How to get clients: Mistake 6 (you aren’t solving a big enough problem)


When Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C., his empire was divided into 4 kingdoms, one of which was ruled by Ptolemy I, one of Alexander’s generals. Ptolemy’s kingdom was located in what’s now northern Egypt, and like some earlier kingdoms in India, Ptolemy used elephants in battle, to great success. In fact, elephants were so effective that Ptolemy’s successor, Ptolemy II decided he needed far more elephants to secure and expand his empire. (In case you’re wondering, yes, this article really will help you understand how to get clients).

The problem for Ptolemy II, though, was that elephants were only obtained from Asia–through a rival kingdom. That meant that Ptolemy II’s source of elephants was essentially cut off.

Through trade with people who lived south of his kingdom, Ptolemy II learned that elephants also lived further south in Africa–not just Asia.

Ptolemy II also had an interest in other exotic animals, not just elephants. He kept lions, camels, antelopes, wild asses, ostriches, and other animals, and displayed them as a symbol of his power and wealth.

What does this have to do with understanding how to get clients?

Glad you asked!

Imagine you were a consultant back in Ptolemy II’s day, and could source exotic animals for him.

Which pitch do you think he’d be more interested in?

  1. Hey, buddy, I can snag you some real sweet wild ass–and maybe even some ostriches or a leopard thrown in. 
  2. I’ve got connections further south that can guarantee you a reliable supply of elephants.

Well, if Ptolemy II was only interested in bling, then I’d vote for option #1.

However, without elephants, Ptolemy II’s kingdom would be vulnerable, and he wouldn’t be able to conquer additional lands or obtain wealth from other kingdoms. So, for that, we definitely have to go with option #2.

What’s the difference, and why should you care?

If you’re focusing on something that’s a “nice-to-have”, you’ll have a much harder time trying to get clients and land projects. And if you do end up getting work, it’s going to take you a long time to close deals, since prospects won’t have any urgency to get something that’s merely nice to have.

But if you focus on providing things that are essential–something that solves a great pain–it becomes far easier to get clients, consulting work, and close deals faster. If you pitched option #2 to Ptolemy II, he’d likely have said, “How soon can you start?”

So, Ptolemy II, being the shrewd ruler he was, did exactly that.

Back to the present

OK, so you don’t live in the 4th century B.C. You’re trying to build your consulting business and get clients in the 21st century A.D., and you’ve got a variety of experience, knowledge, and expertise.

So what do you do?

Hint: your answer will include identifying your niche and understanding your ideal client.

Yes, I know this isn’t easy. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

See, to some degree, you’re going into uncharted waters. If you’ve only had a job, that job has been your paradigm. If you’ve been consulting for a while–maybe years–but struggling, the way you’ve always done consulting is going to be your paradigm.

And as the saying goes: if you do what you’ve always done, you’ve get what you’ve always gotten.

If you want something different, you need to do something different. Here, you need to begin thinking differently about how to get clients.

Let’s contrast what a lot of struggling consultants do, compared to what more successful consultants do. 

Examples of low-value, nice-to-have consulting deliverables

Yes, I’ve made the mistake of focusing on low-value deliverables when I first started consulting. Here are a few common examples of things I see struggling consultants do:

  • HR consultants pitching updated employee handbooks
  • Web designers pitching snazzy websites
  • Designers pitching logos & letterhead
  • Software developers offering to re-write something in the latest fad code base

Focus less on deliverables, more on outcomes

Notice how those examples focused on deliverables. With high-value consulting work, you’re instead focusing on outcomes.

That’s a key difference.

Outcomes are the results that the client wants.

Deliverables are some of the things that might achieve those results. Deliverables might be:

  • a report, or 
  • training, or 
  • a piece of software, etc.

Clients (i.e., the decision-makers) generally don’t get excited about deliverables. They DO get excited about results.

Can you get clients by focusing on low-value deliverables? Sometimes, but it’s a lot harder, takes a lot longer, and you won’t be able to charge as much for your services.

Examples of high-value, essential consulting outcomes

Here are a few potential high-value opportunities for various niches:

  • Accounting: Identify profit centers that could be maximized, and cost centers that could be made more efficient and less costly. For example, switch from landline phones to VOIP to lower phone costs; identify the best/most profitable customers so the client can target other prospects that fit that profile.
  • Health & wellness: Identify businesses who have corporate/mission values related to keeping their employees healthy. Quantify cost reduction and increased productivity for reduced employee absenteeism due to improved health.
  • Instructional design: Identify ineffective training and its direct & indirect costs; identify opportunities for companies to generate new and/or additional revenue by changes to how or what they train their employees.
  • Human resources: Identify the huge costs (and even potential liability exposure) from poor hiring and management practices. Create more effective hiring practices, maybe based on performance during a trial period. 

Those are just a few ideas. You can do the same, no matter what your niche:

  • social media marketing
  • virtual assistant/admin services
  • survey research
  • wireless telecommunications
  • environmental consulting 
  • oil & gas drilling operations

The point is that it requires a mindset shift that moves you away from deliverables and minutiae, and where you instead focus on higher-order outcomes and objectives. Again, this may not be easy, but it’s a far easier and more reliable way to both get clients and charge a premium for your services.

If you found ANY value in this or any of the articles in this series…

Add a comment below on what was most valuable or what you’ve struggled with in this topic.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Vince Tran - August 12, 2013 Reply

insightful —>Focus less on deliverables, more on outcomes

    Greg Miliates - August 12, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for your comment, Vince!

    Yes, that simple shift from deliverables to outcomes has been one of the biggest things that’s allowed me to charge far more for my services than my typical hourly rate. It makes a huge difference.

    In addition, when you focus more on outcomes & higher-level objectives, you’ll end up getting funneled up the org chart to higher-level decision makers, since mid-level and lower-level people won’t be able to answer your questions about objectives–but top decision-makers will.

Rich Wellman - September 7, 2013 Reply

Results are what matter to most businesses. Those are the things managers put on their annual review and resumes. Most projects need to be pitched as having a quantifiable benefit. Either increase revenue or reduce costs.

Your’e right – Bling isn’t gonna cut it.

    Greg Miliates - September 9, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for your comment, Rich!

    Exactly, prospective clients need to know that your services will directly contribute to those high-value objectives–otherwise, you fall into the nice-to-have (or, worse, irrelevant) category.

Ms. Louisiana - October 11, 2013 Reply

This was great information and challenged me to change my thinking on how to approach my consulting efforts. Awesome…thanks!

Amanda Washburn - February 27, 2014 Reply

What a great post – Just found your blog and I am diving in. Thanks for all of the great content! This is going to definitely help me as I start my new business! I absolutely agree that it is important to focus on the value and positive impact your business can have on the company instead of the specific tasks.

    Greg Miliates - March 6, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for your comment, Amanda! Yes, like you said, focusing on the value you can provide is one of the biggest things you can do, not only to create happy clients, but to grow your own business.

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