We’re on a mission to help consulting firm owners become “needed yet not necessary.” This applies whether your team is 5 people, 50 people, or even 500.
The goal is to let you off-load the things — duties and responsibilities — that you don't want to do so that your agency stops running you. With the emphasis on finding others to fill those gaps so both you and your business thrive.
While researching this venture, after selling my supply chain technology consulting business, I stumbled upon a phrase coined in an article about famous entrepreneur-turned-investor Mark Cuban. It’s an excellent way to summarize what I do for clients as an advisor and strategy consultant to consulting firms.
If you read only one article on this site — and you feel stressed and overworked running your consulting firm — this is the article that may change your life.
Why Being Necessary is a Problem
When you’re necessary, you’re indispensable — and, as Seth Godin would put it, you’re a linchpin (Amazon). This feels good for a while — you are making decisions, directing the action, and putting your stamp of approval on every deliverable.
When you first started your consulting firm, you were inevitably necessary — if you (or you and a partner) are the only full-time people, it is normal for you to be necessary. Of course your clients called you every time they needed something — there was no one else to call (or email, or text).
Yet when you stay indispensable as you grow your consulting firm, you run the risk of burnout. You can’t step away from the business to go on vacation because your presence is mission-critical. Everything is in your head.
And even when you are around, you become your firm's worst bottleneck — everything goes through you. This means you have an enormous inbox (often literally and figuratively), your phone chirps so often that you forget what silence feels like, and your team is constantly waiting on you.
You’re Trapped — Too Much to Do and You Can’t (or Won’t) Step Back
The problem is that you become trapped. I have seen this play out many times throughout my career yet I'm reminded of my first experience. The owner of the IT services firm I joined out of college insisted that all client communications were to be reviewed by him.
Inevitably, this delayed important decisions, frustrated everyone, and demonstrated an utter lack of trust in his team. Understandably, he was chronically stressed and moody yet it was completely self-imposed.
Talk about pressure — when you’re necessary to running your business, you are trapped. And that’s a terrible feeling.
What’s the solution? You need to become “needed yet not necessary.”
Becoming “Needed yet Not Necessary” at Your Consulting Firm
This isn’t going to be an overnight fix — it’s going to take time, but it starts by recognizing you have a problem and then making a plan to fix it.
Accept that you have a problem.
You can’t change until you accept you have a problem — that being necessary is no longer a good thing. Perhaps, you’re working 60+ hours a week. Perhaps, you can’t remember the last time you took more than a day or two off, because it feels like you can’t step away. Whatever the symptoms, it’s gotten to the breaking point.
Start by stepping back for a moment.
You can’t assess the system when you are right in the middle of it. It’s easiest when you get out of the office — a retreat is nice, but let’s start small with coffee or breakfast or some other setting where you can feel safe to turn off your phone.
Review how you are entangled now.
This might include being a primary client contact, having sole signoff responsibilities on all proposals and statements of work, approving all expense reports, or sending all invoices.
Write down what will happen if you don’t change. And, then what will happen if you do change.
Wanting to change is a critical first step — you can’t make a real shift to “needed yet not necessary” without accepting the need to change. Imagining the outcome — even if just writing a few sentences about where you want to be — helps you get there.
Identify whether you need professional help.
For me, it took prayer and counseling to help me see that I was a workaholic and causing undue stress on my family. When work is your drug, you have no reason to work less. When you love jumping in to put out fires, you’ll find ways to fight more fires, not fewer.
Set an initial, actionable goal for yourself.
This might be an hours-worked-per-week target, a maximum number of clients where you are the primary contact, or areas where you want your team to handle all the “Level 1” work before escalating any “Level 2” items to you.
For instance, reducing your client-facing work by 50% within the next 3 months.
Outline a plan for changing processes and responsibilities.
This includes the current team members you will enlist to help you remove things from your plate. People don’t love increasing their workload, but I bet they can’t wait to get you out of the workflow so they can do their job. This one is big; employees are often hesitant to call you out for being a major bottleneck.
Identify new roles you need to hire.
What are the things that you are doing now that need to happen yet you don’t want to do them? It is likely that you may need to hire additional people.
If you don’t want to do project management or client service, someone will need to do it. This goes for admin work as well as sales. You can’t offload until you have people capable of taking on those responsibilities.
Keep in mind that it’s easier to outsource to independent contractors related to specific subject matter expertise (SME) work, while much harder to do so for project management and account management. This is due to clients, rightfully, expecting your PMs and AMs to be plugged into everything happening on their account.
Define “swim lanes” for your team.
That is, identify the areas where you want your team to make decisions or perform work without you directly involved as well as the areas where you still need to be involved.
For example, you may want to sign contracts with vendors and clients, and checks over $5k, yet no longer need to negotiate contract details or review expense reports under $100.
The point is to decide what is right for you. As another scenario, you should be watching every expense in the early days, but the point is to empower others over time so they won’t feel the need to get your approval at each step.
Get out of the office.
I'm a fan of getting away. There is a ton of value in taking mini-retreats from your typical day-to-day routine — and all those interruptions as well.
However, you don't have to fly away, much less travel to another state or country as you likely have plenty of choices right near you.
Just need to rent a room for a few hours? If you're in a major metro area, Breather runs its own spaces. For more options, try Liquidspace as it operates a platform where businesses can offer you desks, offices, or even, meeting rooms.
What about to rent a space for a few days? Try airbnb or VRBO or HomeAway. All options offer attractive getaways that provide a change of pace. Even booking something one town over from where you live, near amenities that inspire you, could be a great idea. You're sure to find excellent options for around $100/night.
Create and implement the transition plan.
Begin with the end in mind — identify what success looks like in the future, and work backwards from there. This includes setting longer-term goals and creating shorter-term milestones that break the long-term goals into smaller chunks.
The transition is not a “one-and-done” — it is going to be a continuous process.
Practice new ways at being “needed yet not necessary.”
Every time you get something off your plate, you are winning at becoming “needed yet not necessary.” Start small and build momentum and confidence over time.
There are many services available to lighten your load. As an example, I use scheduling software to remove myself from the painful back-and-forth of setting up meetings. I have a part-time assistant that handles the minutiae of running my business and I am exploring virtual assistants for this business as well as the others I will be starting in the coming years.
As a result, this frees me up to do what I do best — helping others discover their value. Look for those opportunities. You don’t have to do it all yourself.
Take a deep breath when someone screws up.
When you delegate, it is inevitable that someone will make mistakes. Maybe you weren’t clear about expectations, maybe they made bad assumptions or didn’t have the skillset, or maybe you didn’t build check-ins into the schedule.
Expect mistakes to happen. The more you delegate, the easier it will become. Remember, when people make mistakes on small things, they’re less likely to make them on big things — that’s why you can do a phased approach to begin trusting people with more things.
When you are hiring new people, use that phased approach, too. As an example, create a paid test to let people prove themselves, before you put them on mission-critical, timeline-driven, client-facing work.
Add a few “how did it go?” check-ins (with yourself).
Try this. Open your calendar and add “self check-in” appointments for a month, 3 months, 6 months, and one year from now. Remember to note where you are today as well as your long-term goal. I think you will be pleasantly surprised — and, if you’re not, you can adapt and revise instead of simply continuing as-is.
Applying This Advice
You can do all of this yourself. However, if you are still stuck, contact us for help. We offer a free 30-minute consultation to confirm if we are a good match.
Question: Based on where you are now, what will it take for you to become “needed yet not necessary”?