Consulting - the unaccounted hours

Where do consultants deliver added value? You could easily point to the obvious, like specialist expertise and resources, the capacity for intense focus on specific strategies and projects, or even flexibility.

Since returning to consulting, I’d like to add another benefit - the unaccounted hours. These are the unbilled hours when the brain is still churning through solutions and ideas while technically ‘off the clock’. The jobs taken on for clients are totally portable, following you wherever you go.

What naturally follows is that some of your best ideas and solutions are created during unaccounted hours. No matter how you shape it, clients are generally unprepared to pay for the ten minutes you spent in the shower that morning, or the hours on the kayak taking in the sun.

The flip side of this is that, if as a consultant you’re so disengaged with your client that you never deliver the unaccounted hours, then you’re probably not really giving it your best.

Clients can naturally argue that the consultancy fees they pay more than compensate for the unaccounted hours and this would be a fair perspective if they have reached a bargain fair to both sides. Frankly, consultants who do not strike such bargains are fools unto themselves.

It is why I worry about the commoditisation of consulting services that require significant intellectual and creative input. One thousand words written by one person can be worth considerably more than 1,000 written by another and discerning clients know this.

I am very reluctant to compete on digital platforms that tend to commoditise services. I feel sorry for small graphic design firms competing with offshore businesses that deliver a logo for $50. These services are purchased by undiscerning clients who know nothing about how visual cues link with and project the essence of their values and brand, but these cheap services erode the marketplace nonetheless.

Despite their undoubted reach, it is challenging to really differentiate the qualitative client experience that you offer through these platforms - the unaccounted input you bring to the table as a product of the history and skills that are the foundations of your value.

Consulting is a great way to earn a living. It provides flexibility and freedom to take on work that really interests you. You live and die on the value you bring to clients because you take on work that you’re genuinely passionate about and don’t begrudge the unaccounted hours.

At least that is the way it should be. In my previous business, I learned it was easy to get sucked into the destructive vortex of discounting and taking on work you really didn’t want when pressure mounted to meet overheads and salaries. These are practices that only lead to tears.

If you’re consulting, or thinking about it, know your value and recognise that much of it is reflected in what you put in during the unaccounted hours.