Using Practical Idealism as a Business Strategy

By Rob Jordan, an EO Portland member and CEO and founder of Idealist Consulting

When I landed on “Idealist Consulting” as our company’s name nearly eight years ago, I wanted to suggest that we are a different kind of consulting firm: One that will partner with clients in an idealistic way, showing that almost anything is possible with the right technology.

But I have always felt idealism means more than dreaming big– it also means being practical. Without practicality, you will be unable to implement idealistic notions. In many ways, we have to be pragmatists in order to see our goals of idealism come to fruition.

There are three clear ways practicality informs our idealism.

  • We must be financially practical: In other words, we must charge for our services in order to grow. But we don’t just want to make money for the sake of making money; thus, there are many decisions I’ve made to ensure that this practicality is tempered with a view toward social responsibility. Providing discounted services to non-profits, maintaing B Corp status and launching our “Pay it Forward” program (where clients can give to the public sector through their work with Idealist Consulting) are all examples of ways that we are simultaneously practical and idealistic.
  • We are practical by setting honest expectations with our clients and prospects. We spend an enormous amount of time educating our clients on this simple notion: “Better – Fa ster – Cheaper … You get to pick two.” In many cases, this is not what they want to hear but it is what they need to hear if they wish to be consulted honestly. I would argue that this is not practicality, but rather true idealism. We believe that clients can be consulted and not sold. They can be told the truth about where their decisions will lead them, and ideally they will choose to work with us over the consulting firm that promises more than they actually can deliver.
  • We have to be practical with how we grow.  Salary increases, a new office space and internal infrastructure are all examples of where profits must be applied in order to scale for growth. But we can apply our profits in such a way that simultaneously supports our clients and staff. This takes many forms, but most notably it is recognized in client discounts, gifted time and anonymous donations.  Last year alone, the company gifted more than US$200,000 through discounts and non-billable time. Unlike a single contribution to one non-profit organization, we have spread the goodwill across 750 projects in eight years. Thinking of our clients in this way allows for high numbers of repeat clients.

Why does all of this matter?

Today, our identity is more important than ever. We are seeing increasing competition from large firms or “body shops” who embrace a factory-like engagement style, firms that have much larger marketing engines than ours. They can drown out the positive messaging from Idealist Consulting (and other firms like us), creating a homogenous environment of “brain factories” that cost too much and care too little.

But the beautiful thing is that we are finding more clients in both the private and public sector are recognizing that social responsibility is more than a list of ethics … it is a lifestyle. And they are looking for consultants who embody this ethos. With nearly 1000 B Corps worldwide today, study after study shows that social responsibility is resonating more than ever. I believe that maintaining our commitment to practical idealism is not only a philosophy, but a critical business strategy as we head into our next eight years.

Idealist Consulting is a progressive Salesforce implementation firm based in Portland, Oregon, USA. Founded in 2006, Idealist Consulting is dedicated to providing non-profits, private sector businesses and government with advanced technical solutions that help them run more effectively.

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