Sunday, November 25, 2012

Take Aways from the IMCUSA 2012 Grow Conference, adapted for consultants in small states

In October 2012, I attended the excellent IMCUSA Grow Conference in Orlando, addressing business development for management consultants. The following reflects some important take-aways and translates these to the situation of consultants in small states.

Different delivery methods at different price points. The output of consultants is traditionally a document of some kind. However, our expertise can also be transferred through books, speeches, webinars, telephone consultations, etc. Besides providing supplemental income, these methods typically require a smaller investment by the client. In small states, where achieving acceptable ROI on consultants’ services is a challenge for our clients, and regional consultants face stiff competition from foreign consultants, the possibility of making a smaller investment (initially) is even more crucial in getting a foot in the door. We can also buy or sell insights from other consultants through these smaller investments, enhancing quality and collaboration in the region.

Expertise through thought leadership. There is nothing that establishes a consultant’s value more than thought leadership. This is typically achieved through writing, speaking and engaging in discussion. The temptation exists to speak or write on a variety of issues. However, to be a credible thought leader, one must have in-depth knowledge of an issue. So, specialize!

Specialize and highlight. As consultants in small states we are likely to serve ALL industries and reply to RFP’s as long as the engagement seems somewhat financially attractive. That is our reality. However, we can also consciously choose to only highlight and actively pursue those engagements which we most like, are best at or which are more profitable. Even rejected proposals can be presented to other clients. If the issue is sensitive, we can enlist colleagues in other markets to ‘sell’ a successful solution or rejected proposal in their market. That’s the bright side of the relative ‘isolation’ of small states. In addition, because our countries are all small states with similar challenges, the solutions or proposals regional consultants develop are more likely to be readily transferrable to other small states than a solution developed in and for a large market by consultants whose solutions are instinctively based on the situation in large markets. That is the competitive advantage of Caribbean consultants, which together we must make tangible, even when it is by using other consultants’ work as examples.

Reward Referrals and refer to be rewarded. Management consultants typically don’t promote their services through advertising. However, our marketing (including networking, speaking, publishing, certifications etc.) is an investment which must be recuperated or rewarded. Paying and expecting a referral fee (not an illegal kickback) also opens the door to more cooperation among regional consultants. Knowing that there is a reward, those whose strength lies in attracting business will happily attract and refer business, which they themselves are not particularly interested in doing, to others. Those whose strength is ‘high expertise’ will be able to concentrate on just that, producing a better quality output, which benefits all consultants in the region.

Provide proof that you are an expert advisor. Many of us come to the consulting profession as technical experts, often having worked before on the client side. However, to have clients ask for, accept and implement our advice, we need to be expert advisors. So, let’s get our Certified Management Consultant Certificates. While going through the steps, we learn how to be expert advisors and reduce costly learning by trial & error, to the benefit of our clients and ourselves. I will.

Highlight benefits rather than features. As professionals we are proud of our knowledge and expertise and are convinced that that is the reason our services are enlisted. However, we should design and populate our websites, blogs, linked-in profiles, comments to ‘sell’ and to highlight the added value, in other words, the ultimate benefit that we bring to our client, rather than our expertise. As an example: “innovation’ is now popular among business consultants. However, no business person has ‘innovation’ as a final goal. What they would like is to increase sales, lower cost and increase profitability. That can certainly be achieved through innovation. In the Caribbean, where budgets are small, reiterating that we can help clients achieve their ultimate goal is crucial.

For many reasons competing against foreign consultants will always be a challenge for Caribbean consultants. We will not succeed by repeating ‘traditional’ methods in attracting or executing consulting engagements. We must adapt these to fit our small state environment, in the process contributing our own ‘innovation’ to the field.  If nothing else, these innovations will show the true comparative advantage of regional consultants: that we innately understand the challenges clients in small markets face and instinctively know how to solve them without breaking the bank.

This article appeared first in part in the November 2012 edition of the newsletter of the Caribbean Institute of Certified Management Consultants. 

Tamira La Cruz, MBA, CEO of MarkStra Caribbean (1995), specializes in helping organizations in small states to establish, maintain or grow their revenue, profit or following. The practical solutions are based in research, strong analysis and strategy, as well as 25 years of work experience in Caribbean small states. Based in Curacao, she is a graduate from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (MBA) and Boston University (BSBA). She publishes regularly on small state innovations and growth. Contact via, or

This article appeared first in part in the November 2012 edition of the newsletter of the Caribbean Institute of Certified Management Consultants. 

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