Starting a consulting business

A close friend recently approached me asking for advice. They are considering launching a consulting business and in doing their research, they wanted to know any “off the cuff” words of wisdom I might have for them. Having run my own graphic design and website development firm for several years, I had some things to say.

When I was starting my company in the USA I had approached a businessman and asked a similar question, his wisdom was invaluable and I would say it is part of the reason my company was successful.

First, let’s define successful.

Each individual needs to define success in their own terms. For me personally, success would look far different today than it did a decade ago. I’m going to assume you’re reading this because you’re defining success monetarily, so let’s move on.

Look around enough and you will begin to recognize the “blah blah me too lemming-like” marketing speak everywhere. It’s boring and useless and begins to look pathetic. Be bold enough to plant a flag on ONE specific mountain and work hard to be the unquestionable SME (subject matter expert) to defend it. Find good people you can trust to hand off certain requests you are regularly getting asked for, maybe even work out a finders fee, but stand firm on top of your mountain. Get speaking gigs, get recognized, be the expert.

ADD VALUE. When you are an expert and you are adding value, you’ll be busy and well paid.

Consider these very distinct stages in how you make money in consulting, in order:

  1. Know your hourly rate and use it as a positioning tool.
  2. Get a second shift job to keep from compromising while you build it. 
  3. Fill >60% of ALL the time you work with residual fees. 
  4. Maintain >60% with an increasingly higher hourly rate. 
  5. Move exclusively to package pricing w/o reference to hours. 
  6. Build scalable income (webinars, books, etc.).

I personally have not made it to ‘6’ yet. I always am a bit nervous to put myself out there as I do not want to come across braggadocios.

Be very helpful in giving away terrific advice for free as long as you don’t personalize it; then charge ridiculous amounts of money to do so.

I spoke at an event once where I gave ALL of my secrets away. It was a wild plan, but it worked. I gained more business from that engagement than I could possibly handle and my hourly rate nearly doubled because of it. The reason: the business owners trusted me.

Figure out why you’re in business. I’d suggest these three things, in this order: 

  1. Make money. 
  2. Make a difference. 
  3. Enjoy the process.

If you don’t charge enough, no one listens and you don’t have an opportunity to make a difference. But just charging a lot of money, especially in a service-client relationship, can be soul crushing. You must find the win-win balance where you’re making enough money while feeling like your customers are winning. 

Take chances and be different. This leads me into my second take-away:

Be amazing at communicating. I have found transparency as highly valued in the C-Suite.

What I mean by transparency is: communicate as clearly and often as possible. Imagine yourself in the C-Suite and answer the questions you imagine them asking – especially the difficult ones. If your product is necessary then it will be easy to sell. Find out why it’s necessary and walk boldly as the expert in that category. In 2007 the iPhone was the answer – Apple wasn’t hiring salespeople to sell it, the product sold itself. 

How to write emails with military precision

Consulting this week with a large corporation I found they were drowning in emails. Many of the exco team were stressed and it reminded me of this amazing article, which I presented to the team and am working on having implemented into daily routines – from the top down.

Subject line keywords are:

  • ACTION – Compulsory for the recipient to take some action
  • SIGN – Requires the signature of the recipient
  • INFO – For informational purposes only, and there is no response or action required
  • DECISION – Requires a decision by the recipient
  • REQUEST – Seeks permission or approval by the recipient
  • COORD – Coordination by or with the recipient is needed

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). Military professionals lead their emails with a short, staccato statement known as the BLUF. (Yes, being the military, there is an acronym for everything.) It declares the purpose of the email and action required. The BLUF should quickly answer the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. An effective BLUF distills the most important information for the reader. Here’s an example BLUF from the Air Force Handbook:

BLUF: Effective 29 Oct 13, all Air Force Doctrine Documents (AFDDs) have been rescinded and replaced by core doctrine volumes and doctrine annexes.

Here is an email example for corporate use that uses keywords in the subject, bottom line, background bullets, and active voice:

Subject: INFO – Meeting Change

Shannon,

Bottom Line: We scheduled the weekly update meeting for Thursday at 2 PM CST to accommodate the CFO’s schedule.

Background:

  • We searched for other available times, but this is the only time that works, and it’s important that you are on the call, so that you can address your P&L.
  • CFO will be in Boston on Thursday meeting at an offsite with the management committee.
  • He wants to review the financial report that can be found here (insert link) before the call.