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  Welcome to the seventh article in our series on building a successful consulting business.

In this piece, we will address the topic of ‘Appetite for Work’ – as another important consideration to weigh up if you are considering starting up your own company. If you don’t want to miss future articles where we’ll be exploring all aspects of building a successful consulting business, register for the Top-Consultant newsletter to ensure you’re alerted to each new article as it’s published.

Appetite for Work

There is no doubt about it; owning and running a professional services business is hard work – brutally so on occasion.

Of course, similar can be said in relation to running any business or organisation as you invariably, as the leader, need to have an oversight of every aspect of its operation. In navigating a firm from start-up through to growth and maturity, you will have to undertake most aspects personally for a period (from marketing, proposal writing, client delivery, recruitment, performance management, financial control and so on) before you ever arrive at a point where you even have the option to delegate to others. Even when you stabilise this into an organisation with efficient role delegation, the ‘buck still stops with you’ and the relentless pursuit of new clients and assignments will always bring with it a growing inbox of new business challenges and anxieties.

There are, however, some features of a professional services firm that potentially exacerbate this ‘work load’ dynamic.

Indeed, there is one very predominant feature. That is, the inherently human aspect of such a business. Growth, in such firms, almost inevitably involves the acquisition of more clients and more staff to fulfil on new engagements. Every time a new person gets added to the equation – be they the most fantastic, understanding of clients or the most low maintenance, self-starter of colleagues, there is something inherently exponential about adding another human node into your ‘network of concern’. Not all businesses face this challenge; for example, an online start-up can create leverage from a small back office team to grow significant revenues from its innovative web service through marketing spend, search engine optimisation etc. Effectively, the workload of such a business needn’t grow proportionately with the user/revenue growth. The professional services firm is different as even with the most efficient structures, growth in the ‘human network’ results in increased conversations, issues to resolve, decisions to make etc.

Professional service firms also aim to delight their clients, to be the best in their area of service expertise. Clients rightly demand exemplar standards from such providers. Put another way, a lot of the value – perceived or otherwise – from your clients will be a function, partly, of how hard you work. It is a feature of corporate survival in the modern age, that most businesses that are consuming professional services are working harder than ever to meet the competitive challenge (coming largely from the developing countries of the world). In such a client environment, it is rare for their providers of professional services to get away with a ‘9 to 5’ existence; conversely, their ‘privileged externals’ need to actively demonstrate that they have ‘skin in the game’. As one of my clients put it once, ‘results will come about if we all get in earlier, leave later and work harder’.

I should emphasise that I am not seeking to draw out any ethical point here. There is clearly a rich discussion to be had about the un-healthiness of such modern corporate life and its respect for the holistic well-being of its staff. I am merely seeking to draw attention to the reality of the competitive landscape in which most of your client businesses will be located and the likely ramification it has for professional services firms that aspire to serve them with due recognition.

The harsh reality is that to serve such clients in a way that will win you the reputation on which you can grow (working in the business) concurrent with running your firm and strategising its future (working on the business) is going to be, for concerted spells at least, really hard work. Work that will almost inevitably bleed into your evenings and weekends.

So, grab a coffee and take a moment to think all this through.

I am not saying it will not be worth it in the fullness of time – far from it – that is the very nature of the entrepreneurial journey to reap a multiple of your invested efforts. I am, however, saying that you should enter the journey with ‘eyes wide open’ as to the amount of graft concerned. By some margin, the particular wealth creation strategy this book outlines is not a get rich easy scheme!

In the next edition, I address an aspirant entrepreneur as to whether they have a sufficient ‘Love of People’ to be successful. Intriguing topic huh?

This is an extract from the Five-Year Entrepreneur series of learning modules (guides and related resources) that can be found at Designed for the managing owner(s) of professional service businesses (or entrepreneurs in the making), the series provides a step-by-step approach to building a successful – and valuable – professional service business.

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