There are two types of clients that pay for strategy work.
There’s the client that is deeply curious about outside perspectives and looks for a strategy partner with a set of skills that compliments their own. Client No. 1.
Then there’s the client that feels too busy to do the strategy work for themselves, and who reaches out to a strategy partner to think on their behalf. Client No. 2.
And for each client type, there’s really only one course of action to satisfy their needs.
For Client No. 1, you better be ready to commit yourself to spending a good deal of time with the client, learning their business, and then deep diving on your own. Your work should be the product of rigorous exploration and synthesis.
For Client No. 2 you should brush up on your mind-reading skills. Whatever you deliver, it better sound exactly like the client’s inner monologue. Because, in their minds, if they had the time, they’d do this work for themselves.
In the world, there are more Client No. 2′s than No. 1′s. It’s by far the bigger market. A bigger, less rewarding, market. Client No. 1 will demand more of your time and an overall better product, but the return on your time can be huge. Client No. 1 is looking for a partner. Client No. 2 is looking for an intern. Client No. 1 understands the value of good strategy. Client No. 2 , by the very fact that they haven’t made strategy a personal priority, doesn’t understand your value, and won’t pay you what you’re worth.
Working for Client No. 1 makes you better at what you do. Working for Client No. 2 just tests your patience.
Client No. 2 is a dead-end.
Once we accept a client, we owe them our very best work; it’s something we owe ourselves, as well, come to think of it. But we have a choice of whose money to take. If you keep saying yes to Client No. 2, you’ll never find Client No. 1. You won’t get better at your craft. You’ll only improve your ability to deal with a difficult client.