At our last meeting, which was also our most intimate grouping of professionals, John Hunt of WOLF-AM, and a member of PCA, led the group in discussing the topic of ethics... and it turns out that even in business we tend to view it differently than in our personal lives. It's a topic that we previously discussed in 2012, so it was good to revisit it.

Permaculture Ethics
London Permaculture via Compfight

On our PCA website we have a Code of Ethics that's been a standard for the organization since it was formed in 1995. It's the most visited page on the site, which means we must be touching upon some beliefs and thoughts of professionals all across the country.

As the conversation began, we dealt with the issue of what should be done when we see that clients we're working with aren't quite following the rules, sometimes on the verge of illegal behavior. A few members felt that we should be turning in our clients, while others felt that not only wasn't their responsibility but could be damaging to their long term careers. This led to a discussion of degrees of illegality, intent, and what roles consultants either should or could play in minimizing errors or having to come to grips with taking other actions.

One of our members talked about having to drop a long time client because he'd always known part of what the client was doing was inherently dishonest, but it had never touched his business until recent changes in tax preparer rules. Suddenly he realized he would have direct liability and rather than having to become an agent of the government as far as being an informant he decided to step away. A few other members talked about having to do the same type of thing, which shows that all of our members had personal ethics that superseded the sometimes dodgy world of business ethics.

Another member talked about providing something for a client, only to have that client cancel the contract and take that proposal to someone else, who did it almost word for word. He found his way of confronting both the client & the other contractor for their lack of ethics, but learned a valuable lesson in the process. Once again, a number of our members had suffered similar events over the course of doing business, and it left all of us just a little less trusting but infinitely wiser.

What we all walked away with was the reality that even if one has died and true personal ethics, sometimes when it comes to business you're going to be challenged between the two ideas of doing what's necessary versus doing what's right, but there's a lot of gray area in the middle.  What will you do for money? At what point do you realize you have to end your association, if any? What's your responsibility to the greater good versus your responsibility to yourself, your livelihood and family?

These aren't always easy questions, but I feel comforted that our members are all on the right path.

 

 

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.

Jon Denney 2016

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.

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.

 Terry Brown

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

* Perseverance/determination

* Independence

* Self confidence

* Tolerance for failure

* High energy level

* Resourcefulness

* Creativity and innovation

* Vision

* 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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

Jesan Sorrells

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?