8 Tips for a Successful Consulting Business Based on 10 Years Experience
Along with my partner Nelina, I’m co-founder of a LEED consulting business called Above Green. This year we’re celebrating our ten year anniversary as a company.
Here are my top tips for starting and running a successful consulting business:
1. Find a Partner
I don’t care how awesome you are: no one can go it alone. There’s too much that needs to be done. If you try to do it alone, you will go insane. So, find a partner. Someone smart. Someone you trust. Someone that has complementary talents. For me it was my girlfriend (now wife). She’s good with the details. I’m good with the big picture. Both are essential.
2. Delegate Like Your Life Depends On It
Once you get a partner, there’s still too much for two people to do. Bookkeeping, taxes, financial planning, website design, search engine optimization — there is so much. There are people who are efficient with these tasks. You can find them on Upwork, TaskRabbit, or in your local network. You have to be ruthless in delegating, otherwise you’ll get stuck.
3. Figure Out the Difference Between a Business and a Job
After 7 years of consulting, we realized that we were working all of our hours in the business, and not working on the business. If either one of us were to get sick or die, the company would not survive. What we had wasn’t a business, it was a job.
4. Be Honest About Your Strengths and Weaknesses
I’m in the consulting business, but I’m a terrible consultant. I’m a worse project manager. The DIY websites that I built were atrocious. I’m also not good at training people (sink or swim!), but I’m good at sales, automation, and planning. I’ve learned (still learning!) to stick to those few things that I’m good at, and entrust my team to handle what they’re best at.
5. Hire Slow
It took 4 months of interviews for my first employee. We interviewed him twice, and thought about it a lot. Then he came in for a “demo day” — a full day where he tried the job on for size. Only after all of that did we hire, and he’s as solid as a rock. If you’re in a small office like I am, you’ll be around this person a lot, 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, 2,000 hours per year. Think about it. You better be damn sure before you commit to the full-time hire.
6. Fire Fast
Of all the mistakes that I’ve made (the opposite of all of my tips above), the worst has been to let a bad hire linger like a bad idea. Someone who doesn’t respect their boss, doesn’t fit with the culture, doesn’t like their job, doesn’t do their job, or doesn’t have a good attitude —has to be let go. Catch it, give a warning, and if there’s no change then drop the guillotine.
7. Don’t Let Your Inbox Rule You
Email is a drug. Every time you check your inbox, it’s like playing a game of slots. Most of the time you lose. At the very least, you’re losing your focus. Try to section off one or two times a day when you check your email and make the rest of the day an email free zone. Don’t worry, most people can wait 24 hours for a response.
8. Define What Success Means to You (It’s Different for Everybody)
I could be making more in a corporate job. I have a consulting business because it maximizes my time. I work 5 minutes from home. I can take a leisurely lunch (and I do, often). I can be of service to the public (and I do, volunteer for my Town’s Economic Development Committee). Don’t get me wrong, I’m in business to make money, but I’m clear now that money’s not my ticket to happiness. That time to give back to the community and enjoy — that time — is the ultimate luxury, that giving back is my ticket to “success”.