March 26, 2023
Reading Time
5 minutes

Why I Won't Sell You What You Want

Startup clients often come to me with a specific output in mind. A pitch deck, a re-brand. About half the time, what gets delivered is not what they originally believed they should ask me for.

It's better.

What I've learned over the years is to dig deeper in preliminary conversations so the end result is as meaningful and actionable as possible.

One of the reasons to hire a consultant is for perspective. We see things that, from your vantage point, you simply can't. Expertise is another reason. We also bring that amalgam of skillsets and mindsets generally called "insight." 

A savvy consultant starts immediately with something akin to proactive troubleshooting. What assumptions do we need to take into account? How will the client actually use the work product? 

This is why I moved to frameworks rather than traditional service lists. It does a client no good to self-prescribe at the outset. When I hire consultants myself, I tell them my pain points and my non-negotiables. If they're good, they'll know what to do next.

When I start an engagement with a client, we both have a general idea what we'll be working on. We've talked enough that we have some basics in place. Moving through the work, if I'm doing my troubleshooting and research right, I could find things that contraindicate, say, developing a pitch deck at that particular time. I might make the case for working on product-market fit instead, which will provide key foundational information for their pitch deck. Otherwise, it's likely they'll spend weeks on something that says nothing.

This is why working with startups is so very different than with enterprise clients. By the time an enterprise client hires a consultant, they generally have been through a substantial internal process about what, exactly, the consultant's output should be. There are meetings and approvals required to turn that ship by even a few degrees.

To nobody's benefit, startup consulting is typically modeled on this enterprise format, with the final output specified to the nanometer. This traps the consultant into producing the deliverable as specified, and contributes heavily to scope and timeline slippage.

Startups work at the speed of sound and are continually buffeted around by external forces, so they value agility and the ability to shift focus. They don't have the luxury of bottomless budgets or inefficiencies.

To be an effective startup consultant, you've got to do more than keep up. You've got to run alongside. About half the time, we do end up with the deliverable the client had in mind at the beginning. And it has the added strength of being stress-tested throughout.

This is what my frameworks support. The aim of a good consultant is to produce much more value than was paid out; frameworks keep the focus that.

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