Trade Event Report
Five Recommendations for Small Professional Service Providers on Competing with the Big Firms - UBS Software and IT Services Conference
By Al Berrios (contact Al Berrios)

How does a small consultancy ever hope to compete with the big boys like Accenture and IBM? From UBS's conference at the Pierre here in NYC on May 25-26, we learned that both have tens of thousands of consulting professionals eager to spring into action on multi-million dollar engagements; both have vast relationships with partners, which in-turn, deliver additional engagements; both spend upwards of $100 million dollars advertising to business leaders their advantages and phone numbers.

On the other end, business leaders look for scale so they can extract value-added opportunities; don't risk getting ripped off by the consultant; get promise of job security for them and their people on the consultant side; get instant delivery and gratification.

But fear not, there is hope for the boutique advice giver.

Five recommendations for small professional service providers:

1) Start small. Too often, the big client can afford the big hourly fees, but they're not willing to. Accept your stature in the business world and target smaller business with smaller hourly fees. Not only will you truly help those that need it, but your advice will be heeded and your reputation built.

2) Manage your business. You're so rapped up in finding business, you forget you've got one to run, too. Managing your business means doing your administrative stuff, finding and working with the right people, and staying on top of your industry by reading the news every now and then. Oh yeah, and don't forget to actually deliver quality work to the clients that have hired you.

3) Marketing isn't what you think it is. You don't need $100 million budget to attract clients. The biggest mistakes professional service providers make is not attending their industry conferences, not talking to trade publication reporters, and not writing. Of the three, writing is the most important because it helps you get smarter and helps clients see how smart you are. Once you write, promote it at the trade events and in circulate it among trade publications, and the clients will come to you.

4) Always be recruiting. Recruiting is a misunderstood tool. Just because you cannot afford to hire someone doesn't mean you shouldn't be interviewing. How else will you find the right people when you need them, spread word about your firm on college campuses, develop innovative compensation packages that meet your budget, and encourage increased productivity among your current workers if you're not talking to a fresh face on a regular basis? And indirectly, recruiting is good for the lone consultant because it provides you with the opportunity to interact with another human being in between those long hours working by yourself.

5) Focus on what you know. The small service provider often believes they can offer everything under the sun to their clients. But no matter how talented you may be, the client won't believe so. There's no shame in being a specialized expert, especially since clients value depth more than breadth. When you're pitching, don't clients always regurgitate in some pre-existing category (i.e. "I'm a management consulting advising clients on human behavior." Client: "Oh, so you're a marketing consultant.")? Let them, it'll make winning them over a lot easier, since they can think of how to use your services more immediately.

Overall, this conference merits 3 pluses, (+ + +) because although it was educational, it was regrettably boring. (I was astounded to here consultant-speak flow from the mouths of senior executives at the top firms almost as if it was the language they've been speaking since birth. They made no effort to dumb things down amongst their peers, and frankly, seemed to compete with each other in sounding the most consultant-y). Networking opportunities were slim, but the Pierre once again did an outstanding job of feeding the analyst masses.


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