Here are five ways you can boost your confidence as a consultant.
As you start a business, it can be tempting to set up shop, secure a client or two, then expect that things will continue to pop. I was guilty of this myself at times.
I thought that my busy first year would translate into a busy second one. So, I enjoyed the newfound flexibility that came with the occasional slower day. I planted flowers in the garden and met friends somewhat regularly for lunch… until I realized that I was being premature in my comfort.
Your ability to play on occasion is one of the finest perks of this career choice. Yet the balance between tending your garden and tending your business can make for unsettling options: Which is more important on any given day?
It helped me—and I’ve since learned that it helps others—to keep a running list of business-building items that remind you that playtime will necessarily be limited, especially in the early years. Your overarching goal is one of filling your sales pipeline and then turning those prospects into clients. In order to keep business steady, these are my go-to activities both when business is slow and especially when it is bustling:
Set concrete goals
We all have different priorities, so the goals we set will vary. But no matter where the topics below fall on your list, find a few that serve as annual or monthly drivers:
- Profit (income minus expenses)
- Number of contracts secured
- Number of clients
- Contracts secured of a certain type
- Number of meetings with prospective clients
- Number of contacts with people in your network
- Networking events attended
- Conferences or educational sessions attended
- Professional development activities
Post your chosen goals prominently in your calendar, on your desk or anywhere where you might be tempted to stray when you should be working.
Reconsider your ideal client
After serving even one client, you may learn that your original target market might require a tweak. Consider whether you might prefer to work with organizations that are larger or smaller, allow you to travel or work closer to home, are aligned more with your preferred mission or employ a different staff structure or culture. Most consultants tinker with this ideal throughout their careers. But the earlier you can devote time to homing in on your preferences, the more quickly you will find satisfaction in your choices.
Polish your pitch
Like your target market, your elevator pitch will evolve with your business. Learn all you can about what makes a solid case for hiring you, write it down, and then practice, practice, practice until you can say it in your sleep.
Learn all you can
There is a lot to know about your new career. You will want to soak up information about how to run a business, the consulting process, how best to present yourself to clients—and just about everything else.
Some of the most important learning likely comes from outside the obvious sources. Have you had a moment yet when you were able to integrate your knowledge of something absolutely unrelated to consulting into a client meeting or solution? Sure, you can use business principles to direct or fine-tune client conundrums. But don’t underestimate the benefits of current events, movie plots and even your knowledge of trivia to create metaphors or tell stories that resonate with clients.
Fill your calendar
It’s no secret that most of us are most productive when our calendars are full. So, if you go through a spell when yours is not, consider making it so.
There is nothing artificial about adding the items above, or others, to your schedule. Calendar them in. When you see an appointment on your calendar that says, “set up five prospective client meetings” or “read Chapter 4 of Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting,” you may be more likely to tackle them than if they are just another item on your to-do list. In my early sluggish moments, it felt much better to wake up and see a full day’s work than it did to see an empty calendar — even if those “appointments” had nothing to do with direct client work.
Newfound consultanthood is about using every minute to make, solidify or nurture the relationships that will take you to the next level. When you’re not doing that, you have plenty to do to brush up on what it means to be a good consultant to your clients. The frustration of startup often has less to do with the market than with our own drive to become an integral part of it.