Have you ever wondered why you prefer being a sole practitioner, an army of just one person? Why not run a CFO practice with a handful of professionals who can do what you do?
Even though I know the answer for myself, I’ve never heard another consultant clearly articulate their response as well as Roger Martin.
Roger is the author of one of the most practical books on strategy I’ve ever read. The title is Playing to Win and his co-author is A.G. Lafley, the former Chairman and CEO of P&G. He’s also the scribe of one of the best business blogs written for professionals like you and me,
Near the end of one of his posts, he uses the phrase, “I wanted to be Switzerland.” Here is the full context:
For several reasons, I chose instead to be a solo practitioner. One key reason was that I wanted to be Switzerland — a neutral player.
I don’t and can’t compete with McKinsey, BCG, Bain, and Monitor Deloitte for revenues because my revenue capacity is miniscule, and they are multi-billion-dollar entities.
I wanted to be in a position to disseminate my ideas and language system freely for anyone who wants to use it.Roger Martin – Are You Building a Strategy Tower of Babel?
The Positives of Being Switzerland
Being Switzerland is hard and lonely. You are in charge of marketing, sales, and you are the operating team along with those you enlist from your clients.
The positives however and immeasurable:
We determine the direction of our practice which means we can be reinventing ourselves every few years based on our continuous learning and growth process. In short, we create the agenda as opposed to being a bullet point on another person’s or firm’s agenda.
Being Switzerland generally means we can establish closer ties with our clients which can last for a very, very long time. I’m not saying that can’t be done if you are part of a bigger team. Working solo offers more opportunities to focus on relationships as opposed to working around the clock by generating billable projects for another organization.
Being Switzerland can be as lucrative compared to running a small firm. Our clients get their big payoff when they sell. We get our big payoff monthly after we collect fees for our services. Most of us should only need to live off about 40 to 50 percent of what we take in. The rest we can invest (right now). There is no waiting for the big payoff. It’s ongoing.
We create our own language when we’re Switzerland. For about six or seven years, I was part of a larger CFO firm. Since I enjoy writing and creating simple frameworks (one of my unique abilities), I felt stymied using another firm’s language. Plus, my own language was considered open domain content–anyone could use it as their own, and that happened more than once. When we’re Switzerland, we can create our own IP (intellectual property). This could possibly be the most important benefit of being Switzerland.
I’m pushing the envelope of the Switzerland metaphor, but I’m going to bookend this list by stating that being neutral is being skeptical. For just one minute. let’s assume Switzerland is known for being skeptical instead of being neutral. Being Switzerland means we have the freedom to see the flaws in other management frameworks no matter how popular they are. Gino Wickman and Verne Harnish are sometimes right, and sometimes they are not the right answer to certain growth issues. We can say that about OKRs, strategic planning, The Balanced Scorecard, one-page business plans, best practices, and numerous other management methods that over-promise results. Being skeptical is healthy and could save your clients time and money from going down too many rabbit holes with these tools and methodologies.
Before wrapping up, I want to highlight a concept that Roger Martin mentions in Playing to Win. He explains assertive inquiry in chapter six, Manage What Matters.
Skepticism runs in my veins. I’m on constant yellow alert when it comes to hearing and reading about management practices, especially the ones that sound good in print but disastrous when executed poorly by small business owners.
Being skeptical with our Switzerland mindset is not a license to say what we want in the way that comes naturally to us (I’m writing this line for myself).
As Roger points out about assertive inquiry, this type of communication means expressing our thoughts and ideas while soliciting the same from others who may think differently. We can be skeptical and collaborative at the same time.
Sorry for this small sidebar, but I felt this quick advice was necessary on our role of being skeptical in the proper context. In short, being skeptical is not the same thing as being dogmatic or a curmudgeon.
Parting Thoughts on Being Switzerland
As much as I like Roger’s idea of being Switzerland, I have two more perspectives to add balance to this discussion.
Dan Sullivan is one of the greatest small business coaches around the globe. He uses the term ‘rugged individualist’ a lot. During my first year attending his firm’s quarterly workshops, we hit on that concept numerous times.
Just because you are Switzerland doesn’t mean you have to be a rugged individualist. You can still be an active member in other people’s tribes that are like-minded with similar goals and aspirations. Being Switzerland doesn’t mean being alone.
Currently, I have a small circle of roughly thirteen people I can turn to for advice, feedback, and just being a friend when I need it from a professional point of view. I may be Switzerland, but I’m not neutral when it comes to strong relationships.
My final perspective on being Switzerland is that it’s not forever unless you want it to be. You can be Switzerland for five, seven, ten, or twenty years. You can join a team anytime you want, or you can expand your practice with other consultants like Daniel Martin did at Agile Strategies. Walking away from Switzerland is not failure.
Being Switzerland is a mindset based on our ‘why’ for doing what we are doing. About annually, I find continual peace of mind in revisiting why I’m a solo consultant. The answer is always the same. What’s yours?