On Being a Consultant

Posted by on May 30, 2011

The MondayMorningMemo for May 30, 2011

Once a month my partners and I have a videoconference. We solve problems together and I share a few stories of things I learned the hard way. Craig Arthur, director of Wizard of Ads – Australia, tells me these stories are his favorite parts of our time together. Listening to my silly stories, he sees how to sidestep predictable problems.
Many years ago my friend John Young said to me, “Roy, do you know the difference between a smart man and a wise man?”

“Say on, John.”

“A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. A wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid that mistake altogether.” 

I play the role of smart man for my partners so that they can be better wise men. (Wise man. Wise-ard. Wisard. Wizard. You’ll find it in the Oxford English Dictionary. Hence, Wizards of Ads.)

Solomon said,
“There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth… Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
– Ecclesiastes, chapter 4

The job of the consultant begins with an inventory of the client’s Limiting Factors. “What are the impediments that are tripping my client up and holding him back?”

The client will always tell you the problem is “Not enough traffic. Not enough phone calls. Not enough selling opportunities.” But these are not Limiting Factors. A shortage of selling opportunities is merely the symptom of a Limiting Factor. The real question is, “Why do we have a shortage of selling opportunities?”

A consultant probing for Limiting Factors is a bit like a doctor poking, prodding and asking, “Does this hurt?”

About 20 years ago I was hired by a retailer who occupied a landmark location in his small town. His grandfather had opened that store 105 years earlier. My client’s problem was “not enough traffic.”  My job, of course, was to increase traffic. But a question hovered in the air between us. That question quivered and glowed and throbbed until I finally blurted it out. “The people who don’t buy from us; is it because they don’t know about us? Or is it because they do?” That store had a reputation for being expensive. We solved the problem. The store began to thrive again. We did not lower prices.

Sometimes the Limiting Factor isn’t the reputation but the Competitive Environment. This might be the high cost of media, a low-visibility location, the wrong inventory, or a strong competitor.

When a business owner has a capable, highly motivated competitor, he or she will usually explain this Limiting Factor in one of 3 ways:

1.     “We don’t think about them. I believe we should focus on what we’re doing, not on what our competitors are doing.”

2.     “Yes, they’re big, all right, but that’s not my customer. They sell to the type of customer we don’t really want. You can’t be all things to all people.”

3.     “They’re dishonest. Horrible liars and cheats. You just wouldn’t believe some of the things they do.”

Every business owner has a blind spot. Do you know yours?

That was a trick question. Of course you don’t know your blind spot. If you knew it was there, it wouldn’t be a blind spot.

When a business owner can’t figure out how to take his company to the next level, it’s usually because the stairway that will take him there is hiding behind his blind spot.

You can’t see your own blind spot because you’re on the inside, looking out. The first step of a good consultant is to be a friendly pair of eyes on the outside, looking in.

A friendly pair of eyes to help you evaluate your limiting factors.

A friendly pair of eyes to help you find the message you must shout to the world.

A friendly pair of eyes to show you the opportunity that hides behind your blind spot.

I’m very proud of my Wizard of Ads partners. They’re doing a lot of good for a lot of people.

Roy H. Williams

PS – Some things are just too predictable

First Friday – This Friday, June 3, is our first-of-the-month free orientation at Wizard Academy. I didn’t check to see who was hosting First Friday this week, but it will be held in The Eye of the Storm, the too-cool-for-words lecture hall in Wizard Academy’s new, landmark tower. I do know that Wizard Academy board member Dr. Lori Barr will be the guest speaker on the July 1 First Friday.
Woo-hoo! – Indy

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