True thought leaders have an incredible level of access. They often get meetings with the C-suites of global, multinational, very large and very powerful organizations. They’re repeatedly brought in, either as a speaker, a consultant, or a coach. Edelman-LinkedIn’s 2018 research found that almost half (47%) of C-suite executives have shared their contact information after reading thought leadership. That’s a level of access many small and midsize boutique consulting firms would kill for!
All too often, that rarified air at the “top of the house” is already occupied by one or more of the top-tier consulting houses—such as McKinsey, Deloitte, and BCG. These firms have perfected the art of client management practices and may have nurtured strategic relationships with key executives for a decade or more. They also have a near-endless supply of consultants and the ability to generate their own proprietary research. Quite simply, your thought leadership provides entry into the C-suite world, but it does not guarantee your success.
So, how can a thought-leader David compete with consulting-firm Goliaths?
To make a real difference, a thought leader needs to find answers these three critical questions:
- What unique problems can I solve?
- How can my work be more relevant?
- What can I offer that the big firms cannot?
The strengths that a smaller consultancy or a single thought leader brings include agility, depth of content, and a more personal touch. Small teams can move faster than large organizations. They can diagnose problems more quickly, offer individualized solutions, and roll out innovations that are specifically tailored to the company’s unique issue.
But does that mean smaller consultancies should only work with smaller companies?
I’ve had plenty of clients work very well with global companies, so long as the thought leader understands their own limitations. It’s a matter of scaling expectations. A thought leader with a boutique consulting company isn’t going to be able to put a thousand consultants on a worldwide project. Just remember that if a problem is of a scale that requires an army of consultants, or multiple experts navigating global trade policy, that’s outside of the scope of a single thought leader or a boutique consultancy. It’s going to require a Goliath.
If you’re a smaller boutique, or an individual thought leader, you’re at a disadvantage. You need to focus your content on the problems you can solve, and show a real distinction in your innovations and ideas. Otherwise, possible buyers might pass you buy, assuming that you aren’t going to be able to handle their Goliath-sized problem. To make the most of your thought leadership, you need to know your lane and own it. Use your ideas and talents to give your thought leadership maximum impact, and show that you can create alignment and change for a company proportionate to your team’s current size.