Consulting, it’s the next big business opportunity frontier. From 2011 to present the consulting industry grew by 4-5% YOY on the coattails of increasing supply and demand. More people than ever on record have transitioned out of traditional career roles in the last 15 years to chase the ‘gig economy’ (increasing supply) while companies themselves have developed a steady dependency (increasing demand) on using external support to ensure their operations run effectively and efficiently.
While this sounds encouraging, an unexpected outcome of this growth has left many customers with buyers remorse. As more people enter the consulting game the varying levels of experience, service, costs and related outcomes has left customers in a predicament. With a multitude of options now available to companies looking for help one of the biggest challenges afflicting buyers is how they will find the right support while ensuring the money they’re paying for it results in a positive outcome.
Author: Travis Smith
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The demand for consulting is up, way up!
The US consulting marketplace has grown consistently over the past decade. In the last three years, 2015-2018, consulting services have increased upwards of 25% bringing it to an estimated $68.5 billion U.S. dollars.
Demand is up and so is the desire from the US workforce to provide the service.
Whether you’re new to consulting hoping to dive in to get a piece of the current demand for consulting services, or you’ve been consulting for years, you’ve inevitably been challenged with the thought…
“How should I charge for my services?”
Here we’ll give into a quick and straightforward guide for establishing your consulting fees and the things which need to be taken into consideration before settling on your pricing approach.
#1: Research the local marketplace – it is imperative you understand what the marketplace yields for the consulting services you plan to offer this way you have an understanding of how you fit in with your competitors and their respective offerings. Best way to obtain this information is to ask others in the business, attend events and get quotes from others in similar lines of work. While you always want to make sure you’re getting paid for what you’re worth, you also need to be cognizant of pricing yourself out of the game.
For example, in Irvine, CA there is a large supply of people offering mechanical engineering design services. Baring any unique or niche expertise the average mechanical engineer consultant charges anywhere from $50-80/hr. If you’re charging $125/hr for similar services you may find yourself missing out on projects with potential clients because the end user, or client, has too many other reliable and capable consultant options to choose from at rates cheaper than your offering.
#2: Fixed cost vs. time & materials – you’ll need to decide up front what type of pricing strategy you’re going to use. Fixed cost is when you charge a flat fee or a ‘not to exceed’ fee for work you’re performing regardless of the amount of hours it takes you to get the job done. Time & materials pricing structures price based on the amount of hours it takes to complete the job. Read more HERE.
#3: Long game mindset – your pricing should reflect both your experience, capabilities but also your willingness to get repeat business from your clients. If your rate is higher than the average marketplace rate for similar service you may still be able to get work, however you may find the client doesn’t pick you for additional work or longer projects. Remember, the higher your rate the higher the clients expectations will be on your performance and the further scrutiny you will receive on your work output.
#4: Know your profit margin – it’s important you understand what potential profit you stand to make for each project. Profit is what keeps you growing and stable long term. If you’re constantly breaking even you leave yourself at risk for unexpected downturns and other things out of your control. Establish an ideal profit margin per project you want to achieve and incorporate that into your pricing. Learn how to establish a profit margin HERE.
#5: Flexibility is key – clients like working with consultants that are flexible; if you’re too rigid with your pricing you may find you’ll lose out on opportunities in the long run. Try pricing your work based on the difficulty of completing the task. Perhaps you have a minimum threshold you’re going to charge per hour (say $100/hr) and then based on the work you’re potentially taking on you will scale your price upwards by 25%. It’s not uncommon for consultants to have a pricing menu based on the range of their capabilities and difficulty to perform the work at hand. We suggest not using a ‘one size fits all approach’ for pricing your services.
#6: Know what you need – while you should never price your consulting practice based on your personal lifestyle (clients don’t care how big your house is, what car you drive or what your bills are so they certainly aren’t going to pay you more just because your lifestyle requires it) it is important to know what you need to be charging in order to meet your personal financial obligations. Once you know this number go back to step #1 in this article to see if your pricing number is in line with the general market. Don’t charge more just because you need more to live. Clients can smell that from a mile away and it’s a big turn off.
Pricing should be based solely on the value you provide. Your consulting price should have flexibility built into it while keeping in mind the difficulty of the work being performed. Ensure you know how the marketplace is operating and what others are charging for similar services so you can be competitive with your offering.
Meet 3-5 people in the consulting space which is similar in nature to yours. Learn about their offerings, how they go about pricing their service and what challenges they’ve had with clients specific to pricing. The more you can learn from them ahead of your own efforts the better off you’ll be when it comes time to present your price in front of a potential customer.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.