a French consultant asked to facilitate the cultural integration between Korean and Chinese workers on the Chinese border. That French consultant faced the question, “If not me, specifically who would be the right fit to handle this project for the best outcome?”

5. Let’s say you are considering taking on a consulting team as a subcontractor for a sizable project. Have you explored their comportment with clients, their stances on the situation facing your client, and how they go about working with a client’s staff? A partnership that works at cross purposes or is perceived by clients as incompatible will not only confuse clients but fail to provide the quality outcome the client deserves.

6. The nature of a project defines your consulting relationship with the client’s staff. Some projects require you to be perceived almost as one of the team. Yet, the needs of that client may evolve, altering the nature of the work, which now may require you to be the bearer of tough messages—creating a perception among client staff that you are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde rolled into one. It’s more than uncomfortable; it impacts your ability to serve the client’s needs effectively. Are you ready to pivot to a collaborator?


Tapping the Right Collaborators

The ability to tap the right collaborator is your next challenge.

First, be clear about the scope and boundaries of the collaboration, before you approach a key potential collaborator. Here are three options:

  • Pitching the project together as a partnership: You may gain a competitive advantage to land the assignment with the combination of your respective skillsets and credentials.
  • Subcontracting deliverables: It makes sense to turn to this option when you need a wider geographic range during the project and/or simply more help.
  • Brokering a new consulting relationship between your client and another consultant: The consultant in question may just be the better fit for a specific assignment—allowing you to bask in the glow of the value you have added for the client.

A partnership, of course, may be the most interesting and rewarding path to follow.


Building a Collaborative Network

One way to ground your decision to collaborate is to take the time to build a network of highly qualified specialists, over a wide geographic area, whose value propositions and styles mesh with your own.

Vetting can take quite a bit of time up front. However, you can minimize that by taking a hard look at the types of work coming your way and the geography you would need to cover to handle those opportunities successfully. Look for specific partners who are able to fill the gaps you have identified in your firm, and don’t forget to factor in their potential availability.

Regardless of how natural a networker you may be, if you are like most consultants, your time is tight and your current network typically consists of former colleagues, some consultants with whom you have crossed paths, and former clients-turned-consultants.

Fortunately, for those times when you encounter an assignment leading to one of those forks along the way, you can turn to a company whose sole expertise is helping you find qualified consulting partners with the specific expertise and geographic area that will allow you to never miss another opportunities, reduce your risks and deliver the value your clients expect.

Consulting Quest specializes in identifying consulting solutions that boost your competitive edge. We have put in the time, build the world largest database of pre-vetted the consultants, and understand that you need the perfect fit in terms of skillset, value proposition, style, culture, and geography. Do not hesitate to reach out if you want to discuss further how we could collaborate.

How to Step Up Your Commercial and Delivery Performance: A Key Lesson from the Big Guys

How to Step Up Your Commercial and Delivery Performance: A Key Lesson from the Big Guys

What is it that truly differentiates the commercial and delivery performance of consulting firms and that of the “big guys,” the large consulting firms?

It isn’t expertise. Your firm likely was founded by a former corporate senior partner or experienced corporate executive who has the skillset, experience, and seniority to offer high quality deliverables to clients. That background already confers on your founder and your firm all the credibility clients seek.

So what’s missing?

In addition to front-line expertise, the largest firms have a back office depth that provides a greater commercial edge. That back office support boosts the quality and speed of the firms’ deliverables by providing consultants and partners with a whole host of immediate, simultaneous functions:

  • research on prospective clients
  • the ability to improve slides overnight
  • checking and proofing documents
  • running online surveys and research
  • liaising with experts to investigate specific topics

If those support functions and their associated fixed costs seem out of reach for your consulting firm, we have great news: there are now specialized firms geared towards helping you step up your commercial and delivery performance by supplying the immediate back office services that will enable you to level the playing field and gain that competitive edge at a practical cost.

After all, you help your clients optimize their ROI by more efficient and effective alignment of costs and time. You now are able to do the same for your consulting firm by outsourcing cost-effective back office functions—which enables the optimal alignment of costs and time of your senior consultants.


The Juggling Act


It is a given that managing a successful consulting firm is a veritable juggling act, requiring a versatile skill-set that begins with deep expertise in your field, of course, but that is not sufficient.

  • Your proficiency needs to extend to both production and commercial activities.
  • You need to consistently maintain the highest standards in the quality of your deliverables.
  • At the same time, you need to juggle handling the high value-added work and the basic, elementary tasks of running your business, while keeping up with all the texts, calls, tweets, and emails.

All that juggling now takes place in a global business environment that drives client enterprises to squeeze more efficiency out of each work day, comply with evolving regulatory targets, get innovative, outsource more, and in general, work harder and faster to stay competitive. All that translates into more and more exciting and lucrative opportunities for consulting firms.

Unfortunately, as you no doubt have noticed, there is no magic wand to increase the number of hours in a consulting day. Finding ways to maximize your commercial and delivery performance, while imperative, is not easy—but it can be done by taking a page out of the big guys’ playbook.


Optimizing Productivity the Smart Way


Large consulting firms have found the formula that works to optimize the productivity of their partners and consultants: they free their frontline consultants from getting bogged down in handling all the basic and repetitive back office tasks. That freedom enables the consultants and partners to concentrate their time and effort on the high value-added activities, which optimizes productivity the smart way.

Here are just a few of the numerous tasks that the large firms transfer to their back office support team:

  • Enhancing the quality of the firm’s deliverables: accessing the slide template library, sending the slide deck overnight for a makeover in India, checking and proofreading documents for clients, and procuring translation services for documents and slides to be distributed multi-nationally.
  • Research activities: Verbatim analysis of computer-assisted interviews, proprietary online surveys, interviews and focus groups, accessing the network of experts; and reviewing breaking news in the client’s field.
  • Commercial tasks: review media related to client work, check recent stock price trends for the client and competitors, review analysts’ evaluations of the client and the field, and (a key one) prepare a new complete slide deck for a critical next-day meeting.

Stop for one moment and imagine what a boost your commercial and delivery performance would get from delegating many of these tasks. The result? The optimum alignment of cost and time in your consulting firm.


Outsourcing Your Back Office Tasks


Let’s say that you are on the verge of deciding to pivot to outsourcing your back office tasks to the right partner. Your immediate questions at this point are: who to turn to, and can your firm afford to do it?

Good questions. First, it is important to note that several firms are out there proposing to cover your support tasks for you. Identifying the one that meshes with your value proposition, your timeframes, your culture, and your vision will require a significant initial output of time, cost, and lost assignment opportunities during the vetting and start-up process.

There is a way to manage the outsourcing, however, that will make the pivot more attractive to boutique firms: pooling the back office task needs of multiple medium size consulting firms.

Pooling enables you to access those support services at an affordable price—which also enables you to control your budget and manage your financial risk.


Get Your Competitive Edge On


By leveraging this specialization of tasks, large consulting firms have achieved a significant competitive advantage. But those services are now within reach of firms like yours—and would offer you the boost you need to step up your game, differentiate your firm from the crowd, and get your competitive edge on.

So the only question left is…what are you waiting for?

7 Impactful Strategies For Pitching Your Team’s Proposal

7 Impactful Strategies For Pitching Your Team’s Proposal

Your proposal is ready. Your team has researched, brainstormed, written, and designed the proposal to perfection.  And you’re pretty sure that you can do an amazing job on the project you’re writing about. Once the client has read your proposal, they’ll see that you’re the consulting team for the job.

Unfortunately, just sending a proposal doesn’t guarantee that it’ll be read. Proposals tend to be hefty things and most people have a lot to do with their time. They may not get the chance to read the whole proposal cover to cover. In fact, they may just skim through it, skip to the pricing section, or only read half of it, if other obligations arise.

In order to make sure that you get your ideas through to your audience, you can’t rely only on the written material. It’s also a good idea to make a verbal pitch. Before you make the pitch, keep these pointers in mind:

  • Present the members of your team to spark the interest of your client and really build your credibility.

  • If you’ve misunderstood the needs of your client—that’s OK. You can always re-evaluate and get back on track.

While most of us are more comfortable sending out written material than we are standing in front of an audience and presenting our ideas, having your team pitch its proposal can be incredibly effective.  Here are our top five tips to present your proposal and to impact your audience:

1. Don’t forget that it’s all about the client.

It’s tempting to devote time to talking about your background and your achievements—don’t. Take advantage of the time you have with the client to ask questions and provide further clarifications about your proposal.

If you feel that the proposal went slightly off-track, don’t be afraid to adjust and take it in a different direction. These meetings are great opportunities to co-construct with your client, according to her requirements. Take advantage of the time and to really home in on the client’s needs and create the buy-in.

2. Be mindful of the selection process.

Every company will define its own criteria to select the best consultant for its unique needs. During your proposal, you must make sure that you fulfill as many of those criteria as possible. If you do, you’ll maximize your chances of earning the project. There are several key points that almost every client will want to hear about, so make sure that you address them:

  • Deliverables: Be clear about what you will deliver to the client.

  • Impact: What will your impact be? Will your impact be made on the bottom line? On the teams?

  • Differentiation: What makes you the right consultant for the project?

Ask your contact or procurement beforehand if there are other important points you should address.

3. Know your proposal inside and out.  

This may seem like a given, but the better your team knows its main talking points, the more confident you’ll be when you’re actually in the pitch. Before the actual pitch, try going over all of the main points out loud, so you can find any areas that could be better clarified.

Make sure that you know your parts, and that every team member knows his parts, too. Take reassurance in the fact that this is a collaborative effort, and that your teammates wil be there to field questions with you.

The bottom line is that the better everyone knows all parts of the proposal, the more confident you’ll all feel while you’re making your presentation.

4. Tell a story.  

People are always more interested in stories than they are in facts and figures. Even if the facts and figures are impressive, a story is much more likely to grab an audience’s attention and keep it.  


Stories work because at the heart of every story is the main character. A story involves people who look, think, and act like us. We’re always curious about what other people are like and what they’re thinking and feeling. So if you can make a point with a story, your team is sure to grab the audience.  


The story can be a simple one about how you went about implementing your ideas at a company, or it can be taken from historical and news sources. In general, if you find the story interesting, your audience will, too. A pitch is your team’s chance to impress and interest the audience with a story they can relate to.


5. Remember that a picture is worth a thousand words.  

Whether you believe in this saying or not, there’s no harm in using a few pictures along with all the written words in your proposal. This is easily done nowadays with the help of programs like PowerPoint.


Choose your pictures carefully. As per this article from Sitepoint, it’s possible to put your audience to sleep with too many charts and graphs. Of course, if your chart or graph makes an important, dramatic point, such as how changes like the one you’re suggesting have greatly increased revenue for other organizations in the past, you need to show your audience this.  


Overall, the images that work the best are the ones that people can easily relate to. If you’re suggesting a human-resources overhaul, you can use a couple of images of happy, smiling employees. This might seem too simple, but people respond positively to smiling faces and images depicting health and happiness.


6. Be humorous—but cautious.

Making people laugh can also help you to pitch your proposal. Make sure that none of your jokes are made at anyone’s expense. It’s hard to stay politically correct when it comes to humor, but a verbal presentation of a proposal is no place to challenge people’s norms!  So keep your jokes as harmless as possible.  


At the same time, there’s not much point in using a joke unless it is actually funny, and maybe even a little edgy. Have your team test out the jokes with friends and colleagues before you use them in your pitch. You don’t want your audience groaning when your punch line comes around.


7. Keep it short.  

This is a good rule to follow both for pitching proposals, and for writing them. Most good writers will tell you that writing concisely is the most difficult task. Delete everything that’s not necessary. Of course, this can be hard to do, because everyone falls in love with their own writing.


Make your pitch exciting, dramatic, informative, and short.  Pour as much as you can into the time you’ve allotted yourselves. Choose the points you’re going to emphasize with care and explain them fully. If your audience wants to know more, they can always read the proposal.


Try to think about your pitch from someone else’s point of view, so that you can remove any unnecessary talking points. No one wants to listen to an hour-long monologue. In short, your pitching material is different from your detailed proposal.

Sell Less To Sell Better: A Key Disruptive Strategy For Your Consulting Business

Sell Less To Sell Better: A Key Disruptive Strategy For Your Consulting Business

A Day In The Life Of An Overworked Consultant

It’s early in the morning, and you roll out of bed. You take 20 minutes to exercise and grab a protein shake, when your day really begins.

Open your email and start prospecting. Rush to your first of four meetings with clients and potential clients. Through the dizzying buzz of a typical day, you barely have time to eat, as you manage your own website and marketing, your content delivery, and plan for your customer’s needs. By the time the day has flown by, you drop into bed knowing that you have four hours before you start it all over again tomorrow.

Whether you’re a single consultant building a niche consulting boutique or you’re part of a big consulting firm, this is the busy day you often face. You’re running from one activity to another, marketing your consulting expertise, prospecting clients, and working with current clients. You often don’t have time for planning or reflection.

When Less Is More

No matter the size of your organization, there is a limit to the time your team has in each day. Many consultants are great at helping their clients outsource key non-core activities, scheduling, and creating for others a business that is focused and cutting edge.

But consultants rarely have time to do the same things for themselves. Your business involves helping other businesses manage their operations and planning, but your own time management is lacking in both your business life and your personal life. Often, the important activities of planning, rest, and recovery all get put to the side when you invest all of your time working.

That’s why it’s important to remember that sometimes, you must sell less to sell better. When you have the energy and focus you need, you can build great product funnels and create value for your clients. You’ll have the space to engage each customer at full capacity.

Build A Consulting Business That Allows You To Focus On Your Strengths

Most of the consulting industry is ruled by large firms, and many medium-sized consulting firms are just vying for the right to be bought out by the larger firms. How are smaller consulting firms to compete?

For consultants wanting to break into the market, it is important to utilize the power of networking with consultant brokers. These are the firms that work with executive search committees to find the right consultant for different jobs. The brokers can review your consulting goals and achievements, and match up clients’ and consultants’ price points, expertise, and needs.

This model of networking and business building creates an opportunity to specialize in the areas you are most passionate about, to charge the right amount per customer, and to grow your business through providing excellent service to each and every customer. Focused consulting gives you the ability to create happy customers. And the only way to do focused consulting is with a less-is-more attitude.

With this disruptive strategy added to your business plan, you’ll reduce the time spent on bringing awareness to your potential clients and instead focus on delighting them with excellent consulting.

Know When To Outsource

There are many situations in which it makes better sense for you to outsource. By outsourcing the right tasks, you’ll free up your time to grow your business, to increase your productivity, and concentrate on doing quality work for your current clients.

Hire others to take care of low value-added tasks — those tasks that are not essential to what you do, and that are easy to delegate. Delegate tasks like day-to-day office responsibilities. And don’t be afraid to hire a subcontractor or refer to a broker, if you’re consulting in an area in which you don’t have the expertise.

Knowing when to outsource and when to delegate is an important part of freeing up your time to be more productive.

Network, Outsource, And Reinvigorate Your Business

As “no” becomes an answer you can afford to give clients, you can also afford to say “no” to urgent activities that are not key to your business focus.

Focusing on how to deliver high-quality service to the right people gives you the freedom to outsource your marketing and PR activities to others. As you outsource the activities that used to fill up your schedule, you’ll have more time to focus on reinvigorating your business — and yourself.

The following benefits will flow naturally out of a focused business plan with proper outsourcing:

  • You’ll Be Better At What You Do. Ultimately, you’ll positively impact your bottom line. You’ll have the time to build an excellent reputation for yourself, you’ll acquire experience and become a reference in your field. With the ability to give more valuable advice, you’ll be able to price your fees accordingly.
  • More Time For Professional Development. Every Stay up-to-date and current in your field. Allow yourself the time to read and write articles, attend conferences, and become a knowledgeable resource for others.
  • More Time To Strategize. Each activity you do can be improved, but you don’t always have the time to examine the best way to improve your work. Taking the time to strategize is necessary. Figure out how something can be improved and really think about the answer.
  • More Time With Your Clients. When your business life is made up of constantly clamoring for more and more clients, your current customers can easily be left by the wayside. Analyze how your current customers can better be served, and build a relationship with them. By strategizing, you can take the time to let your consulting product grow naturally through the rest and restart cycles of organic growth.
  • Time to Expand. Expanding your business can actually be detrimental if you don’t have the time to reflect on how changes are impacting current best practices. You must plan how to integrate an expanding business with your current consulting passion, and plan out the who, what, when, where, and how of your expansion plans.


And ultimately, you’ll have more time for yourself! But we think you know what to do with that.