A few months ago, we published a blog post about how to create and build a consulting and training business, with lots of practical, hands-on advice.
The post was so popular – many comments, shares, and emails – that we’re jumping in again with five more tips to support your work.
Even if you’re not a consultant, consider this an inside peek that will help you become a smarter consumer and a better client.
1. Offer multiple services
For more than two decades, I’ve centered my consulting work on most aspects of fundraising: planning, training, coaching, working with boards, and so on. This is my primary identity as a trainer and consultant.
Over time, I’ve developed and added a variety of other services, including strategic planning, board development, business planning, and facilitation. I’ve recently assisted with three nonprofit mergers. Next up: a greater focus on training facilitators, consultants, and trainers.
By developing new services, I’ve grown my consulting practice. This demonstrates a basic business principle: it’s easier to sell a new product to current customers than to find new customers.
The greater variety of services you can offer, the greater your opportunities to serve your clients and generate work for yourself.
2. You won’t get every job, so prepare accordingly
Several times per week, I receive inquiries by phone and email. “Can you help with…?” If I’m interested and available, these inquiries lead to longer conversations. Sometimes I’ll prepare written bids, outlining the cost and scope of services.
Most of these conversations don’t lead to paid work, for a variety of reasons. The potential clients don’t have enough money. They choose another consultant. They change their plans. They’re just investigating options, and aren’t really serious about the project.
For obvious reasons, this can be frustrating. As we discussed in the earlier post, perhaps one-third of your time as a consultant is paid time. You can invest hours and hours courting clients that you don’t land.
Your best response – rather than fuming – is to keep a lot of irons in the fire. At some level, running your own business is a numbers game. Improve your odds by seeking more jobs than you need, because you won’t win every contract.
3. You can’t make everyone happy, so do your best work and let it go
In another recent post, we discussed the ways in which we’re wired to experience criticism or disappointment differently than we experience praise and success.
If you’re like me, you aspire to do a really, really good job. You want your clients to be really, really satisfied. This is admirable and appropriate.
However, there are times when your not-best work is still good enough. Accept victory! Don’t be a perfectionist.
There are also times when your clients won’t fully engage, despite your best efforts. Make sure you understand where your work ends and their work begins, and take pride in your part of the equation.
4. Build your network
Over the years, I’ve acquired an amazing network of peers. I found some through organizations like the Institute for Conservation Leadership, the Alliance for Nonprofit Management and the Marlboro College Center for New Leadership.
I’ve met others at conferences or through mutual colleagues. This network has been crucial to my success by:
- Offering mutual referrals; sharing jobs and clients
- Acting as a sounding board during challenging situations
- Providing peer learning opportunities
- Helping me locate training materials
- Creating opportunities to shadow others and co-facilitate, when appropriate
- Providing a reality check on topics like pricing, marketing, and time management
Your practice will rise and fall based on the strength of your network, so actively seek out professional peers and look for ways to support each other.
5. Invest in your own professional development
It’s impossible to learn new skills or build a business without investing time and money toward that goal.
As you are able, attend workshops and webinars. Read books and blogs. Join relevant professional associations. Shadow and observe skilled trainers and facilitators.
As you’re budgeting, include something for you own professional development. Over the long run, you’ll be grateful you did.
If you follow the suggestions above, and do your homework, you can literally design and build your own consulting and training practice.
After 20-plus years, I can testify: it’s a really satisfying way to create positive change, while also making a living.
To your success!