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Growing a successful advisory business – insights for consultants, coaches & business advisors


Growing a successful advisory business
– insights for consultants, coaches & business advisors


It’s never been more difficult to be a business advisor but at the same time there’ve never been so many opportunities for growth.

Escalating market maturity sees customers accessing Intellectual Property (IP) through the same thought leadership channels as advisors. As a result, the intellectual property is often not a competitive advantage in the eyes of a customer. They are now looking for the best problem solver who demonstrates they have the strategy development and implementation skills to tailor a solution to achieve an outcome. Quality customers no longer believe the hype generated by flashy, prescriptive solutions promising a quick fix.

An advisor who can challenge hard wired views of customers, act as a senior sounding board and instil (through facilitation) the desired strategies to achieve successful outcomes will be the one who adds the most value.  Tenacity and self-awareness are key traits to allow rapid continuous improvement.

Reviewing their current ‘NOW’,  identifying ‘WHERE’ they want to be in the future and then determining the strategies as to ‘HOW’ they will get there will allow advisors to move steadily along the journey to success.

Advisors face a myriad of challenges on the journey including:

  • how to deliver higher value services and stay well leveraged
  • addressing the changing needs of risk averse customers demanding just-in-time solutions and
  • finding the time for skill development and developing new IP each year

For advisors looking to progress to a highly leveraged, profitable and high growth advisory business, the following strategies should be considered:

  1. taking a niche (narrow and deep) approach in an industry or specific skill set
  2. acknowledging that a prescriptive ‘dashboard only’ approach, whilst a helpful diagnostic tool, should not be a substitute for careful investigation of root causes
  3. adopting a mindset of continuous learning, even when at the peak of their industry
  4. avoiding ‘quick fixes’ which may alienate quality, mature customers
  5. intimate understanding of a target markets’ future trends will help shape a simple, tailored business model and solution-set
  6. going beyond the limits of hourly rates by having the confidence to present higher value-priced services and packages
  7. leveraging online coaching technology to enable coaching of 200 people as time efficiently as traditionally coaching only 20
  8. having an adaptable delivery model
  9. drawing on a network of specialists to create a virtual team to assist winning larger, more diverse projects
  10. offering the correct blend of face-to-face and online training to support time poor customers at varying intensity levels
  11. not re-inventing the wheel. Partner with quality providers across various areas of the business to inject the right support
  12. and finally, taking equity stakes in customers’ businesses to optimise use of skills and earning potential.

Overall, advisors need to continuously evolve their model, pricing, skills, delivery approach and technology to keep pace and thrive.

The journey so far

independent_road-aheadFor over 50 years, consultants, specialist advisors (and more recently coaches) have been supporting businesses large and small achieve their growth and profit objectives.

Many have been life-long consultants and others have left a corporate environment  seeking more life balance, greater leverage of their knowledge and a more ‘hands-on’ involvement with driving change within a myriad of different businesses.

Regardless of their development stage, each ‘advisor’ has to be continuously evolving their model, pricing, skills, delivery and technology  to keep pace with the ever-changing needs of their target market customers.

A changing landscape

independent-call-out-1It’s never been more difficult to be a business advisor but at the same time there has never been so many opportunities for growth. Some advisors spend years ‘getting ready’ and by then the market has passed them by.

New online technologies have commoditised many traditional offerings delivered by advisors forcing all to adapt the way they go to market.

The last 20 years has seen the rise of ‘business coaches’ who played at times a valuable role in supporting leaders drive change. However low barriers to entry for calling yourself a ‘coach’ and a temporary influx of much-hyped ‘franchised’ coaching offerings often led to a low quality of advice and overly prescriptive methodologies. As businesses capabilities and needs have matured, the ‘hype’ has come out of the ‘coaching’ market as businesses seek out advisors who can deliver on their promised outcomes.

The 2008 global financial crisis led to the rapid reduction of people resources in many businesses. As many now grow again, they are increasingly doing so through outsourcing to specialist consultants. This has seen a rise in niche specialists providing experienced guidance to businesses in areas such as strategy, growth, marketing, sales, social media, profit and change.


The format of this roadmap provides an overview of the ‘typical’ NOW analysis of an independent advisor, WHERE they should set their goals to be over the next three to five years, and the HOW steps required to achieve those goals successfully and profitably.

A starting point

Each business advisor is different, with different goals and at various stages of the journey so this roadmap is meant to be a stimulus for ideas and strategies regardless of their starting point.

NOW – the current state of play

Most independent advisors have over the past 15-20 years attended workshops, watched webinars, relied on purchased IP, bought a franchise, bought lead generation solutions or been coached on growing a successful advisory business.

This has led to different camps of thought regarding their future in advisory:

  1. Too hard, I’ll go back to my corporate role
  2. My last coach motivated me but gave me no tools or support to deliver solutions
  3. I’ve stagnated in growth as I have no time to create new intellectual property (IP)
  4. I’ve gone backwards over the last few years and can’t put a finger on what I’m doing wrong. I’ll keep persevering for now
  5. I have great IP but need clever online technologies to leverage into new markets
  6. I’ve found a good niche I love working in and while things are going well I’m always looking to learn and gain more leverage

Regardless of what camp an advisor is in or their growth targets they need to ensure they continue to adapt, learn new skills, adopt new technologies and improve their capacity to take on higher value work.  Procrastination and poor self-awareness can lead to years of stagnation.

Adapting to survive

While business tools that may have been around for 20+ years still work very well today the way they are applied into customers businesses needs to continuously adapt.

Technology is commoditising some face-to-face training services as anything that is more ‘knowledge transfer’ is delivered via time-efficient webinars or YouTube recordings.

Time poor customers want just-in-time solutions, be that via self-service online portals or in bite-sized learning modules. The days of the big, two day workshops are more or less at an end, especially with small to medium-sized businesses.

When seeking advisory services, customers are now looking for the best problem solver in the room rather than being ‘pitched’ a prescriptive solution. They no longer believe the hype.

Changing customer needs

Intellectual property used to be the competitive advantage that cut through for many advisors. Now with mature, quality customers attending the same thought leadership seminars as advisors it is having less of an impact.

Customers are now much more interested in an advisor who can challenge their strategies, act as a senior sounding board and demonstrate the path to achieving a successful outcome.

Each year a target customer needs to change and often advisors can’t adapt their solution or model quickly enough to keep up.

Generalist or niche?

independent_signA question often asked by business advisors is whether it is better to be a generalist or focus on a niche when seeking to grow.

Most advisors have generally had a myriad of different career changes or areas of focus during their years in business which provides them the opportunity to tackle a broad range of industries and issues.  A dilemma then ensues as to what area should they focus on.

Successful advisors will typically be very niche (narrow and deep) in an industry or specific skill area. This could be for example leadership, family business, corporate strategy or supply chain. The benefits of this are:

  • they become ‘known for something’
  • it’s easier for others to refer them business
  • they know which conference to go to and what thought leadership to read
  • their offering is easier for others to understand and engage with as it’s clear

Some will also focus a niche around a single, larger organisation where they have developed a high level of trust over time.

Others will stay as generalists, which can work in certain contexts but more often leads to confusion, marketing to any business which has little impact.

While having a niche in the current market will easily allow an advisor to cut through the clutter, it is still beneficial to have the ability to stay high level (with a broad skill-set) to discuss and challenge a clients vision and strategy. This then allows the context of a niche service to be positioned correctly.

Moving beyond dashboards

independent-call-out-2How can you drive accountability or coach a client if you don’t understand their vision, challenges and strategy? For advisors a dashboard can just accelerate that client in the wrong direction.

Business performance dashboards of all shapes and sizes (often linked to various cloud accounting tools) have recently sprung up and play a valuable role in providing clarity around key performance indicators (KPI’s).

However it is a big risk when providing advice to an owner of a business if all an advisor is relying on is a dashboard of KPI’s (hopefully with accurate data)  for guidance as it’s only a very small piece of the overall jigsaw.

For example, using an indicator that highlights ‘profit’ is an issue for a client and immediately implementing a ‘profit improvement’ solution is dangerous, as by asking a few further questions they would have discovered potentially  a ‘leadership issue’ in one area was the problem.

Challenges change so rapidly an advisor needs the ability to be agile enough to change tack and facilitate a solution to any issue quickly. Offering prescriptive solutions just doesn’t work.

Dashboard systems are a valuable ‘tool’ in their context but they do not drive change for customers. So while it may sound great on paper that this one dashboard is all you need in the field, with real customers who don’t ‘follow the script’ much more is required to implement strategies to achieve their growth and profit objectives.

Stagnated learning

independent-call-out-3Most business advisors spend the first 20-30 years of their life learning and applying new skills continuously to build a strong foundation for their future careers.  As they progress into more senior roles this learning often drops off as change becomes more difficult and time pressures (both business and personal) make it difficult to attend skill development training.

Learning new skills for advisors can quickly become a chore only completed rarely between important ‘revenue’ generating activity.  Quick ‘motivational’ sessions, or a burst of learning at a ‘conference’ is often the solution adopted but without strong implementation habits and tenacity, 95% of new learning is forgotten in weeks.

Successful advisors have a mindset of continuous learning and every year they are continuously adapting their delivery models, intellectual property and facilitation style even when they are at the peak of their industries. The have a passion for learning and discovering best practice. It is a priority and never gets pushed in their diaries for that ‘urgent’ client meeting.

If seeking to help an experienced customer to transform their business or address a specific issue they will want to hear relevant, up-to-date insights, strategies, tools and trends.

While listening to a war story from 20 years ago can be valuable and similar tools do work, the context has changed and advisors can be out of date very quickly without making the quality time for learning.

Lots of client opportunities

In a market place full of time poor customers seeking to grow and drive change, there are vast amounts of opportunities for business advisors to thrive at present however it’s far from easy.

Some advisors have an ‘abundance mentality’ while others have one of scarcity.  Observing successful advisors you see they:

  • have a glass half full mindset
  • see opportunities in every market
  • have high self-awareness
  • have narrower and deeper relationships with clients that are high value
  • are great at problem solving with customers
  • are well leveraged in their niche
  • aren’t seen as a risk or high maintenance
  • are great listeners and communicators
  • have the ability to deliver a great solution

Successful advisors are seen as a ‘safe pair of hands’ for customers who will ride the roller coaster of change with them putting down the accelerator when required and pulling back at other times. They don’t want an advisor who acts like a ‘bull in a china shop’ when they are already low on energy and can’t risk too much change.

Overall it’s an environment with a wealth of client opportunities for quality advisors continuously investing in learning, adapting their models and delivery approach.  Those standing still or looking for quick fixes will struggle to win business from quality, mature customers now and in the future.

WHERE – future opportunities

idependent_binocularsSuccessfully growing an independent advisory business will involve tenacity, high self-awareness, continuous learning and a heavy investment over many years in training, support, technology and business models.

The outcome will be a highly leveraged, niche advisory business with a quality client base which could for many advisors be global.

Advisors will only work with customers who:

  • are fun to work with
  • fit their core values
  • help them achieve their life balance goals, and importantly
  • achieve their growth and profit objectives
Understand your customer journey

Advisors will need to understand their target market customers’ journeys. By this we mean they understand where that client’s industry and business should be in 5-7 years time for success. Intimately understanding their journey and displaying it on their website, speaking on it and using in their marketing collateral will help shape their own business model but also allow them to tailor a solution based on each customers’ stage in the journey.

Understanding target customers’ journeys assumes that the target market and niche are very clear in the advisor’s mind. This is critical.

Everything is tailored

You often hear when seeking to grow a business that it’s just a case of lifting the average sale price, increasing the number of customers and improving the amount of times they buy from you, simple isn’t it?

The reality is very different when it comes to driving those changes in the business and determining the strategies and actions required for achieving growth.  Every business is unique requiring a slightly different solution each time. Overly prescriptive solutions don’t work in an ‘unscripted’ client environment

The right mindset and energy to change

independent-call-out-4A big component of being a successful advisor is the ability to bring energy and the right mindset to each client engagement. Clients who are change fatigued, lacking clarity or seeking strategic insight want to have advice provided by somebody that gives off terrific, positive energy rather than somebody that takes it away.  This is often an overlooked key success factor.

Thus managing energy as an advisor is important. Keeping healthy, having good life balance, having regular mental stimulation, good family time and financial stability all contribute to a positive mindset.

Achieving growth

As advisors continue to grow their businesses they will reach a point where their current pricing structure limits their growth potential as there are only so many hours in a day.

The solutions they typically consider are:

  1. Higher value-priced services and packages
  2. Selling their intellectual property
  3. Greater leverage through technology
Higher value services and packages

independent-call-out-5Higher value services may sound as easy as ‘just lift your prices’ and sometimes it is, but in order for an advisor with good core values to do that they first need to feel confident in their level of capability to deliver great outcomes. As an advisor’s capability improves so does their confidence to lift prices.

Risk averse customers however expect a strong return on their investment (typically a 10:1 return). So an advisor charging them 100k a year means they need to typically show an annual return of at least 1 million.

Selling intellectual property

Selling intellectual property (IP) by advisors is difficult, with most of it out of date, clients not valuing it in isolation (as value is in the outcome) or it’s far too detailed to follow.

Leveraging a team and technology

The close relationships, high skill levels and trust put in an experienced advisor driving change for a business means it’s often difficult to delegate services to 3rd parties, sub-contractors or more ‘junior team members’.

An option for ‘greater leverage’  is to review which aspects are more prescriptive and can therefore be done with less costly ‘junior’ providers but this can take time to bed in successfully through quality training.

Cloud technologies will continue to open up exciting opportunities globally but heavy investment is typically out of the reach of anybody but the larger consulting groups.

Online coaching technologies will deliver advisors the leverage to coach 200 people as time efficiently as traditionally coaching 20.

Online training, tailored to suit the needs of customers will be created in a matter of minutes and utilised to support hundreds of customers.

Webinars already open up opportunities to touch thousands weekly if required for marketing or training-related activities. Those advisors not leveraging cloud technologies will have a limit to the leverage they are capable of achieving.

Virtual teams

As more niche advisors come into the market the importance of virtual teams will grow. Virtual teams bring together a range of 3rd party specialists into a project at their commercial rates to deliver a client outcome. Each advisor needs to have their own network of specialists. Without it, larger projects may not be won.

Blended training & support solutions

Face-to-face and online training and support will play an important role in future training and development solutions. The question is not which one is right for the client but rather what ‘blend’ of the two will best suit them. The correct ‘blend’  will be based on:

  • location of team members
  • desired training outcomes
  • timing when goals are to be achieved
  • amount of team members to be supported
  • beliefs of team members with regards to technology and innovation, and
  • budget

This shift to blended solutions will force many advisors to re-package their intellectual property into an online environment quickly over the coming years and also review changes to their delivery models.

Simplify the complex

independent-call-out-6Successful advisors make the complex simple for customers. Too often with advisors you see overly complex business models clients don’t understand, social media campaigns that are built to attract 100’s of clients rather than the 5-6 extra clients in their strategy and marketing collateral that is not digestible to target clients.  Advisors need high self-awareness and good emotional intelligence.

Those achieving success will have simple and powerful models that are easy for them to talk to which in turn makes it easier to sell to customers. If an advisor cannot explain in a few minutes who their target market is, their delivery model and the outcomes they achieve it’s a sign of too much complexity.

Don’t re-invent the wheel

The nature of business advisors makes them curious about businesses and continuously writing material or intellectual property to assist.

Anybody that has created intellectual property, cloud software or training material understands the tremendous amount of time required to do this well on a regular basis. This is time most advisors don’t have, meaning they don’t innovate as much as required to keep pace.

As advisors grow they will need to ensure they partner with proven providers of support to prevent them re-inventing the wheel and give them leverage in areas such as:

  • Customer relationship management systems
  • Training & development material
  • Online coaching technologies
  • Coaching & mentoring support
  • 3rd party referrals & networking
  • Business tools and resources
Taking equity in clients’ businesses

An independent advisory business is difficult to leverage past a certain point and even more difficult to sell. Therefore successful advisors are taking equity stakes in customers (or non-customers) businesses to drive wealth creation. This provides the ultimate leverage of their capabilities and earning potential. The advisory business acts as a cash-cow funding further entrepreneurial investments.

At what stage in the journey is your advisory business?

Your stage in the journey will dictate initial strategies to evolve the business and the depth and intensity of support required.


HOW – the roadmap forward

The steps within this roadmap assume the advisory business has engaged with Mindshop to support the continued growth of their successful advisory business which is well leveraged by technology.

Those advisors who are already part of the Mindshop community should also look to the Top 10 Advisory Insights Study 2016 (see Mindshop blog) for strategies to adapt their business over the year ahead.

Like any journey it will have the occasional detour, speed-bump, times where the pace is fast and others where there is a need to go slow.

The intent however is to reach the destination safely and in the case of an independent business advisor with a profitable, growing, well-leveraged advisory offering that is fun to run and provides great life balance.

Advisors shouldn’t waste years of time getting ready. They should take the first step, then learn and adapt quickly as they go.


Journey assessment diagnostic

Take some time to assess your current position on the journey for achieving your business advisory goals by completing this short diagnostic.

1. What advisory services have been delivered over the past five years? What has been the track record of success?

2. What have been your average annual fees by target market?

3. Rate yourself on a scale of -5 to +5 (with -5 being poor and +5 being very good) for the following:

Reflect on the comments and scores above. Where are the top 3 areas that need focus? What strategies need to be implemented to ensure successful growth of advisory services?

HOW – the roadmap in detail

1. Assess your current position

Assess the current track record in the provision of advisory services, advisory skill set and advisor’s openness to change. Determine the growth targets and initial thoughts on key challenges and opportunities to achieving those targets.

2. Review options

Review other market options to ensure that Mindshop is the best solution to achieve your desired goals. Ensure there is also a cultural fit with the style of support and training provided by Mindshop.

3. Sign off on advisory support from Mindshop

When the review of other options has been completed and Mindshop is determined the best fit, a proposal will be put to join as a full Mindshop advisor. The direct support from Mindshop for a full advisor license involves:

  • attending training days-accessing online resources and training
  • networking with hundreds of other advisors globally and
  • gaining experienced coaching support.

Everything required to grow a successful advisory business.

4. Induction commences

A detailed induction process then commences:

  • introductory calls with dedicated Mindshop coach
  • walk throughs of the Mindshop Online platform including available resources
  • Commencement of online training courses
  • start using the tools with customers
  • receive invitations to Mindshop’s wealth of training events.

Quickly the Mindshop advisor attends their first training day and meets peers in their local area.

5. Build the advisory model and achieve quick wins

The Mindshop advisor will, for approximately 12 months depending on existing capabilities, focus on:

a. Building new advisory skills
b. Putting in place a starting point of basic advisory services
c. Refining an advisory delivery model
d. Becoming confident in leveraging online training and coaching technologies
e. Refining a sales process for advisory services
f. Educating centres of influence and virtual networks of other advisors regarding their niche
g. Building a track-record and competence with target customers

6. Weave Mindshop in with other skill sets

The addition of the new Mindshop tools and methodologies will start to be integrated seamlessly with other aspects of the business model. Each should complement each other and be simple to understand by customers.

7. Regular in-field coaching support

Regular, experienced coaching support will be provided to challenge strategies, review models and be an experienced sounding board in the field as the tools and processes are implemented with customers and the team. All strategies and actions will be captured and tracked via Mindshop Online so each advisor is held accountable and the skills they require are then mapped to their strategies.

8. Build confidence to offer higher value advisory services

After 6-12 months the Mindshop advisor’s confidence will continue to build as they deliver more solutions to customers.This increased confidence will then lead to higher value and more complex advisory offerings with online coaching and training solutions embedded.

9. Ongoing innovation, coaching, training & development

With the support of Mindshop, the business advisor after 12 months continues to thrive through regular coaching, training, innovation, networking and the injection of new technologies. As capability grows and the adapted approach with Mindshop’s support becomes just ‘the way they do business’ overall growth and profit targets will be achieved.

You only fail if you stop trying

As with any business plan, some aspects of this strategy will be successful and others will fail. Each can be a benefit to the advisor in the learning and experience created. Changes to the overall strategy will be made in response to these experiences through the combined effort of the advisor and Mindshop.

The market place has a vast array of opportunities on which quality business advisors can capitalise. They will however need to be agile and continuously learning to ensure they annually make the 15-20 little tweaks to the way they do business to ensure they have a future-proofed advisory business.

We look forward to supporting you in making this journey a successful one.

Download a PDF of the roadmap.


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