roostervane academy
Close this search box.

Success Hack #1 – Find Problems

(This is part of a series on consulting. You can read this first if you missed it.)

In 2018, I applied for a job as a Director of Communications. Got an interview. I showed up with some things I had created: mocked-up magazine articles, actual academic journal articles I wrote, a blog post, etc.  

The CEO interviewing me was kind. She asked questions for half an hour. But I bet she knew she wasn’t going to hire me after 5 minutes. 

Because I had no idea what they needed. I didn’t know what a Director of Communications did. I didn’t understand the problems they had. And I didn’t know how to fix those problems. 

It’s a process that’s repeated every day all over America. People apply for jobs and show up for interviews ready to talk about their degrees, their experience, their likes and dislikes, and of course, a prepared answer about your weakness. 

Remember this scene from The Office? 

But they don’t understand why they’re interviewing or applying. 

But most people could ace their job interviews by asking three questions:

  1. What does the employer actually want? 
  2. Am I the right person to give it to them?
  3. How can I show them that?

(Now to be fair, job postings are often full of ridiculous filler nonsense. Sometimes employers don’t even know what they want or need.) 

But since this week I’m talking about consulting, NOT getting a job, let’s talk about how this phenomenon creates business opportunities. In fact, it’s the basis of the whole consulting economy.

Being a successful consultant or service business comes down to the same questions: 

  1. What does your client want? 
  2. What makes you the best person to give it to them? 
  3. How can you convince them you’re the right person?

But unlike like a job description, a consultant isn’t being hired to do all the random crap that somebody thought to stuff in the description. 

Consulting is both lucrative AND easier!!

You don’t need to solve the 15 problems a company would put in a job description. As a consultant, you should be hired to solve a minimal set of problems… even better if it’s just one. 

This is beautiful. 

Because if you can get really good at solving the same problem again and again, you can be a great consultant. 

This gives you a competitive edge. You only need to get really good at one or two things to consult.

 If you know how to get clients millions of website visitors from Facebook ads, but don’t have a clue about how LinkedIn or TikTok ads work, who cares? The clients who want Facebook traffic will come talk to you. The clients who want TikTok followers will go somewhere else. 

Now, the truth is, when you start your consulting business, you will probably take any job that puts the food on the table. There’s no shame in that. We’ve all done it. 

But your goal is to pick one problem and get better at solving it.

  • One problem that you will become exceptionally good at solving.
  • One problem you will dedicate your time and energy to being the master of. 

If you can’t start here (you need to build up clients and a reputation first maybe), you want to move in this direction. 

There are a bunch of questions you probably have, but for today we’ll just cover one more. 

How do you find good problems? 

What makes a good consulting problem? One that organizations will pay top dollar for?

That’s your job to figure out. 

Not all problems are created equally. Every business has complicated problems that they will never devote the energy to solving.

I used to work at a place that used an outdated computer program. But it worked just fine, people were used to it, and they couldn’t be bothered to replace it.

That’s not a good consulting problem, for now at least. If this company got hacked because of outdated software or couldn’t get the software anymore, maybe they’d need to update. And maybe they’d hire a consultant.

The thing is, good problems usually come down to money.

Here are a few broad-strokes problem sets.

Problems relating to earning/saving money

Money problems might be the best consulting problem.  If you can demonstrate a track record of earning more money than you cost, you are an ATM that anyone can hire. 

Here are some examples of ATM consulting gigs–your client can get more money than it costs to hire you. 

  • Grant writing 
  • Search engine marketing 
  • Supply chain optimization
  • Tax specialist

If you can demonstrate that hiring you will make or save the business more money, whether it’s through finding new clients, new revenue, or stopping existing from going out the door, you’re valuable. 

Problems requiring expertise

We could consider another type of problem “expertise problems.” Not mutually exclusive from money problems–in fact, most good problems are money problems. If I hire a lawyer to trademark something for me, I know it’s to protect me from getting sued down the road. So that’s an expertise problem, but also a money problem.

For example, a company might hire a consultant to:

  • Oversee digital transformation
  • Manage an IT project
  • Teach a DEI workshop
  • Improve the supply chain
  • Advise on a health-tech product

Complexity problems

Microsoft’s Management processes are much bigger than the management problems at my local pizza place. So it makes sense that Microsoft might hire a consultant for their processes. And they’ll pay more–because Microsoft is more complex. 

For example, big consulting firms are often brought in to handle ridiculously challenging corporate events that companies don’t deal with all the time. Think about massive mergers and acquisitions, for example. This is an expertise problem AND a money problem, but it also relates to complexity.

Outside perspective problems

Finally, consultants are often hired to deal with issues that require an outsider perspective. If the CEO is under investigation for fraud, it’s probably best that it’s not led by the HR department. In this case, outsider perspective is important.

 As you think about the problems you see around you, you can start assessing whether there’s a market for consulting there.

The problem I started solving

As I created content, I stumbled across a set of problems that have become the foundation for my past few years of work:

Content problems:

  • Companies want to create content to establish themselves AND (more importantly) to show up in Google.
  • But they may not have people in-house to create it. Or those people might not know how to make content Google likes.
  • AND/OR it’s really hard to find someone you can trust to write in your company voice, without requiring a ton of supervision or micro-managing.

That’s how I became a search engine marketing consultant.

Remember, finding the right problem is step one.

Step two is knowing you’re the right person to fix it.

Step three is proving to them you’re the right person to fix it.

We’ll get to this stuff next time.

Read More:



Weekly articles, tips, and career advice