Six Steps to Grow Margins Without Consultant Burn-Out

By Megan R. Miller

Do not burn out your consultants.

That seems like common sense. But in professional services, an industry in which your people are your product, employee expertise directly enhances a firm’s reputation. The result can be top-performing employees assigned to multiple projects and being over-utilized.

During a recent Deltek-sponsored webinar hosted by Consulting Magazine, “Effective Firm Management – Increasing Profit Margins Through Project Execution,” industry leaders examined how firms can better grow margins, manage client relationships and deliver projects. The resulting discussion revealed that “A-Team” burn-out is often a symptom of deeper management issues and missed opportunities.

The webinar’s panel of industry experts led by Joe Kornik, Editor and Publisher of Consulting Magazine included: Luanne Pavco, General Manager of Slalom Consulting; Larry Olson, Chairman/President CEO of Nexus Global Business Solutions; and Tom Rodenhauser, Managing Director, Advisory Services, ALM Intelligence; and me. Together, we challenged attendees to rethink their day-to-day operations.

So, how can your project-based firm balance resources, deliver projects and enhance your reputation without burning out your top-performing consultants?

1) Plan & Prioritize

Thinking carefully about a project’s critical path before you start will ensure that you use your valuable time and talent in the most lucrative way. Identify each project’s specific needs and select the best available resources so that you can meet schedules and stay within budget. If necessary resources aren’t available, work with counterparts to find a viable solution and share resources so you don’t overburden one person or team.

2) Identify the Right Talent 

Consultants vary in their skills and expertise. Understanding the strengths of each consultant is a key revenue booster and can be the difference between coming in on budget and experiencing costly overruns.

“We want to make sure we bid talent that can actually deliver the work on the day that the client expects us to show up,” said Slalom’s Luanne Pavco. “In the time period that we’re in right now, where there is so much pressure on revenue growth and a lot of competition within our market, at times we are tempted to potentially bid maybe a less-experienced individual or talent on the program, to keep our price within check.  And what we have seen, if that is, in fact, the case, it costs us, the consulting organization, more in the long run.”

3) Make It Easy To Track Time & Expenses

When time is money, what could be more effective than integrating real-time timesheets and expense reports with critical business functions, such as project management, invoicing and business intelligence? Shifting to an integrated system that is accessible across a variety of platforms ensures that you have the right information at the right time. Plus, this makes it easier for employees to keep consistent, up-to-date records – and eliminates any excuse for failing to log those vital hours.

4) Set Utilization Targets

Set clear, measurable and realistic targets for your consultants. This will set expectations, allow teams to better manage their workloads, and ultimately encourage productivity. At the end of the day, under-performing staff members will have consistent goals to strive for, while top-performers can gauge when to pace themselves.

5) Keep Your “A-Team” In Check

Over-utilizing your firm’s top consultants can impact your whole firm, regardless of its size – and inaccurate project scheduling and time tracking only compounds the problem. Ensure that you have a clear view of each employee’s work load, and adjust as needed. In the course of making needed updates, ensure that all consultants, even those not on your firm’s “A-Team,” are delivering the outcomes you expect.

6) Gain Insight

While much of a firm’s profitability hinges on project visibility, too many firms’ leaders don’t have the tools they need to succeed, costing thousands of dollars. While firms may have transparency at the institutional level, they don’t drill down deep enough at the client or account level, explained panelist Tom Rodenhauser. “What ends up happening is there is a disconnect in terms of how individual accounts perform against the institutional expectations,” he noted.

Panelist Larry Olson shared that with the right tools you can not only meet your goals, but exceed them. He described how his firm, Nexus Global Business Solutions, experienced growth of 1,800 percent in four years by using the right tools to aggressively set goals, tie opportunities to performance and monitor progress to ensure accountability.

So, do you have the right tools in place to monitor utilization, manage margins and ensure that the right people are on the right projects at the right time? If not, it may be time to invest in a project-based solution to simplify time and expense entry while clarifying real-time project details—and ultimately gain insight into your business like never before.


Megan R. Miller is a senior product marketing specialist for Herndon-based Deltek, the leading global provider of enterprise software and information solutions for professional services firms. To learn more, visit


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