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Efficient laziness


Premise: The key to success is delegating and outsourcing, not doing everything yourself.

Laziness and efficient laziness are not the same. A lazy person really does not want to do any work whereas an efficient lazy person seeks to finish an assignment by delegating much of the workload. In order to do be able to delegate effectively, however, a considerably effort must be allocated to planning, preparation and execution and that, in my opinion, is what efficient laziness is all about.

When I engage in projects, the first issue on my agenda is to clearly define what the client wants to do, how he or she prefers to do it, and what elements are critical for project success. Instead of attempting to do everything myself, I outsource nearly 90% to professional firms and individuals that I trust will deliver satisfactory results. Understanding what is needed and who can deliver it is basically what I do. This approach increases the service level to the client for multiple reasons:

  • Instead of engaging tasks sequentially, they are engaged in parallel which shortens time to market and begins to generate client revenue faster.
  • Placing too much on one plate can create burn-out and fatigue while outsourcing spreads the workload more evenly, thereby reducing the risk of error or misjudgment.
  • Through outsourcing or delegation, responsibility is shared which means that instead of the entire weight of the project being on the consultant’s shoulders, he or she can leverage that against other professionals in charge of specific tasks (the consultant is still ultimately responsible for the project outcome but it is far easier to supervise and audit the work of others rather than do everything personally).

I usually deal with the planning stages concentrated on opening up new market territories for clients. In order to determine the investment required and the ROI, concrete quantitative and qualitative data has to be complied. While I could do this myself, it would mean that the time-to-market would extend which results in time lost. Therefore, when engaging in strategic planning, I prefer to subcontract those elements so that I can fully focus on how to position the client in the territory with minimal risk. In like manner, I am often on the other end as other consultants outsource marketing strategies here while they concentrate on the client overall business strategy. Keeping things focused works in the favor of the client and gets the job done faster and more efficiently than if one and the same consultant attempts to do everything. Micromanagement is not what the consultant should engage in for two main reasons:

  • It isolates the consultant from other, skilled professionals and contracts the network.
  • It puts the consultant under too much pressure that can lead to confusion and even project collapse.
  • It prevents the consultant from building a real consulting business as micromanagement usually results in a sole operation.

Many consultants attempt to do it all and few if any really succeed. Some even end up hospitalized as a result of over-exhaustion and stress. In my opinion, a consultant that cannot effectively manage own operation efficiently cannot help clients achieve a similar objective as they fail to grasp the importance of delegation and efficient task allocation. A strategic consultant effectively provides CEO support and as such is not supposed to perform individual tasks covered in the strategic outline anymore than the CEO does. Instead, his or her role is to ensure that the job gets done properly, is delivered on time and meets objectives; it is all about managing the workflow, not to drown in it.

Failing to delegate and utilize the vast resources available through professional firms and individuals renders the consultant unfit to undertake strategic projects as he or she will be bogged down by mundane tasks. We have all heard about CEOs that micromanage and the effect this has on employee turnover. Many consultants fall victim to that and I find it counterproductive. There are only so many hours in a day and they have to be leveraged. Trusting those we work with is essential and I prefer to handpick the best teams available.

As usual, this is my approach to the consulting business that some may not agree to. It does work for me and my clients, however, and therefore I wanted to share it.  I have always been fond of delegation as it helps we take on more and larger projects faster while maintaining a lean operation. For some that may not work; for others it will. It depends on the context. I would greatly appreciate feedback.


You decide the menu

MenuPremise: The key to success is sticking to your own menu, not providing a custom dish for each client.

Pleasing a client can lead to wrecking your business. A consultant knows his or her strengths and weaknesses and provides services that match the profile. Clients on the other hand do not know where the consultant’s strengths and weaknesses lie and therefore attempt to stretch the consultant’s services in new directions. Sometimes a consultant manages to accomplish this successfully, but more often it spells disaster for both parties.

A marketing consultant that provides superior strategic advice and planning but has little experience in social marketing may be tempted to add that element into the service mix to satisfy client requirements. This not only puts the client at risk; it threatens the consultant’s business as the chances that he or she will fail are overwhelming. The proper way of handling this type of situation is to bridge the gap by calling in external – or secondary – consultants that are strong in areas where you are weak That way, the client receives a superior service throughout and it also defends you against unexpected hiccups. This is called establishing a core competency chain (and just like any other chain, the weakest link will break it).

I deal almost exclusively with the strategic end of the marketing spectrum but am frequently asked to build webs, create ads, or engage in social marketing. Although I can do all of these to a certain extent, there are others that are far more proficient in doing so (e.g. Chris Tompkins of the Go! Agency). When it comes to determining whether a  solution fits within the market research realm, my first stop is with Lenny Murphy of Gen2Advisors. Working closely with consultants that are very strong in specific areas greatly reduces workload on this end which expedites getting things done (i.e. shortens delivery time which increases client satisfaction). It is very tempting to try doing everything the client asks, but experienced consultants understand the value of leveraging skills through delegation. Unfortunately, many learn that the hard way.

Working with external consultants means that contractual arrangements have to be in place where roles and responsibilities are clearly outlined. In ‘The purpose of a contract‘, I stressed the importance of entering into a contractual arrangement with a client before engaging in actual work. The same applies when working with colleagues and other service providers. There may be a brief period of assessment during which no contract is necessary, but before approaching the client with a proposal, a contract between the primary consultant and secondary – supporting – consultants must be in place. If it is not, the latter are likely to perform under par as a business relationship has not been established. Working with other consultants without a contract that binds them weakens the entire service offering which reflects back on the primary consultant and usually does so negatively.

The consultant’s main weapons are his or her skills and reputation. The skills are what is on the menu. Straying too far from the menu exposes the consultant’s weaknesses and may damage his or her reputation. I have done that but was fortunate enough to be able to salvage the situation by calling in secondary consultants before real damage was done. That experience taught me a valuable lesson: stick to your own menu. Since consultants often work on highly sensitive projects and can neither share who they have worked for or on what, word of mouth is critically important. After social networks emerged, that word spreads fast and far in seconds. A serious mistake or a demonstration of incompetence can literally end a consultant’s otherwise successful career in a matter of days (e.g. Arthur Andersen and Enron). For clients, LinkedIn provides the means to weed out the rotten apples; just check the consultant and his or her network and find whether he or she has received recommendations from business management, industry leaders or high-profile consultants. For consultants, that same resource is recommended to identify the strongest external consultants for your own projects.

The bottom line is that a consultant that sticks how is or her own menu is unlikely to make mistakes whereas one that does not is taking extreme risks. I have a clear menu in place from which I will not stray. I deal with business and marketing strategy, financial and economic analysis, SaaS and business intelligence solutions, but have experts on standby that can deliver superior results whenever client requests fall outside that scope. I think of my services as menu items and the services of external consultants as ambiance (e.g. wine, music, decor, cutlery). Together, we deliver a great experience but alone, our five-star restaurant becomes a fast food joint. A decrease in quality causes a decrease in consultant fees and no consultant wants that to happen. Comments and feedback welcomed.

Selling your brain

BrainPremise: The key to success is the ability to sell one’s own brain, not labor hours.

After spending a decade believing I was selling my brain, I recently discovered that I have not been doing that at all – I have been selling labor hours. It is very easy to start selling labor hours without being aware of it but there are ways to prevent it. Doing so requires unbiased introspection which may be difficult, but going through the following points can be very helpful:

Do you spend more time working on your computer than speaking with people? I did that, for I believed that it would be easier to close a deal with images, PowerPoints, Excels, Words and PDFs rather than just drafting a quick outline. I spent around 80% of the workday generating content instead of actually working with the client solving a problem. Once I reduced that to 20% – and that required quite an effort – business began to accelerate. While engaged with a project, I found myself forced to cut time to market for a client from six months to two and that meant that fat had to be trimmed. I nearly stopped drafting anything – basically mapped it out in my head using mental PowerPoints, Excels, Words – reduced meeting and meeting duration from 30 minutes to 15 and got the ball rolling at high-speed. Once everything was in place, partners, distributors, end-customers and investors, I pieced together a brief Word document (converted to PDF), a short spreadsheet and a 7-page PowerPoint, That is all it took to seal the deal. What I learned from this is that if you focus on selling your brain alone, you catch the momentum whereas going the document way may cause you to lose it.

Do you micromanage more than delegate? My issue here was that I did not trust anyone to deliver the message I wanted as I wanted – text, image, layout and format. Since I could not really delegate – although I believed I was actually doing just that – I wasted valuable time on what font should be used for headers instead of working with the client solving problems or laying growth strategies. As I am quite proficient at text, visual and numerical delivery, I preferred to handle that myself whether or not I had others do it. What happened was that I would superimpose how I would have done it over the material being submitted. That is not how to run an efficient operation. Micromanagement eats up time, creates discomfort for the ones working for you, and may cause a myriad of problems that slow down revenue generation. If you want to earn more faster, reduce – or stop – micromanaging.

Do you surround yourself with people better at certain things than you are? If you micromanage, you will correct what other people do. People that micromanage are usually perfectionists (I am) and accepting imperfection (according to own aesthetic threshold) is just as unpleasant as eating fermented shark (an Icelandic dish; “The single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing I have ever eaten.” Chef Anthony Bourdain, Travel Channel). Anyone subjected to micromanagement will quickly begin to divert attention from the task at hand to a growing resentment toward you. That reduces efficiency and usually results in sloppy work. After all, if you know your boss will change everything you do, why bother?! When I stopped micromanaging, something spectacular happened: I transformed from laborer to leader. Now I expect things to be done properly, although I do not expect them to be done exactly as I would do them. The way to get to this point is to prioritize tasks and be willing to let go once they have been delegated to the proper personnel. Once I fully understood the value of doing this and was able to put a price tag on it (hint: compensation), company growth accelerated.

Do you prioritize or do you work on everything at the same time? In my book, multi-tasking means getting less done in more time. We cannot think two thoughts at the same time although the brain can switch so rapidly that we are deceived into believing that we can. We can’t, for instance, think of an oil tanker and a tomato at the same time without putting both in same mental image. We can switch rapidly between the two, but we can’t ‘see‘ both unless we put them adjacent to one another (and even then we can’t ‘see‘ both as our mind’s eye switches between them). Given the difficulty of this simple task, imagine the effect is has when working on multiple projects at the same time? In my case, I have to ‘rewire‘ my brain before changing between projects which is why I prefer to work on few projects at a time and preferably of very different nature. The greater the overlaps between projects, the higher the risk that mistakes will occur as we confuse the two.

Have you put yourself to the challenge of generating revenue using ONLY your brain? Last year, I asked myself that question and ended up staring into thin air. I had no real concept of what that meant. The method I used to test this theory was to operate only on email and telephone; no PowerPoints, Excels, or Words, only my mind and my mouth. The result was mind-boggling. Before I did this, my reach was limited to Icelandic businesses and a handful of US firms (I spent seven years there, so I had some contacts still intact). Today, I have a network capable of penetrating the largest companies on the planet exactly where I want it to penetrate. The epiphany came when I understood that people are not persuaded by documents but by other people. If you respect them and what they do, they will respect you and what you do. Once you have engaged in friendly talks and have formulated a project that creates a mutual gain, then you whip together the necessary documents and seal the deal. I have found that this leads to closer, longer lasting relationships than actually trying to sell someone something based on promotional materials or business plans. People like being sold something that they can gain from, and sometimes that gain is just interacting with another professional on the same level (that can lead to very interesting projects). I have been very fortunate to have met a lot of great people out there that hold impressive positions yet are very passionate about other things such as the preservation of the Amazon. Companies are not blocks of cement, they are people. When building a business, it is very easy to forget that which sets the stage for labor hour sales.

These are just my observations; there is no right or wrong when it comes to building a business. Or is there?

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