how my consulting model has changed

How my consulting model has changed over the years [PMP #184]

As a freelancer or consultant, there are many ways you can charge for your services and work with clients. Since starting my consulting business in 2016, I’ve continued to iterate my own model and how I work with clients.

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These changes have occurred as demand for my services has increased and as I’ve learned more about how to work with clients to help them achieve their goals in a more efficient way.

Each change that I made over the last few years was made in an attempt to either 1) grow my income 2) deliver my service more efficiently, or 3) deliver more value to clients (ideally all three at once).

If you’re new to freelancing or consulting, I’m not necessarily suggesting you copy my approach or skip ahead to what I’m doing right now. Looking back at the changes I made, they made sense for the stage I was at with my business and the level of demand I was receiving for my services.

Instead, I hope new freelancers can use this post to get more ideas about how to charge for their services and slowly climb the value ladder. And if you want to learn more about how to run a consulting business, check out my How to become a virtual consultant program.

My original consulting model

When I started consulting in 2016, I probably did the thing most new consultants or freelancers do. I charged by the hour or by the project.

For clients that only need a few hours of support to get a few questions answered, hourly billing made the most sense. This is a nice and simple model that everyone understands. I started off charging USD$150/hr. I didn’t use any special formula or system to arrive at this number. It was simply an amount that sounded good to me and clients were happy to pay it.

For larger projects, I charged a fixed price for the project. So regardless of the number of hours I’d need to put in, the client would have more certainty around what the final cost of the project would be. i.e. less risk for the client. Projects like this are harder to sell and come with more conditions and deliverables so you have to be confident in what you’re offering.

For clients, they get more value in the form of ‘unlimited’ support from me. Because these projects aren’t charged by the hour, the client doesn’t have to worry about cost when they need to get help or additional training for their team.

By pricing based on the value provided to the client, I was able to earn more than I would compared to filling my calendar with calls charged by the hour. These projects typically ranged from USD$1,500 – $3,000 when I was starting out.

Setting minimum engagements

As I worked with more clients, I started to find ways of becoming more efficient. I was finding that some clients only wanted to book 30 or 60-minute calls which resulted in more admin and I was feeling pressured to cram as much as I could into these short calls. I learned that in order to deliver more value to the client, we really needed to spend at least 2 or 3 hours together so I could understand their business and make the right recommendations.

So in 2018, I started offering hourly support but with a minimum of a 3-hour commitment (total investment of USD$450). This helped to weed out the really small clients and meant the clients I was helping would get better results as I wasn’t having to squeeze all my advice into a short session.

Increasing project fees

In 2017 and 2018 as I worked with more clients, I learned more about the kinds of things people needed help with and started to offer more support options. This included retainer arrangements, offering support with automation and tools like Zapier, connecting CRM’s to an email marketing system and so on.

So I was getting clients approaching me asking me for help with one thing but I was able to offer support with other areas they hadn’t even thought about.

By offering more options within my proposals, I was able to increase my project fees and deliver more results to clients (project now ranged from USD$2,500 – $8,000). During this time, I was also able to offer payment plans to clients. So rather than charging 100% upfront which can be a big ask for a higher-value project, I started collecting payments in smaller increments according to the project timeline (e.g. after 30 days).

Productised services

In 2019 I started to move away from hourly billing and instead package my services into different options. These are sort of like mini-projects that come with a small, fixed scope.

For example, with my Asana consulting I had a few packages that offered things like ‘account audits’ and team training workshops. I also included training videos and resource manuals with these sessions so that clients had something they could refer back to and share with their teams.

Pricing for these options ranged from USD$447 – $997. Making these changes helped me to increase my ‘effective hourly rate’ while offering more value to the client than I was before by including all the added extras with each package.

Moving to online courses and group coaching

In early 2020 I made one of the biggest changes to how I deliver my consulting. I moved away from the packaged services to instead deliver my consulting via an online course, group coaching and private consulting sessions.

With the new model, clients get access to a step-by-step program that teaches them a lot more than I can cover in a few private calls. They also get access to templates, automation workflows, a Slack community and weekly group calls. All up, clients get way more bang for their buck compared to my older models.

The new model is charged monthly (USD$397/mo) which means clients on a budget can get started at a nice affordable price. Or they can pay for an unlimited license ($2,497) which gets the client lifetime access to my course and group coaching. With the unlimited license, this includes private sessions with me should people want the 1:1 time.

This model is a lot more scalable as it requires less individual 1:1 time from me. In fact, it’s been great helping multiple clients at once on a group call where they can share their ideas and help one another.

Even though I have the online course, I still do the custom projects for clients if they require more 1:1 time and premium support with things like automation.

Final words

As I said at the start, if you’re just starting out as a consultant or freelancer, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend skipping the steps and jumping straight to creating an online course.

Charging by the hour or starting with small project fees makes a lot of sense when you’re just getting started and figuring things out. And as you get more discovered and learn how you can help clients, you can build on your success and repackage your services to offer more value.

If you have any questions about anything above, please let me know in the comments below.