By Andrew Neitlich

From consultant to guru

By Andrew Neitlich

The consulting and professional services model has a major flaw: As a consultant, you have no choice but to trade your time for dollars. Therefore, you limit the income you can earn. Even if you know how to “value price” (pricing based on the value of the assignment to the client instead of on an hourly rate for you), you still limit yourself.

I’m getting away from the consulting model as fast as I can (and really have been moving away from it over the past 2 years), especially as I approach my 40th birthday (gasp!) next week. Otherwise:

– I won’t have a firm with equity value that I can sell to others.


– I will always be limited in what I can earn.

– My retirement will be less happy than it otherwise could be.

The alternative? Create a firm that is not dependent on you. Then you create true enterprise value, and get to make money while you spend your time away from clients.

There are many ways to do this, but they all involve leverage:

– Leverage your time by developing repeatable processes, so that others can earn money for you.

– Leverage your time by selling products, so that you make it once and sell it over and over again.

– Leverage your income by selling subscription-based programs that generate an ongoing stream of income for you.

– Leverage informational products (e.g. books, reports, speeches, interactive software) that easily translate from one medium to another, and so can be re-used.

– Leverage other people by becoming an “expert on experts.”

– Leverage your reputation, because as you get visible with more and more products and repeatable processes, more and more people see you as the go-to professional in your field.

– Leverage your expertise by creating and profiting from websites, ala Chris Beasley’s much-welcome blog and advice.

The above approaches are all part of a “guru” strategy, and is what well-known gurus do. They don’t trade their time for dollars, but do exploit enormous leverage.

I hope you are working to become a guru. The worst case? You have a bunch of great, informative products and processes that establish your credibility and make you visible in your market. In other words, if you must stick to the consulting model, the “guru” approach only builds your credibility and value in the eyes of others.

I had lunch with a fascinating guy today. He has made a business of setting “gurus” up in seminars, with websites, and with marketing plans. He also trains them to speak publicly, so that they get rave reviews from their audiences. In other words, guru-support is becoming an industry in its own right (similarly, my latest book is about this subject).

In today’s world, only a few people earn the big bucks, and make it to the top of the pyramid. These are the gurus. You can become one with the right strategies, or you can struggle at the base of the pyramid.

Web designers and developers everywhere have the opportunity to become a guru, instead of continuing to rely on hourly rates and serving clients directly. It takes a definite shift in mindset, and there are some hurdles every would be guru has to face. But when you get beyond these obstacles, life becomes instantly more rewarding.

I hope you are considering ways to become a guru, instead of a traditional consultant.

  • Another Designer

    I would very much like to be a Guru with leverage.
    But how do I become this guru with leverage?

  • emk

    I would like any resources that the guru-trainer you mentioned in this blog is linked to (articles he has written, his website etc).

    I’d definately want to step out of consulting shoes and work my way up to “guruhood”. But I’m relatively new and have only started applying the techniques (that I picked up from you) to focus on a niche market and establish myself as an expert.

    Andrew, in your opinion is there a threshold or critical mass of clients or success that a fledgling consultant needs to aquire before he starts focusing on the next stage?

    (thanks for so many great articles over the years)

    – Eric

  • ikeo

    Great article.
    Its good to know what to aspire to being a smaller developer.

    But I also have a question, what about aiming to be the best in your field so you can command a ridiculous salary/wage. I mean, isn’t that what Medical Practioners in the US do? They have a set number of hours that they work, but they’re getting paid almost $200-$300 an hour or even thousands per hour if they do surgeries.

  • aneitlich


    Not to boast or self-promote too much, but the best resource I know of is Guru Millionaire by yours truly (see my site in bio).

    I can connect you to the guru guy (who is swamped with clients) after you are on same track.


  • Anonymously

    Not to boast or self-promote too much, but the best resource I know of is Guru Millionaire by yours truly (see my site in bio).

    The Guru Millionaire
    By Andrew Neitlich

  • Leverage your reputation, because as you get visible with more and more products and repeatable processes, more and more people see you as the go-to professional in your field.

    Like writing for Sitepoint. ;)

    To me it sounds like consulting is a decent place to start, for the real world experience, and having a plan in mind to leverage that experience into dollars you can earn while you’re sleeping. This makes excellent sense, and I’m thinking that fewer people walk a path like this, simply because they lack the foresight to see where they want to be in five to ten years time. With such a low barrier of entry, I understand a lot of people just pick up a copy of Photoshop and dive right in.

    Thanks for the advice, this column and entries past. It really helps avoid the roundabout traps in the trenches. Happy Birthday as well.

  • WebDevGuy

    The book, “Rich Dad Poor Dad” is a primer on this subject as well.

  • TheAnarchist

    Yes, I’ve read that book. I can’t remember anything out of it right now, but I’ve read it. I should probably read it again sometime soon.

    What I think really has to happen, for a self-employed contractor / consultant to become a guru (or to at least move away from the consulting model), is to set up your business such that you only need to decide where your business is going, instead of actually doing the work.

    Picture yourself in the future playing golf with your best clients, doing lunches all day, that sort of thing. That is where you want to be – not working, but developing and maintaining client relationships. I think…

    Oh, and Happy Birthday to you, Andrew. My 19th is next week…

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