Consulting Math: When 1 > 1

When times are tough, consultants—big-firm senior practitioners to soloists—tend to hold on tightly to every billable hour. You stop delegating because your instinct is to hunker down and protect what you have. It’s perfectly understandable (lizard brain anyone?) but counter-productive in the long run.

Since the economy is perking up a bit, it’s a good time to think about some consulting math. For example:

1 x 1 = 4 Choose high potential junior consultants in your firm (or trusted outside contractors) who will do a knock out job. Give them some challenging work to do with your clients. Stretch them, excite them and mentor them. Who knows? You’ll free up some time and you could create new synergies with your clients and for your practice.

1 + 1 = 3 Create a dynamic partnership with your administrative guru. Let them do what they do best—get you organized and free to focus on developing new relationships, thought leadership and revenue. Don’t have one? Investigate virtual options to help you grow.

1 – 1 = 2 Invest in yourself with the time you’ve freed up. Try something new or dig deeper into an idea that inspires you. Start building some new relationships. Take a risk. In the short run, you might take a revenue or bonus hit. But in the long run? Master territory.

Consulting math: where 1 can be greater than 1.


  • Breed Lewis


    I thoroughly agree. We need to ensure that we have time to look at the bigger picture. We must also understand client perception of a "one woman band" – it doesn't hurt for the client to know your people, other than yourself! Also, no-one can underestimate the administrative guru. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mike Van Horn

    I like your "consulting math." Here are two more related equations.

    When you bring in other consultants to help you on your projects, how should you bill for their time? Here are my two rules:

    — If the person is an employee of yours, bill them out at three times what you pay them

    — If they are a subcontractor, bill them at twice what you pay them.

    Why? You are taking the entrepreneurial risk, doing the marketing, taking project responsibility. You have to pay them whether or not you get paid. Etc.

    People respond, "I can bill my client at $120 per hour, but my sub wants $100. So I only make $20." If you do this, you're losing money every hour they work for you.

    Instead, say, "I have this project ready to go, I need some help, and I can pay $60 per hour. Interested?" I'm betting you can find someone really qualified who will step up and shout "Yes!"


  • Rochelle Moulton

    The 2 or 3x billing is a good rule of thumb for all the reasons Mike suggested. And if you're in a specialty with significant professional liability risk (actuarial, tax, compensation, HR) you want to protect yourself with contractors. That means building in big enough margins to reflect your risk and setting up rigorous contracting and quality review.

  • Ed Rosenbaum, Customer Service Rainmaker

    You have a way of regularly being right on target. This was well written and effective as always.


    Ed Rosenbaum, The Customer Service Rainmaker

  • Peter Stansbury


    Great article as usual – I didn't quite get the numbers, but definitely got the words 😉

    So easy to listen to the lizard brain in this climate and lose the balance you need. We have also found that there are more good freelance people around on the admin and delivery side in the current climate.

    Also like Mike's formulae.

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