8 Lessons From My First Year Of Consulting

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8 Lessons From My First Year Of Consulting

I just finished my first year on my own as a consultant. It has definitely been an interesting ride, so I want to share an honest replay of how those first twelve months went. Hopefully, my sharing can help anyone else thinking about getting into consulting.

In December 2018, my job ended and I was at a crossroads: get another job, or start a consulting business. I had thought about going into consulting years before and had even gone back to school to earn my MBA. My plan was to consult for companies in the same ways I had helped sales teams.

Then a job opportunity arose that allowed me to do everything I wanted as a consultant, but internally for a company. Now that job had ended, so I saw my opportunity to begin a consulting business.

All the advice out there will tell you that if you are going into consulting, you need two things:

  1. A network of contacts who would hire you as a consultant: Many new consultants switch from working with a client company as a customer of their current business, then leave and do the same work as an independent consultant/contractor.
  2. Enough “runway” available: In other words, six to twelve months’ worth of money to cover all your expenses so you can survive until the money starts flowing. Starting a consulting business requires patience unless you are fortunate enough to have many people eager to pay you on day one.

When I started, I only had a few people who might be interested in hiring me, and pretty much no money—no clients and no runway. I don’t advise putting yourself in this situation, but it was my situation, so I dealt with it.

The universe supported me, providing me with just enough money to keep going. (My grandma has passed away a few months prior, so a small inheritance allowed me a few months of space.)

I began by reaching out to everyone I knew who could hire me to help their team. A few people were interested, but their projects never started. Many days I worried about what would happen, but those were followed by days full of hope, based on positive conversations. The hope was short-lived, and then it was back to hustling to make something happen.

In those early months, I was working in two directions:

  1. Consulting, by reaching out to everyone I could. I dusted off my LinkedIn account. It is amazing how little I cared about LinkedIn while I had a job. In the last twelve months, it has become a vital tool for networking and relationship building.
  2. Applying for jobs. Yes, I wanted to do consulting, but I had a limited financial shelf life so I was open to job opportunities. I applied for jobs all over the country—VP and Director of Sales roles I was easily qualified for and would have crushed. I figured if a job was the direction I was supposed to go in life, the universe would open a door for me to walk through. When I applied to almost one hundred jobs and only got one interview, I took that as a sign that consulting path was to be my path.

Lesson #1: If you are at a crossroads, explore multiple options. You won’t know the right one until it becomes obvious.

I didn’t know where my first consulting client would come from, so I tried everything I could, knocking on all kinds of doors to find the right one.

I live about an hour north of San Francisco, so I started going to Shark Tank type Venture Capital  pitch meetings (pretty much just like the television show). I met a lot of fascinating people—from entrepreneurs and founders to people working to connect them to the money and the investors ready to be part of the next great idea. Two to three times a week, I drove into the city to attend networking events and pitch meetings.

Since my niche is inside sales teams, I found that when I explained what I did to people in the San Francisco Bay Area (Silicon Valley), they looked at me like I had two heads. Few people at those meetings could imagine using the phone, let alone wanting a call center type team. They all seemed to be imagining coming up with the next great app that everyone would magically download.

I was definitely not talking to the right groups, but I still learned a lot. And it helped me focus my message and value proposition.

Lesson #2: Explore as many different groups as possible until you find your tribe. Along the way, you will learn how to explain your niche and value.

So there I was, a few months into this new adventure, again with a limited financial runway, so what did I do next? Signed up to attend a few conferences. The first was a performance marketing conference in Las Vegas. I had been to it before, but never by myself and for myself. It was a big expense relative to my situation, but I knew it was an investment and basically a marketing expense.

Prior to the conference, I spent a month networking with people on LinkedIn. This turned out to be my single best networking and relationship-building strategy so far. I connected with people who would be attending the show. I set up calls with all of them to chat before the conference. I built out a calendar for the show and filled it with twenty-plus meetings. I spent most of the show in those meetings, some time on the expo hall floor, and the rest allowing serendipity to guide me toward people I was supposed to meet. It was a great event, and I did my best to maximize it, coming away with some longer term relationships.

Lesson #3: Focus on relationships for the long term, and look for opportunities to help others achieve their goals.

When I came back from the conference, I launched my podcast. I had wanted to start one, but kept convincing myself the world didn’t need another sales-related podcast. Finally, after hearing someone else launch hers after overcoming that same thought process, I went all in with The Sales Experience Podcast. I published episodes five days a week. At first, I didn’t do any editing; then I started editing it myself; then I hired someone to help. At first, I wrote out the script for each ten-minute episode to keep myself focused and timely. But writing 5,000 to 6,000 words a week was a lot and could be avoided by just outlining my topic and doing my best to be succinct. I got some great feedback along the way and worked to tighten up the episodes.

I did the podcast mostly from a burning desire to share my message that sales can be done in a way that benefits the salesperson and the prospect, with the goal of shifting people’s view of salespeople from negative to positive. That shift has a long way to go to become population-wide, but I am doing my part.

I didn’t do the podcast for downloads or vanity metrics. I remember being so excited that I had thirty-eight downloads in the first three days. I had set a goal of publishing 100 episodes, and at 110 total (with guest episodes), I decided to take a break and end “Season One.” For a few months, I focused on consulting clients, working on my book, resetting mentally, and figuring out what I wanted to do that would be new and different in the next season. After a few months off, I launched Season Two, coming back with a focus on sales, with more guest episodes to help listeners hear about the sales experience from other experts.

Lesson #4: There is a difference between an itch and a burn. When you feel something burning inside that you must do, go all in, set a big goal, and give it all you’ve got. Itches can be scratched and will go away, but burning fires inside should be fanned.

So here I was, six months into my self-employment journey, with a five-day-a-week podcast, networking and relationships, and I still had no clients. But I knew I was on the right path, partly because I could feel it and partly because the universe kept providing me with just enough money to keep going. I kept an eye out for other doors I should go through, totally open to wherever I should go.

And then it happened. In one day, I got my first two consulting clients. They came from relationships I had developed in the past and they instantly came on board. I went from being busy creating, developing, and nurturing relationships to being busy with consulting projects.

Just like that, I was traveling, working with different companies, and in multiple countries, for the next few months. I was home just on weekends, if at all. It was a different kind of busy, but it felt easier. When I am working with sales teams and helping owners convert their vision and ideas into strategies and results, it feels amazing; then I am really in my sweet spot.

Lesson #5: Know who you are, what you enjoy doing, and the value you provide to others. Go all in, and then be patient. It will always work out when you are on the right path.

When I first started my consulting journey, my goal was to work from home, with the ability to be anywhere in the world and still help companies/teams. As my first few projects started, I realized how much value comes from the in-person part of working with sales teams. There is nothing like being face to face with a sales team, listening to them; providing them with feedback, coaching, and motivation; and leading them. The energy I bring with me, along with the accountability, can work virtually, but it’s not quite the same. One-on-one sales coaching can work over the phone or via video chat, but nothing beats in-person.

I have developed some tools, and found some technology that helps facilitate the remote management of a team to help offset the traveling. I enjoy physically being with teams, but it’s not always feasible. I can’t be everywhere at once, but I can still provide value.

Lesson #6: Have a plan and a vision for how you see your life long-term, but be flexible short-term, especially when starting out on a new venture.

So there I was, busy working with clients, operating my five-day-a-week podcast, and looking for more clients for when these consulting projects would end. That meant the marketing, networking, relationship building, and posting online could never stop. Typically, this is where you will hear most people say “I am just too busy to ______” (insert their theoretically important task that isn’t getting done). But I say there is always enough time in the day. Finding it might mean less TV, less online scrolling, or less video games, but there is always time to get things done.

And, on the flip side of that statement, when you put yourself in the space of what you should be doing with your life—using your talents, skills, abilities, and experiences to help other people, there will never be enough time. Yes, there is enough time in the day to get lots done, but if you have goals and a desire to make bigger things happen in your life and in the world, the to-do list will grow exponentially faster than you can get things checked off.

I had to dismiss the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) side of my brain and just focus on a few important projects and outlets. There will always be more social media posts you can make, and new apps you can be on, and more articles you can write, and more videos you can film, and more books you can write. There are an endless number of people you can reach out to and clients you can pitch.

The key to preventing anxiety, unhealthy stress, and feeling overwhelmed is two-fold:

  1. Be patient. Being patient means you know you are playing the long game. You can get to everything given enough time. The book, videos, training program, networking—all of it can happen if you keep working on it each day, every day. When I look back at the last twelve months and think of the sheer amount of content I wrote and created, it is mind blowing. If I had started twelve months ago and thought about what I would write, I would have shut down thinking it was too overwhelming. In 2019 alone: I wrote a 56,000-word book, 25,000 words of blog and social media posts, and wrote/generated more than 250,000 in transcripts from my podcast. Looking back, it seemed easy now.
  2. Be focused. Being focused means picking what you are best at and going all in. If you are best at writing, do that and shut off the part of your brain that hears others telling you that you should be doing a podcast or video. If you think your audience is on LinkedIn, then don’t make yourself feel bad for not posting on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok. If you love making videos but forcing yourself to write content is painful, then focus on the video.

Lesson #7: Patience will help you play the long game and eat that elephant one bite at a time. When you look back, you will always be amazed by how much you created and the impact you had on others, especially when you focus on what best fits your personality and skill set.

During the last twelve months, I also took time to develop my professional mission statement and core values. You can read them here. I have read many books on the subject (Simon Sinek, Start With Why, and Traction, by Gino Wickman), plus  worked with several companies to help develop theirs, and it felt like I needed the same thing. Typically, companies do that when they get larger because in the beginning a company starts with just one person, or a small team, and the mission, vision, and culture comes from that one individual. But I realized that what I wanted was a clear North Star.

The value of having your own mission statement and core values is when you have to make a decision, you can refer to them for guidance. This helps with what I just talked about above: patience and focus. Will that new social media platform help you with your mission, or will it just be the latest thing you mess around with, waste time on, and use as a way to procrastinate from doing the valuable things? Even if it’s just you, by yourself, working from home, like I was, determine what your mission is. Remember, the biggest thing is to understand it is relative to this moment in your life. Do not put the ultimate pressure on yourself to know your life’s purpose.

Lesson #8: Develop your own business mission statement and core values. Doing so will help when you are stuck, unclear, or overwhelmed.

Now that Year One is done, and my Year Two of consulting is in motion as we enter a new year and decade, I am so excited for what will take place. I have set big goals and have my destination planned. I am also open to whatever path the Universe has for me to get there. Just like if my goal were to drive across the US from coast to coast, I am looking forward to whatever roadside attractions life will have me stop at along the way.

If you want help developing the sales success strategies for your team, email me at jason@cutterconsultinggroup.com or use the CONTACT Form to set up a time for us to talk.