Advice and Commentary on the World of Professional Consulting
- Written by Mitch Mitchell
- Category: Consulting
At the last Professional Consultant's Meeting, our guest speaker was Jon Denney, former owner and founder of Avalon Printing Services who's now the president of both Jon Denney & Associates Consulting as well as the Professional Business Coaches Alliance. He spoke to the group about different types of mistakes that both businesses and business owners regularly make. Even if they're not all big mistakes, each mistake can cost a lot of money both short and long term.
The first thing he talked about was how to make money by putting on seminars, something a great majority of people absolutely hate to do to begin with. Yet, many of our members have had the opportunity to speak in front of others and make the mistake Jon warned us about. His point was that people go to seminars listen, then go back to their offices with a lot of good intentions that they never follow through on.
His suggestion was to have an immediate takeaway, something that costs nothing but gets people at the seminar to take immediate action. He offers anyone who approaches him after his presentation a free 60 minute counseling session to see how he might be able to help them, with the offer good only then. He finds that there's usually a significant number of people who will take him up on that offer and he'll usually end up signing one or two of them to coaching contracts, which more than makes up for the free sessions he gives.
The second thing Jon talked about was how to introduce pain points into conversations with potential clients. Too many of us call and start talking about what we do and how we can help our clients, who have probably heard it all before. His suggestion was to begin by asking specific industry questions that most people struggle with, which he says will usually get them talking, and if the pain points are significant enough then introduce the possibility of a meeting to look at the issues and discuss what might possibly be worked out. His belief is that if you can start a conversation rather than looking like a sales person that you'll ultimately be more successful.
The final thing Jon talked about was not waiting for prospects to "think about it". His point was that overwhelmingly people use that phrase to get you off the phone and really aren't going to think about it. Instead, he likes the idea of offering up front money back guarantees where, if people feel they're not getting their money's worth after the first month he'll give them back whatever they paid and move on from there. He said that he's never had a single client who's ever decided he didn't help them in some way and that you not only have to have confidence in what you bring to the table but be willing to go above and beyond to address client issues, whether personal or business related.
This last issue generated a lot of discussion because it's a scary prospect. As consultants, we put a lot of time and effort into what we do and, even when we're confident that we can help improve things, we unilaterally hate making guarantees because clients might tell you one thing up front that you deliver on, only to have that issue change midstream or even take what you've proposed and attempt to do it themselves without you. Jon believes that success takes risks and that you'll end up having more success than failure by trying things this way.
All in all it was a spirited discussion on a bad weather day and Jon's presentation got us all juiced up and ready to let loose what we'd learned that day.
- Written by John Hunt
- Category: Business Practices
By John Hunt, General Sales Manager, WOLF 105.1, Movin 100.3/96.5, 95.3/103.9 The Dinosaur And Fox Sports 1490AM
Starting, expanding and running a business is challenging. Small business entrepreneurs have to know who to go to for specialized assistance. Many consultants use the term “BAIL Team:” to describe the essential team members.
The professionals that are chosen must be proficient in business dealings.
It is perfectly realistic to interview and shop around for BAIL Team members that your business can feel comfortable with. It might be a good idea to see if there is a charge for the initial meeting. Insurance agents cannot charge. They make their money when you buy. Remember, you will be looking for someone to form a long term relationship with and who can help throughout your business cycle.
Give me a “B!”
Bank (or Credit Union) – Small business owners need a bank. Banks process deposit, maintain accounts and allows for a place to consult for seed money or working capital. Bankers generally have specialties thrust upon them by their superiors. The branch manager will most likely not be the one you will deal with for a commercial loan.
Give me an “A!”
Accountant – Want to lower your business’ chances of an audit? Accountants help keep your filings timely which keeps your business on track. Accountants are familiar with best practices of general business and category-specific information.
Give me an “I!”
Insurance – Protect and cover the assets your business has worked so hard to create. Adequate insurance is crucial to manage risk and provide proper coverage. Insurance agents must be licensed.
Give me an “L!”
Lawyer/Attorney – A proper question helps legal risks from becoming legal problems. Be sure the attorney is very familiar with business dealings and licensed to practice.
Yes, how is your business marketing itself? Each of the professionals listed above are essential to small business. However, each of the individuals and their specialties are designed to protect the small business. Having a consultant or team member experienced in small business marketing is essential to help bring in prospective leads and close sales more easily.
Want to know more?
Let’s discuss your business’ marketing plan at no obligation. Call us at 315-472-0222 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a meeting with a member of our team.
- Written by Mitch Mitchell
- Category: Consulting
At our last Professional Consultant's Association meeting, we had a presentation by Terry Brown, Executive Director of the Falcone Center for Entrepreneurship at Syracuse University's Whitman School of Management. In his role he also works with the South Side Innovation Center and WISE Center.
He started out by telling us about his experiences of being a consultant for an engineering company. They had many challenges but lived by the "can do" model, thinking outside of the box on many ventures that made him and his company successful. He told us that story while leading into the first part of his presentation which covered the subject of innovating or creating new combinations of resources, pursuing opportunities, acquiring or bringing together resources, risk-taking, profit-seeking and value creation. This was a credo he & his company lived by, and it incorporated all of these conditions.
The one that challenged most of us was the risk-taking idea. He talked about a project where his company put in a bid much lower than all other companies had. When asked about it, he said that his company intended to invent a machine that could do the work at a much lower cost than what everyone else was proposing to do. They got that contract... without having invented the machine. Yet they invented the machine, it worked as it was supposed to, and his company made a lot of money off the deal.
He next talked about the characteristics of entrepreneurs, and in his opinion all true entrepreneurs exhibit the following:
* Drive to achieve
* Calculated risk taking
* Tolerance for ambiguity
* Self confidence
* Tolerance for failure
* High energy level
* Creativity and innovation
* Integrity and reliability
His ideal says entrepreneurs should always begin with the end in mind, your company, you personally and the clients you work with. This part garnered a lot of discussion because, with a group of consultants like ours, each of us has different experiences in working with clients, especially those who don't follow up on the advice we give thm and those who aren't sure how to value our worth.
Finally, he talked about the need to have a "dream team" of professional support, folks who can handle the important things for you so you don't have to, as well as the need to figure out how to differentiate your services and what you have to offer from everyone else. One important thing he said in this regard is that all of us need to be ready to reinvent ourselves and our business when necessary. In other words, we shouldn't always be defined by what we think we are and do but what the market might need from us.
It was a very good program from someone who's been there and is now passing his knowledge on to those who are ready to take over the world. Hopefully some of our own members picker up enough tips to be a part of the takeover.
- Written by Mitch Mitchell
- Category: Consulting
At our last Professional Consultants Association meeting, John Hunt, one of our members, led us through a roundtable discussion on the topic of mentoring. It was an interesting topic and quite a few of our members had the opportunity to share their thoughts on it.
John began the conversation by talking about his personal board of directors. This is his list of 10 people, including his father, who he goes to when he needs either advice or someone to run a few ideas through. It's a great concept because most consultants work on their own and, except for groups like PCA, don't always have people who they can talk to about business issues. Unlike working at a traditional job, there is no water cooler moment. A few members thought this was a pretty good idea.
One of our members talked about being mentored on the art of sales via recommendation by David Sandler, the creator of the Sandler System, and how it's helped his business throughout the years. Another member talked about trouble he had in getting other consultants to talk to him, even though none of them were in the same business he was, and how he now steps into the mentor role for anyone who's new to the concept of working for themselves, offering any advice he can locally for the cost of a lunch or having a phone or video conference conversation for those who don't live in the area.
The intriguing thing about mentoring is how varied it can be depending on the person mentoring, the person accepting, and the type of mentoring that's needed. It can be viewed in this ways:
* Mentoring can be specific to the business a person is in. If someone with experience doesn't mind giving advice on how things should go, without being worried about competition, that can be very beneficial to an open mind.
* Mentoring can be more general, such as the types of things a person newly self employed might need to think about and should be ready to ignore; after all, many new consultants come into the practice needing to learn how to drop a lot of habits they partook of at their last job.
* Mentoring can be culture changing. For instance, if it's a company full of consultants, making the decision to not only diversify but groom women and minorities so they will be taken seriously when promotion time comes around is an important step towards equality and fairness. It deomnstrates an acknowledgment that a diverse company means more ideas from different points of view and the potential for greater company growth.
Mentoring works best when the mentor and mentee also understand when not to cross the line, and how to be specific in needs. Some people chafe at advice on things they feel they already know. Others chafe when they ask a question that's so general that they're not getting what they need.
Finally, consultants sometimes have to think of themselves as mentors when they're working with clients. Often there's training or information that needs to be passed along so the client can succeed when the consultant leaves. If it's a long term contract, there might be a lot of training involved. If a consultant is willing to act more as a mentor than just a teacher, create a bond rather than a separation, it could end up being more beneficial and rewarding on both sides.
What are your thoughts on mentoring or being mentored? Do you have a story about someone you mentored, or someone who gave you some of their time and advice or helped you along the way?
Every once in a while mentees want specific, step by step advice in an effort to copy what the mentor has done. In those instances it's more like a teacher/student relationship, and mentors might be reluctant to spend that kind of time with someone when they have other things to do.
- Written by Mitch Mitchell
- Category: Consulting
Being a consultant can be fun; it can also be horrifying hard. Sometimes it's hard because of the work that needs to be done. At other times it's hard because of the people you have to work with and trying to understand their motivation and goals for your presence.
At our most recent PCA meeting, the presenter was Jesan Sorrells of Human Services Consulting And Training. He's also a PCA member. he talked about multiple topics along the lines of his specialty, which is conflict resolution. However, I zeroed in on one particular topic because it felt like it applied to all of us as consultants the most.
The topic was "maintaining neutrality". He spoke about the importance of trying to maintain it and the difficulty in getting there. In essence there were 4 main points he wanted us to consider:
* negotiating with clients hoping you'll pick their side
* resolving conflicts without taking them home with you
* dealing with clients who want to take over your project
* clients who don't know what they want
The only one of these I've never dealt with was the 2nd one. The others... definite consulting fodder. We're always a fine line between succeeding with a consulting contract and getting bounced because of something we did that the client didn't like or offending the client in some way, and often we never find out which one it was. If we're intuitive we will, and sometimes it takes knowing ourselves, figuring out the client, and determining that the best course of action is to get out of the way by firing the client before they fire you.
Everyone's been in that situation. Have you ever followed through?
The main reason we fear firing clients is because of money. Most consultant's don't have a steady stream of clients to the point where they can afford to get rid of one. It's part of the reason we need to remember that we're professionals and that's why we charge the amount of money we do. We need to be seen as the professionals we are, but we also need to protect our future by making enough to sustain us until the next assignment.
Of course there were no easy answers. As we participated in a Q&A session, most of the comments were in agreement with the principles and the sharing of real stories from most of us. Unfortunately, sometimes the best answer anyone can get is identifying an issue and taking the time to think about it as it applies to you so you're not caught off guard when the behaviors pop up.
What are your opinions or stories on the four points above?