As promised here is my Book Chapter that is now published in the newly released book Lessons Learned from the Recession, Business Leaders Book Club, UK. If you would like to order a copy please go to bit.ly/k36iCV. If you enter the discount code of BLC1026 you will receive 50% off for a limited time only. You may also download the e-book for free.
Chapter 27: The Box with no Walls
Typical for many folks laid off after six months of job-hunting, I decided to launch full-time into my own consulting business. It was February 2008, a nice month in my mind. I had the best financial year of my life that year and have had two successful years since with 2011 also looking very strong.
People I spoke with told me I was crazy, that it takes years to build a consulting practice; that I should be prepared to starve for the first five years. I was also told that it was a poor time to start as we were in a recession, that no one needed consultants and that I should seriously look at finding some kind of job, even if it was not in my field. This was a box I did not want to play in, one that I simply decided was not for me.
I believe my success came mostly from knocking down the walls of the box. I expected to have success and I presented as a well-established consultant with an outstanding skill set. I marched into networking events, workshops, seminars, conferences or wherever I could find people gathered. I gave away ideas, I gave people my book, I consulted for free, I set strong, yet realistic fees that successful consultants would charge; most of all I was confident.
When people asked me,
“How is business, are you busy?”
“Absolutely,” I would say, “business is great.”
I hung out with the most successful consultants I could find. Within a month I had several excellent clients.
It took me over two years before I found myself in a business development phase. Surprise! Not having experienced this due to my early success was such a good lesson. I am still learning this lesson and finding ways to tear down more walls of the box, thinking and seeking ways to work with different kinds of clients.
What has helped me most is to look for clients that other consultants are not working with, to explore unusual funding partnerships and sources, to collaborate with other consultants and do joint proposals, to celebrate and to bring my incredible network into the conversations early on.
I refer colleagues that can help my clients, ask other consultants if I can shadow them or if they would like to shadow me, reach out globally into new fields, sectors, industries and countries as well as to work within my own community and see what kind of clients I can actually walk to. I volunteer my time in places where I can meet new people that might find my work interesting. I also stretch myself as well by taking on work that I have never done before; it helps me learn and makes me a more flexible consultant.
My work focuses on people development, in particular leadership development. These skills are not hard, technical, core skills that businesses require. They are often called ‘soft skills’.
These are much more difficult to master, learn and teach and are fundamentally necessary for successful leaders and organisations to cultivate. How we work and learn together matters. It matters as much as what we do.
Often when times are tough or a recession hits, we stop thinking or focusing on ‘the how’ and instead try to reduce employee costs, downsize while still getting ‘the what’ done. In doing this, we are focusing on the short-term ‘what’ rather than ‘the how’ and this short-sightedness leads us to a downward spiral. Organisations without growth and development are like ghost towns. I look to work with organisations that understand people investment and who want a vibrant, creative, value-driven workforce that can help them recover from a recession.
So, the walls of the box disappear when I can be successful with clients in helping them see through the walls, even helping them shift the box to a new place or to design a new box. I love to hear the term ‘no-box thinking’ rather than inside or outside the box. This helps me free up my own mind, to help me think from the viewpoint of my client’s customer and to see their organisation not only from 30,000 feet but two inches away.
My passion is fuelled by seeing opportunities where others see problems; I ask, listen, ask, listen, listen and listen. I try my best every day to model the leadership I advocate: to give away my time; to contribute to leadership thought; to develop others in any way I can and to listen to what is said or not. This brilliant partnership has provided me with an insight into consulting that knows no walls.
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