What Great Consultants Tell You

What Great Consultants Tell You

I lead an Advisory Services Practice in my Group. We serve clients in U.S and across Africa. In this business, we do not do rocket science. Consulting, under most circumstances, is someone telling you to do what you could have figured out yourself. Sure, there are very complicated assignments where you have to crack your brain, develop and use frameworks, relying on data to help clients. Those projects task the power of brainpower and the capacity to manage complexity to bring order to a client’s business challenges.

But most times, it could be easy. This week, I helped a small hotelier. I went to a tier-3 Nigerian city for a project preparation phase. My flight was delayed so I landed very late. My client took me to a hotel very close to the airport since I did not want to drive deeper into the city in the night.

When we got to the hotel, I noticed that out of the five bulbs in the reception, only one was shining brightly. Others were dim. I asked the receptionist if I could speak with the Manager. She obliged and called the Manager. I told the Manager that he was not doing a great job. I explained that he could be losing more than 30% of potential customers in the night due to those bad bulbs. I asked him to go immediately and changed them. He was not saving any money for not replacing them.

Interestingly, they have MOPOL and excellent security in the hotel. The rooms were also above average. But they simply neglected one of the most important elements of the business: the reception. I estimate that the 4 bulbs may not cost more than N2,000.

In the morning as I was leaving the hotel, the Manager came and told me that he changed the bulbs in the night. I commended him and also told him to go and buy paints and paint the hotel gate. That may not cost him more than N20,000, He said he would do so. We exchanged business cards. I left for my client’s business location with his driver.

What I did is nothing but consulting. Sure, it is unpaid and unsolicited. The recommendations are possibly what a good consultant could have told that hotel if they have hired one to explore how to improve growth in the business. Little things matter. I will explain how great institutions do simple things to win:

  • The Rwandan Development Board (RDB): RDB is one of the finest investment ecosystems you can visit in Africa. It looks like a trading hall. Once you enter RDB, you may think you are in Goldman Sachs. They take care of everything, polishing the tiles and communicating excellence in their physical outlook. The impression is legendary. You will like to do business in RDB: I like going there. Nigeria has not done a good job in this area. We sincerely need to improve how we project the image of our key institutions to the world.
  • U.S. Universities: Most U.S. top universities make their schools excursion destinations to create real impressions to visiting potential students. They repaint seasonally so that those students, when they visit, see a spotless campus. That is part of a competitive system: you need to project an image of excellence. Nigerian universities hardly afford resources to keep great buildings in good conditions.

Little things matter in business. And when you work as an advisor to firms, it makes sense to even begin with those little things. Last year, on a project in East Africa with primary focus to boost organic growth, we worked with the client to take outside photos of all its stores. We ran a small comparison and noticed that revenue was nearly correlated to the outlook of the stores. The better stores attracted more customers and performed better. So, even before the real strategic work commenced, the client knew that upgrading/moving stores would be part of the recommendations. And indeed that was a key part of it and within 6 months, in addition to other minor changes, including changing the brand color to entice the market segment, revenue went up.

And when you talk of taking care of little things, it goes beyond being a founder to also when you are leading a unit in a company. One of my best projects was helping a client to model the profitability of all ATM machines and branches in its business. We developed a ranking on which ATM, branch, etc should be brought up first by the IT Group should many be down at the same time. When links go down, IT Group has a technology problem, but it was important that someone transitions that thinking to become a business problem. So, they have a ranking under bounded timeframes on what to do when links go down. It does not make sense to be working to fix an ATM in my village when the link to the one in the National Assembly is also down, when the former generates only less than 1% of the latter’s volume. You do not even need a consultant to tell you to do that. Yet, I am grateful you do!

As you run your startup, I challenge you to be mentally aware of your business. You must develop that spirit of awareness and do all necessary to understand the root cause of issues. Successful business leaders know how to take care of those basic elements. Google spends efforts before adopting a color or font for its products. Yours may be making sure that you have a decent illumination in your reception so that customers would be comfortable to wait, as they explore business opportunities with you. Having awareness should not need consultants, because most times, they simply tell you to do what you could have done yourself.


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