When you first thought that you might consult, did you assume that your years of experience in the trenches would propel your new career path forward? Most of us learn quickly that this field is filled with talented people. Yet the overarching trait that keeps consulting businesses at full capacity isn’t talent—it’s hustle.
You likely know professionals less skilled than you who have sustained themselves over time due to sheer will. They befriend the key connectors in town and have mastered the art of closing the deal. While it’s a difficult admission to make, these endurance activities are every bit as important as knowing the content of our respective fields.
Many new consultants view hustle solely through the lens of securing clients. Yet it is necessarily multi-faceted:
- Day-to-day hustle. The most basic form of self-propulsion comes in how you handle your daily routine. When business is slow, do you take full advantage of your flexible schedule and schedule a day at the spa? Or do you spend the day learning, connecting, and otherwise setting the stage for your next client engagements?
Even when business is bustling, savvy consultants use their time well, scheduling appointments efficiently and prioritizing those activities that truly are significant. They also make time to plan for the future. They do so by refining their target client audience, revising their business plans, and ensuring that they stay connected to their networks. Granted, we all need the proverbial spa day on occasion, but let’s face it: Daily hustle breeds consulting muscle.
- Marketing hustle. Can you name the top three consultants in your niche right now? The ones whose names show up on all the most prominent conference programs, speaking engagements, and expert panels? It might seem that they can sit idly by as others pursue them. Still, these leaders must prepare talking points, travel, and otherwise ensure that they get their own professional benefit from these events. In what might seem like a passive way, these experts continue to strategize around the best platforms for their respective businesses.
If you have not attained that stature (yet!), you may know that it takes hours to come up with a novel topic, pitch it to a host or publisher (or self-publish), and draft and develop it—or sometimes, dispense with it and start over completely. Social media is no different. This process of innovating, testing, and reaching audiences is exactly the formula that keeps many consultants at the forefront of clients’ minds. All of this can be exhausting work, but it is necessary if you want to target a specific audience en masse.
- Prospect hustle. Some consultants ensure that seemingly every viable prospect in town knows their name. Some call this aggressive. I call it impressive: Not only do they excel in name recognition, but they know and understand the needs of those prospects and how they might fulfill them.
In order to penetrate their market so fully, consultants make a name for themselves within a certain geography, industry, or content area. I went through a time when one well-connected client led me to garner call after call from CEOs of one organization type. Despite my seeming inability to keep up, I contacted each one (while addressing any conflicts of interest, given my growing client base in that subject area). Plenty of clients followed. I could never have taken on all the potential clients I spoke with, but I was lucky to be able to pick those whose engagements were most fulfilling.
I was lucky in that case. Others are more purposeful. Some of my colleagues spend significant time meeting other like-minded prospects through professional associations. They recognize that this volunteerism serves the dual purpose of giving back to the profession and introducing them to potential clients.
- Networking hustle. How does this differ from prospect hustle? Networking involves getting to know people at all levels, not just the ones who stand to hire you directly. Good consultants know the gatekeepers—those who are receptionists for and special assistants to the hiring contacts. They also know the economic decision-makers: those who may not be the front-line contacts but who will ultimately give the go-ahead on your contract. If your initial meetings involve a vice president for marketing, for instance, and the size of your contract necessitates a higher-level approval, you want to know the CEO. Those who excel in networking understand the organizational dynamics that will get them hired and get to know all those who stand to impact their chances for securing a job.
Networkers simply get to know everyone—even if a person has no apparent connection to those in your field. They understand the power of connections, in all its Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon glory. This weekend, your neighbor just might introduce you to his middle school buddy, and that person might ask you to attend a civic event…where you might meet your ideal client. (True story.)
- Sales hustle. It’s not enough to know people. If you want to ensure business, you’ve got to transform those get-to-know-you coffees into signed contracts. Those with sales hustle understand how to move prospects from “hello” to “sign on the dotted line.”
Former salespeople understand this process intuitively, but it can be uncomfortable for the rest of us. Yet consultants are in the sales business as much as they are in the advisory business. The term “sales” is often more intimidating than the process itself, and many of us can take solace in the fact that it can be a learned skill.
- Client hustle. This category of activists ensures that they make substantive promises to clients and they respond quickly to requests. They come to meetings prepared. They provide value beyond expectation. They become trusted advisors.
Of course, we must all draw our own boundaries, but it is often those quick-response phone calls, the pre-dawn strategy email, or a pre-deadline finish that gets new clients’ attention. Even if you prefer to stay within rigid working parameters, you can show hustle simply by wowing your clients with both your preparation and your ideas.
- Reputational hustle. If you are already on top of all of the above, you are likely well on your way toward having a solid reputation. Yet this area requires ongoing diligence. If you suspect that your reputation has been tarnished in any way, repairing it becomes a first-order priority.
Only once in my 16 years of consulting did a client and I part ways mid-engagement. Things never got heated, but I was not saying what this client wanted to hear. My primary concern was that this well-connected executive might tarnish my reputation. I took our parting as a call to action: Live every day, and every action, with all the integrity you can muster. I figured that, if this person were to say anything negative, that message would not be credible to anyone else who knew me.
All these components, in combination with attaining outstanding results for your clients, will ensure you have a reputation worthy of acquiring the word-of-mouth referrals that keep so many of our businesses afloat.