People sometimes ask me, “What can I learn from you that I couldn’t figure out on my own?” I reply, “Absolutely nothing, but it took me 15 years, how long do you want to wait?” Today I am sharing 10 pearls of wisdom I learned the hard way.
1. It’s surprisingly easy to start your own consulting business
It’s easier than you think to get started. All you need is a computer, a phone, brainpower and business experience. The work is the same as the work you’ve been doing in your corporate job only better.
If the idea of starting a business makes you feel inspired and energized, that’s great. I’m all in. But, if you are like the rest of us and the idea of starting a business is overwhelming, stop right now. You don’t need to incorporate or build a web site or name your business. You simply need to land one project. Find a client who has a project and do some billable work. There are many steps to building a business and I will hold your hand every step of the way if you want me to. But for now, simply focus on landing a project and getting a check in the bank. Your confidence will soar once you finish your first project.
If I can do it, you can do it.
2. You have to hunt what you eat
The hardest thing about being a consultant is bringing in the business. I get out the binoculars, climb the mountain, scout the herd, raise my bow and arrow, shoot it, cook it, eat it and throw away the bones. It’s all up to me. No check goes into my bank account unless I go out and win the business. If you want to build a sustainable consulting business, there is no way to avoid being directly responsible for landing projects. I always laugh a little at this example because I happen to be a vegetarian, but you get my drift.
3. Live and die by the billable hour
Welcome to consulting where you live and die by the billable hour. You must internalize this concept until it becomes instinct. I know some of you are probably thinking, “Wait, I’m not charging by the hour.” But it doesn’t matter if you’re billing by the hour or the day or the month or the project, you are selling hours. Once an hour is gone, you can never sell it again. And like it or not, you can’t stock them in inventory.
How many hours a week do you think you can bill? In the early days, I thought I could bill at least 40 hours a week and maybe 50 or 60. After all, like you, I had been working upwards of 60 hours a week for several years in my corporate jobs. I mean, who works 40 hours a week? Once I did some research, I found that 30 hours a week is considered fully utilized in industries that live and die by the billable hour such as consulting, law and public accounting. Now I shoot to bill 30 hours a week on average. I spend 10-15-20 hours a week doing networking, marketing and business development. And like it or not, it takes an average of 5 hours a week for infrastructure and admin. That adds up to 50-55 hours a week which Is about right.
4. Never work for free!
It doesn’t pay the mortgage or the health insurance or the college tuition. As soon as you become a consultant, smart people with good ideas will come out of the woodwork looking for your free expert help. Make a rule now that you will never work for free. It’s pretty easy to get a job that doesn’t pay. But here’s the thing, if you’re not getting paid, it’s not a real gig. That doesn’t mean you can’t review a business plan for a buddy or bounce around ideas over a glass of wine. But never do real work for free. Make that a rule and stick to it. I promise you will thank me.
5. Clearing roadblocks to revenue
When I was in your shoes as a W-2 employee, I knew there was a lot of stuff that had to be done working for yourself. But I didn’t have any idea whether it was a big mountain or a little hill. I’m here to tell you right now, it’s a little hill. In California, the only thing you need to get started is a business license. Everything else can be taken care of once you have your first check in your hand. Or even further down the road at the appropriate time.
My job is to clear roadblocks to revenue. I want you bringing in revenue as quickly as possible. Great thing about consulting is that you and I can be sitting here today having a chat, and tomorrow you could be working billable hours. All it takes is landing a project. Sure, there are many steps involved in building a sustainable business but for now, it’s all about generating revenue.
6. Pent up demand phenomenon
Many consultants start off with a bang only to hit the doldrums two to three years in. Don’t fool yourself into thinking your business will build itself just because you have projects for the first several months. I call this the “pent up demand phenomenon”. When I first started my practice, I was fully engaged for the first few years. I thought, “Wow, this is easy.” Then I hit a long dead zone. I realized that I had been working off the pent-up demand from all the people who knew me. I have spoken to many other consultants who have this same experience. It took me several months to develop a marketing plan and fill my pipeline. Thank goodness for zero interest credit cards! Start marketing day one and never, ever stop!
7. Too many consultants don’t charge what they are worth
In the early days of my business, I didn’t charge enough. I was afraid that I wouldn’t win the business if my price was too high. Once I finally start charging what I was worth, my clients never batted an eye. Just think of all that money I left on the table
STOP right now and write this on a sticky note:
I earned it.
I deserve it.
I am worth it.
Put it on your monitor or your bathroom mirror or your phone case and say it every day until you believe it. Confidence is more important than research.
Your only finite resource is your time. It’s precious, you can’t warehouse it and you can’t make more of it. Start charging what you are worth and do it now!
8. Should you make less money because you work from home
Should you make less money because you decide where you work? Are you less smart? Are you doing lower quality work?
Your clients are not doing you a favor by hiring you. You are providing immense value and they are paying you for it. Imagine if someone like you had come along just when you needed it most? You would have been delighted. If you have something that can help, you owe it to the world to get it out there.
As long as you are doing good quality work and meeting your client’s needs, it shouldn’t matter whether you’re working from Disneyland or a spaceship orbiting the moon.
9. Shhhh, don’t tell! My secret to meeting with important people.
Today I am sharing one of my best secrets. I’m not sure I should be doing it. It’s like sharing your secret parking spot at the best beach. If everyone knows about it, your secret will be lost. Oh well, here goes…
A healthy amount of your prospecting time should be spent making connections at your target companies. Take some time to sit down and identify 10-15 target companies. It may be helpful to define your target criteria first. If you’re drawing a blank, get some brainstorming help from a couple of colleagues. A glass of wine can do wonders for the idea flow. Find a way to get a warm introduction/recommendation to someone at the target company. Ideally, it’s a member of the executive team but a high-level manager with hiring authority is also fine. LinkedIn can be a great way to find someone who knows someone.
Have the person you know make a phone call or send an introductory email to your target. Give the person a head start by sending them a pre-written introductory email about yourself. They can copy it word-for-word or edit to suit themselves.
Follow up with your target as soon as the introduction is made. Ideally you follow up within an hour, but you must follow up in less than 24 hours. Someone has done you a favor of making an introduction, take it seriously. Make sure to thank them and follow up with the outcome of the meeting.
Tell your target that you would like to set up a brief meeting to introduce yourself. Here’s what you say, “I would like to stop in and introduce myself. If you give me your Starbucks order, I’ll show up at your office to make it easy for you. I won’t take more than 15-20 minutes of your time. You name the day and time and I will be there.”
Watch the time during your meeting and honor your commitment to take no more than 15-20 minutes of their time. Interrupt the meeting and say, “I promised to take no more than 15-20 minutes of your time, should we wrap things up?” 90% of the time your target will extend the meeting and finish their latte with you.
These companies may or may not have an immediate need for you. The only way to determine that is to get in there. Sometimes once they meet you, they realize there are some things you could help with. What you are really looking for is good chemistry. That sense of, “Oh she’s sharp. I’m going to remember her and call her when we need her.” These people are also likely to refer you to their friends.
10. Start marketing day one and never, ever stop!
Now that I’m 15 years in, I know that the networking, marketing and business development can never stop. If you slack off, your pipeline will show it several months down the road and it will be a nerve-racking process to build it back up. Never let a day go by without doing something toward networking, marketing and business development.
Build Your 6-Figure Consulting Business!
The best way to get started as a consultant is to dive in. This FREE EMAIL COURSE will walk you through three action steps to generate revenue now. If you start right away, you can be doing billable work as soon as next week. Following these three action steps gives you the best possible chance of landing a consulting project. It works for me and I see it work for others, over and over again. Take control and take the plunge!