Blue Cottage is in the fortunate position of being really busy right now – and we like it that way. Having many projects going simultaneously creates opportunities that don’t exist when a firm is not working to its full capacity. Of course, having a stream of reliable revenue from great clients who pay their bills is incredibly important to a small firm but the revenue is an enabler for us more than a goal onto itself. In fact, Blue Cottage doesn’t set revenue goals. We don’t track “billable hours” or utilization rates either. We have one metric for success: client adoration. And we have two rules for achieving that success: do whatever is necessary and do it remarkably well.
Client adoration is measured by asking the following questions and getting a YES response to each:
- Is this client happy with and do they believe in the process and the product being delivered?
- Do they believe it is better than what they could get from our competitors or what they could do themselves if willing to take the time?
- Is it worth more than they are paying for it?
- Do they know the names and something about each member of the Blue Cottage team that is assigned to their project?
- Do they feel connected to us?
When we are working at capacity, it is easy to fall into the trap of producing, producing, producing. We work ourselves to death to deliver on our promises – to turn documentation around, to accommodate last minute schedule changes, to produce something on a moment’s notice because a client needs it. I am routinely reminding the Blue Cottage team that when challenged with multiple deadlines and many demands on their time, the approach is simple and can be carried out in three steps:
- Stop what you are doing. Find stillness. Breathe.
- Ask this question: How is what I am doing creating value FOR THE CLIENT?
- Reflect on the answer to #2 and repeat it as many times as necessary until you eliminate half of the things on your to-do list because they aren’t creating value that directly correlates with what the client wants (and more importantly, needs), which we have already identified in the above bullets outlining the path to client adoration.
There is a great deal of discussion in the business world about creating value, but there is considerably less discussion regarding defining value. This is probably because it’s really hard to do. First, it is unique to each individual, each organization, and each project. Second, it is dynamic – what is valuable today may be worthless tomorrow. Third, people have blinders on and like to believe that what they are getting is valuable whether it actually is or not. No one likes to receive a worthless gift or an empty promise. Most humans are optimists and have a tendency to see the glass half-full or at the very least, want to see the glass half-full and hope that it really is half-full. If you are doubting this, then you are probably a pessimist. Because clients want you to succeed and want to validate their decision to hire you, they try to see value in what you are doing, whether it is as valuable as it could be or not.
So, to be truly remarkable, you need to begin each project by defining value together (consultant and owner/client) and it’s the consultants role to push the client to ask for more out the engagement than they ever thought possible. And when we deliver on those heightened expectations, the client realizes that they not only have more than expected at the end of the project, but they, as a team or organization, produce more, achieve more, and are more than they were when they hired us. That’s valuable.
Juliet L. Rogers, PhD, MPH, is President & CEO of Blue Cottage Consulting.