7 Practical Tips for Entrepreneurial Consultants
Living the life of a startup (i.e., entrepreneurial) consultant is no easy task for most. While many have chosen in recent years to make this career change into consulting, only a few have found success in sustaining a new business. Yes, it’s a business and not just a collection of one-off strategy sessions.
Over the years of working as an entrepreneurial consultant, I’ve discovered some of the following principles that have helped our company thrive.
TIP #1 – It’s Still About Relationships.
Yes, when it’s all said and done, it will still be about relationships. Relationships (at least the good ones) will last far beyond any endeavor you engage. My friend always says, “Your network is your net worth.” I think there’s definitely truth to this, especially in the context of launching a new business. If you’re running a new consulting business, having a strong network of relationships that is willing to endorse you and your skill-set will make a world of difference. Word of Caution: Be careful how you leverage relationships. There’s a fine line between manipulative begging and natural endorsements rooted in relationship. The former is spam-like and the latter is healthy friendship.
TIP #2 – Think Value Over Deliverables.
I know. I know. Clients want deliverables. What most won’t be able to articulate upfront is that they want a deep sense of value behind what you’re about to deliver and their new connection with you or your company. While its vitally important that you identity, articulate, and punctually deliver expectations, don’t forget to pay attention to the value their seeking by investing money into you or your company. I think this involves both a clear sense of return on investment (which could be measured) and a boost to your clients internal perception of his/her company. This is why you need to regularly share your process and progress in a way they can understand and appreciate.
TIP #3 – Be Upfront.
You can only fake it for so long. If you’re an expert in an area that a client needs help in, be upfront and don’t lie. If they trust you, there’s a good chance that they may trust you enough to bring in others to the project that you may know (i.e., if you actually know others who can help). Being self-aware and recognizing your core competencies will save you a lot of heartache and disappointment. Most clients will appreciate your honesty.
TIP #4 – Say No To Good Opportunities.
While it’s difficult to say “no” to “good opportunities” that will help to pay the bills, I’ve learned that some of these opportunities are not worth the trouble. Keep in mind that saying “no” is often the pathway to saying “yes” to something that is a better fit. I do admit that this is really difficult when you’re first starting a company. Nevertheless, it’s probably one of my main regrets looking back. Saying yes to opportunities that devalue your time and what you bring to the table is not enjoyable nor really profitable. If you truly believe that you bring value to a company, organization, or individual, don’t undersell yourself. I usually walk into consulting opportunities with a good sense of what a company’s investment into our work will yield in return. There’s need to apologize if it’s a bad fit or timing.
TIP #5 – Kaizen!
Kaizen is a Japanese word for continual refinement or improvement. Kaizen is essential for building a strong business. As a consultant, it’s important to remember that you have to spend significant time in-between clients or busy seasons to work on your business design and processes. Always remember that even the things you do well still has room for improvement. I try to use these windows of time between projects (or even short breaks during projects) to develop our company strategy, process, and team. In addition, you can use these times to continue your learning through attending conferences, reading books & blogs, and writing down your thoughts to document progress.
TIP #6 – Communicate Clearly & Often.
What may be clear in your mind is not always clear in the mind(s) of your client(s). Over-communication is okay and even encouraged. In fact, most clients like it that way because they feel that progress is being made and that you care about staying connected with them. Returning phone calls and emails promptly is vital to the consulting experience. Get in the habit of checking in with clients during projects by setting up reminders for yourself. For me, regularly connecting with clients is a good reminder for myself to keep projects moving forward.
TIP #7 – Think Implementation.
Ideas are fun, but implementation of those ideas is what really matters to most clients. While some consultants focus only on the ideas, we try to focus on next steps. It’s rarely a lack of visionary ideas that prevent companies from moving forward. It’s usually their lack of bandwidth to bring clarity & strategey and their inability to implement. I can’t tell you how many groups I have worked with that have a thick assessment document with recommendations sitting in their file cabinets. There’s definitely a great opportunity here for consultants to either do some of the heavy-lifting of implementation themselves or develop teams that can come and temporarily staff their strategies. I usually develop strategy and help in part during implementation whether it’s through our team or working with theirs. There’s nothing like idea implementation that develops long-term relationships with clients.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, I hope you found these helpful!