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How to Mass Market Your Advice As a Consultant

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There is an old adage that says, "It is a wise man who keeps his own counsel." If this were heeded, it would put all of us consultants out of business. We not only refrain from keeping our own counsel, we sell our counsel to clients-and we do it happily.

How and why are we able to do this with ever-increasing success? We can sell our expertise because we have been able to synthesize our individual and respective fields into concrete principles that are communicable to others (clients). The buyers of our knowledge are on an ever-expanding quest for hard information, and they are willing to pay higher and higher prices for it.

It is said that we live in a self-help society. False. A self-help book is a contradiction in terms. The reader is being helped by the author, not by himself. Never before in our country's history has there been such a surge away from self-help. Because of the industrial revolution, the ensuing division of labor, the evolution of technology, and now the information explosion, the Renaissance man who creates and does everything for himself has disappeared. Ours is actually a helpless society that seeks instruction and advice from more consultants, more educational courses, more lectures, more books, more seminars, etc., than ever before.

Consultants have been acutely aware of this state of affairs for quite some time and, in general, are earning good livings for themselves and their families. It is the purpose of this article to emphasize that until now we have been dealing with the tip of the iceberg. Our society demands and is willing to pay much more for the advice that you are already dispensing - but packaged differently.

Mass Marketing

Mass marketing is actually syndication. To mass market and syndicate your advice, you must convert your expertise into products, so "productization" is another word for what we are discussing. How these principles affect you as a consultant must be determined by you on a personal basis.

To learn how to "productive," we as a profession must learn from the communications/entertainment industry. Until about twenty-five years ago, each facet of the communications/education/entertainment industry lived and died a life of its own. An original hardcover book, for example, either made it or it didn't; if it did, the rights were sold to a paperback house. A paperback reprint either made it or it didn't; if it did, the movie adaptation rights were sold. And so on. In other words, until that time, the producer of the original work-in this case, the book publisher - usually sat on his hands and allowed fate, as well as future impresarios and entrepreneurs, to come up with subsidiary and residual offers.

Not so anymore. Top communications, entertainment, and education executives today know better. Continuing with our example: Publishers decided that Gertrude Stein may have been correct when she said, "A rose is a rose is a rose," but her wisdom doesn't apply to a book. A book is not just a book anymore. No longer do editors, subsidiary-rights people, publicity people, and sales reps work in a vacuum. Now the raw product is brought before their combined expertise in one room. Now the manuscript is a hardcover book is a paperback is a movie is a TV special is a series of articles is a microfiche is an audiocassette is a videocassette, etc. - all conceptualized in the beginning by the originators and all planned up front.

The lesson for consultants is: We must acquire this methodology for our products. But to do this, one must train one's mind to think in terms of products, rather than in terms of advice sold to an individual client by the hour, the day, or the month. Advice is no longer advice. Advice (your expertise for hire) is a newsletter is a published report is a seminar is a book is a periodical column is a cassette tape is a cable TV program, etc.

Regardless of your discipline, to mass market your advice you will be required to readjust your attitude so that you will be thinking of products whenever your practice brings forth a new concept or new body of knowledge and expertise.

The Ethics Involved

Let's take a typical example. We shall assume that you are a management consultant. A client calls you for an exploratory meeting. The president of the company tells you in concerned tones that his organization is suffering from "unusual" malady-increased personnel turnover - and that the company is losing far too much money because of this. Let us assume further that personnel turnover with all of its ramifications is your specialty. You have two choices:

1. You may play the client's game by appearing equally shocked on learning about such a "strange and awful" situation. You may tell him that you will do a complete study of this particular problem on-site, conduct thorough meetings with each division's staff to ferret out the causes, and submit a comprehensive plan for remedy. You may tell him that this will take four to five months and that your fee will be $36,000.

2. You may tell the client squarely that you have been dealing with problems of personnel turnover for six years. During that time you have amassed a wealth of knowledge and expertise in this area. For businesses like his you have two prepared reports. One is a 36-page treatise on various proven methods of successfully decreasing personnel turnover; the other is a 16-page document that offers statistics on costs of training new personnel; actual dollar costs to companies with the loss of each two-year employee, five-year employee, etc.; the costs of implementing programs for employee turnover decrease; and so on. The first report will cost the client $750, the second $525. Total: $1275. You recommend that the client study the reports, apply whatever information he deems appropriate to the situation, make up a list of elements of the problem not covered in your reports, and retain you thereafter to deal with these issues on a personal basis at $100 per hour or $3,500 per week.

In the first approach you are "putting the client on" and being less than truthful. To give him the custom-tailored solution that he wants for his "unusual" problem, you are dishonestly offering not only to custom-tailor his suit from the inseam up - you are even reinventing the zipper! I call this unethical. Why? Because
  1. you have been dishonest with the client,
  2. you have earned more than the project is worth,
  3. the client will pay more than he should, and
  4. you will be bored to the eyeballs doing the same thing again for the umpteenth time.
In the second approach you are being forthright with the client. You see no reason for him to pay you an exorbitant price for something you have done many times before. On the other hand, he should pay for your previously gleaned vital information. You are neither custom-tailoring for a ready-made situation nor offering an off-the-rack solution to something that has a few new wrinkles. You are customizing your experience for a perfect fit. I call this ethical. Why? Because
  1. you are earning a good profit for valuable information that you have gathered previously and that requires no work on your part now,
  2. the client is paying much less for this information than he normally would by retaining someone else, and
  3. the entire project will take less of your time and less of his money.
The ethical criterion in matters of this kind is achieved when both the consultant and the client come out ahead. Conversely, if either party is better or worse off than the other at project's end, the situation is unethical.
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