15 Lessons on My 15th Anniversary in Consulting

Article by , June 11, 2018

Recently, LinkedIn nicely reminded all of my acquaintances that I was celebrating my 15th year in business. Wow. Seems like yesterday that I decided to try something different and launch my own strategic marketing firm. You turn around and next thing you know, it’s 15 years later!

To celebrate this milestone, I’ve gathered 15 of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the last decade and a half. Enjoy!

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know. In May of 2003, I thought I knew exactly what would be the focus of my new consulting practice. It soon became apparent that I was totally off base, as clients came and asked me for a totally different set of capabilities. But that was OK, because I allowed myself to absorb new information and change direction as necessary.
  2. Things will change. Be ready. The one thing we know about change is that it’s a constant. Whether it’s changes in the economy, the market, technology, the work environment, or something else, it’s clear that change is all around us. And it won’t wait for us to catch up. So be prepared to shift gears at any time.
  3. Be open to opportunities. Numerous times over the last 15 years, I’ve found myself pursuing a path I’d never planned—because an opportunity arose. This included working with different types of clients, in different industries, offering different types of services. The key is to be open and ready for opportunities as they arise. Embrace the challenge.
  4. Create a solid foundation then add the trimmings. It’s tempting to want to focus on the fun stuff first—just like it’s more fun to pick out furnishings for a house rather than watch concrete being poured for the basement. But without a solid foundation, the structure crumbles. In the case of a consulting practice, that includes setting up the company properly, researching the target market, building a solid value proposition, meeting the right economic buyers, creating the right presence for your business, etc.
  5. Find your community. As a solo businessperson, there are no water cooler or break room conversations. No officemates with which to brainstorm, or managers to approve decisions. That’s why it’s so important to have a community of trusted colleagues to be a sounding board, and to provide that service for others.
  6. Own your business. Yes, of course, you legally own your business. But do you own up to what your business is about? Do you create new intellectual property on a regular basis that establishes your presence in the market? Do you act as a thought leader? Do you take reasonable risks to make the business grow?
  7. Consulting is lumpy, not smooth. My colleague, Robbie Kellman Baxter, taught me this. Consulting is like chunky peanut butter—it’s lumpy, and often clumps up in one place, meaning it can’t be spread smoothly and evenly. That means that as much as we love chunks of big projects coming in together, we know there will be times when business will be literally spread very thin. We need to be prepared for that and able to handle the ambiguity. If you want a pre-determined regular paycheck, go get a full-time job.
  8. Work ON the business, not just IN the business. It’s tempting to focus on delivering for clients, but we need to take the time to determine where the business needs to go, outline big initiatives (like creating a book or other large program), and determine where to invest. Otherwise, we will be stuck in the same place again this time next year.
  9. Always, always be marketing. What I tell clients is true for consultants as well. There are only three times you should be marketing: When things are going well, when they’re not going so well, and when you’d like to grow to the next level. That means we need to be marketing all the time, to plant seeds for the future.
  10. You can’t critique your own stuff. This is true of marketers as well as others. We can provide on-target input to others, but that doesn’t mean we can see our own work with the right perspective. There is no selfie-stick long enough to let you take an accurate snapshot of your own business. Find a trusted advisor to give you honest and constructive feedback.
  11. Referrals, referrals, referrals. To quote Alan Weiss, referrals are the coin of our realm. People find out about you through word of mouth. We need to be asking for referrals all the time. So, in that spirit, if you know someone who needs marketing help to be heard above the noise, please feel free to give them my name.
  12. Learn to say no, particularly when it’s difficult. There are many good uses of our time, but is what you’re being asked to do the best use right now? If not, then learn to say no to good causes, favors, and, in particular, our own tendency to offer to do more than necessary.
  13. Take off your plate what doesn’t absolutely need to be done by you. Hire support services if necessary, but look for others ways to make life easier, too. Use Amazon to deliver supplies automatically. Create a process then have others implement it. Set up ways for people to access your expertise without you there. Don’t do what you absolutely don’t have to do yourself.
  14. Go where you’ve never gone before. Neither Lisa Anderson nor I had ever run a professional association before we took over the management of SAC earlier this year. But we thought it looked like an interesting opportunity to take SAC to the next level, so we thought, why not? We’ll figure out what we don’t know as we go, and it will be fun to try something new and different. And here we are.
  15. Have fun. Life’s much too short and too fragile to spend time being miserable in what you do each day for work. Have a sense of humor about what’s going on around you. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Look for the irony, the satire, the absurdity of it all. And go out and enjoy yourself. You’ve earned it!
Tags: ,