Ain’t No Shortcuts

Aug 27, 2020 | Business, Failure, Innovation

After close to a decade in the creative marketing business, I realize that some of my observations may sound a little “Hey, you kids get off my lawn!”, but this is one thing that really grinds my gears so to speak, and I feel compelled to share.

When I meet someone who is a “consultant”, at a networking event or other function, they often have the appearance of doing very well–fancy car, nice suit. But when I ask what area of business they focus on, they generally always respond, “All of it.” Not sales, not finance…”all of it”. Questions about other specifics (“So, what’s your fee structure? Is it a percentage? A flat fee?”) are also met with vagaries.

What experience has borne out for me, in many of these instances, is that later on you find out that this individual was very successful in some single type of business–construction, maybe–and then sold the business for a solid profit, and now wants to make money consulting, since the perception is that consulting is easy money…just telling people what to do and getting paid for it.

It’s not uncommon to discover a year or two later that those (wannabe) consultants have taken another job for someone else; usually in sales. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Generalities aside, very often these scenarios come about because individuals want to take shortcuts. There hasn’t been serious work put into the “Why” of their personal success, there aren’t processes that have been codified that they can share. They may not even have a basic understanding of business as a whole, or how businesses that differ from theirs function, which seriously hampers your ability to guide someone who is in a field other than one you have personal experience with. (By the way, while I’m skeptical of business consultants, I’m a strong supporter of business coaches, as evidenced in the post Get A Business Coach.)

They may know some tricks, but there’s no professional cohesiveness, no firm foundation of business knowledge. It has an infomercial vibe.

I have had clients who have hired people like this, and then asked me down the road, “Why did you let me do that?”

While it bothers me as a general practice, the most troublesome incarnation of this phenomenon is when they attempt to “optimize websites” for clients…in a way that interferes with what I’ve put together for them. I’ve seen situations where a “business consultant” tells a client that we’ve built a website for that they’re going to amp up their SEO, and then do a lot of very shady work that causes more harm than help. 

That’s a big no-no.

Companies who trust people who are not experienced professionals to alter websites constructed by professionals often reap the whirlwind. (I have a client right now who trusted an individual who did this very thing, and we’re still trying to fix it. Very expensive mistake.)

There are no shortcuts to engineering powerful search engine optimization. It takes time. 

The things that work are simply the things that work. A website that is built for optimization. Relevant content that is optimized, social media that feeds your funnel. These are the building blocks, and yes, sometimes they take time to work. But…they work.

Shortcuts will simply take you back to the beginning…where you often have to pay to start over.

Confidence is necessary for a startup to be successful, and it’s necessary for a good business coach to lead others. But to think you know the most in the room, and not take into account the best practices (which are called that for a reason, by the way) of the various segments of business, especially SEO (which I’m particularly invested in, of course), is not good consulting. It’s not good business, and it’s not good leadership.

You have to see the industry as a whole to offer good solutions to clients.

Blind spots are especially dangerous if they aren’t acknowledged. Arrogance is a red flag, and it will keep people from working with you, because ancillary businesses that partner with you want to get paid. Arrogance and blind spots often lead to failure. (And unpaid invoices.)

The “Get Rich Quick” mindset and the wild west attitude don’t typically lead to a sustainable long-term business success. Sometimes they do, but I’ve been in business for a while, and that’s not what I’ve seen…and in my work I see a lot of different types of businesses.

Even with private equity funding. Angel investors. Still prone to flame out.

Don’t make the mistake of looking for the “hack”. Be humble. You may know a lot, but you don’t know everything, and being teachable will yield so much more than arrogance. If you’re not able to take advice from those who specialize in an area, or even the business people who might be older, and not tech-savvy, but people savvy…you’re not someone people will want to partner with.

Look towards building sustainability. Financials that hit targets. Strategies that make sense, and have the input of professionals, whether it’s marketing, sales, operations, or any other segment.

The growth may not be super fast, but it will be an investment. Look towards the next several years, not the next few months.

Just to show that I don’t hate all consultants, I’ll offer my thoughts about what makes a good one:

Number one…identify your key value propositions. What are the things you know the most about? The areas where you’ve excelled, that are applicable across all areas of a business? What is your formal system? What are the process steps?

It’s often more about the consultant’s sales persona, than the actual offering. How do you come alongside clients and help them get what they want?

Number two…there’s no replacement for putting in work. It’s fun to simply tell people what to do, but you have to have walked it out and seen that it works before you offer the advice to someone else. Build a team around you. Find partners you trust. Be sure you have relevant experience.

And if you’re looking for a consultant and they’re counseling you about a shortcut that sounds maybe a little too good to be true…just remember that shortcuts are very often time (and money) wasters. You may be at risk to lose way more than revenue through shady practices than you realize. You may damage your business reputation, which can be impossible to overcome.

Do the work, faithfully over time.