10 Insights on Building a Successful Consulting Business in Frontier Markets

May 29, 2015

Almost 10 years ago I decided to set up my own company. During those years I had my shares of ups and downs – I’ve been through partnerships that ended, changed people and transformed business models (I’m now on my 5th business model!).


No matter the difficulties, sleepless nights, stress, whether I’d be able to pay my team next week,
the demands I’ve made of my family (from never being home) and the pressure to deliver (because if you don’t perform, client won’t pay) it’s been a decision that I have never regretted.


I’ve learned more over the past 10 years than the combined 20 years before. I’ve been able to impact organizations and people. I can proudly say that companies have become better places to work at as a result of my partnerships with them. I can’t imagine myself at any time going back to employment (never say never…) and not be my own boss again.


I’ve noticed that in my social and professional circles, more and more people are taking the same step and are starting their own businesses. Some are service based, others are production oriented but all of them are small ventures with huge ambitions.


To help these new entrepreneurs succeed I have selected 10 insights that really made a difference in me being able to build a successful consulting business in Pakistan. Ready…..here they are:



  1. Its is all about the cash – don’t get hung up by profits. Make a spreadsheet with cash flow projections for the next 12 months and keep track of every penny going in or out.
  2. Keep as much costs as possible variable, even if that means higher short term expenses. Only if it has proven over and over again that you ‘need something’, acquire it.
  3. Stick to your vision but be flexible about your business model. Being flexible, or even better, agile, is one of the key elements of succeeding in building your own business in frontier markets. The context in which you operate changes too quickly for you to stick to your guns and see out the ride. Be clear on where you want to go but be flexible on the path you choose.
  4. Make your business ‘foul – proof’. Don’t make it dependent on a specific individual(s). Make it process based, with clear SOP/policies so operations are not going to be dependent on one or two people.
  5. Be generous: In Pakistan (and arguably all over the world), businesses are relations based. Make sure you build strong relations with your customers (respond within 24 hours, give first without expecting anything in return, solve their problems, deliver with quality and stay in touch).
  6. Take the pricing high ground. Keep a healthy price difference between the ‘opportunist’ and yourself. This indicates quality (Suzuki vs Mercedes)….but keep the difference ‘digestable’.
  7. Value based fees. Base your pricing on the value that you offer to the customer. Sometimes that means having different customers pay different prices for the same thing because they value the product differently. Always provide a menu of options. Go from a ‘full monty’ solution with a high price and then offer to take ‘elements out’ with a lower price and at the end a ‘bare to the bones’ solutions with competitive price. Help customers go up the price value chain. Also help customers do a ROI on the investment they make in your product and what return they get from it (even if it’s guess work).
  8. Make yourself unique. Competitive advantage is a function of something you offer that is (1) unique (what is that in your case) and (2) customers value.
  9. Build a reputation of thought leadership in your unique area through in-bound marketing so that you don’t have to ‘cold-call’ people. Instead, they should be ‘aware’ of you – they should be coming to you instead of you running to them.
  10. Keep on learning and reading, 50% of your knowledge is no longer relevant after a couple of years (I call it the half-life of knowledge)

I guarantee these 10 lessons will get you further than you thought possible with your new venture. If you’ve done any of these or would like to add to this list, please share them for everyone to learn from in the comments below!


Photo Credit: hnnbz via Compfight cc

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