How to Gain a Month Every Year
I was working with someone in my mentoring program recently and quickly showed him how to gain five hours a week. He stared at his calculator, multiplied by 50 and divided by eight and said, astonished, "That's over 31 days a year!"
I was astonished, too, because I thought I should have saved him more than that.
One of the chronic problems in practice management is lack of time, but consultants blame the problem on the wrong factor. The time crunch that many practitioners face is not due to the multiplicity of marketing, selling, development, delivery, follow-up, and the other rigors of the profession. The cause of the problem is actually bad decision making and lousy priorities.
All of us have enough time. When we say, "I don't have time for that," we really mean, "I choose not to spend my time on that at the moment." We subordinate the importance of the event. Let's face it, when we "don't have time" to take a vacation, attend our kid's soccer game, or buy a surprise gift for our spouse, we've simply chosen not to do it. The same applies to the article that never gets written, the web site that has never been updated, the client testimonials that were never solicited, and the leads that were never pursued.
Here is how you can gain at least a month a year, if you so choose:
1. Don't do things you alone think you should do unless the client finds true value in them. Does the client really need that 40-page report, or is it a way to justify your fee and provide the absurd "deliverables" that bureaucrats love to talk about? Will the client use it to better manage the business, or will it be another dust-collector on the shelf? An oral report will often suffice in place of a written report, and an executive summary of one page often will be better than a lengthy treatise. Do you really need to run labor-intensive employee interviews when the cause of the problem is as obvious as a ham sandwich?
2. Educate the client properly before you begin. When the prospect-to-be-client says, "How often will we see you each week here in headquarters?" don't knee-jerk and say, "As often as you like," or "At least two to three times a week." Simply say, "I won't know that until I see how quickly we can gather information and what level of cooperation we receive from supervision." Tell the client, naturally, that you'll be flying in and out, not making a three-hour drive in each direction, because that's how you operate and the increased expense is nothing compared to the reliability of having you fresh and prepared on each visit.
3. Focus on the output (the results) not the input (the tasks). If you have what you need 20 minutes into an interview, don't stretch it further just because 45 minutes were allocated. If you can learn what you need by phone, don't spend a day in an outlying facility if there's nothing to be gained by seeing the place. A client once said to me, "People are upset that you're interviewing them for only 15 minutes." I said, "Do you want valid feedback, or prolonged interviews? Here's what I've gathered - do you really want me to keep your people off the job longer when I can obtain this so readily?" The client decided to leave the consulting methodology to me.
4. Arrange your office and business practices for your convenience. Never stand in line at the post office. Have all the customs forms, priority-mail stickers, postage meter alternatives, and so on at your fingertips. If you need to write an article or do research, turn off your phone and return the call an hour later. It's seldom life-and-death in this business. Don't "work the phones" and/or send out massive direct mail. People don't buy consulting services that way.
5. Maximize your passive marketing. Establish a continuing "gravitational pull" by:
o investing in a superb Internet site that is represented aggressively on search engines;
o listing in buying resources publications, both in hard copy and on the Internet;
o placing ads in appropriate venues;
o providing interviews and articles based on position papers you've already written;
o creating a powerful press kit that you can immediately and easily send out in response to leads and inquiries;
o networking effectively so that third parties recommend you to potential customers;
o soliciting testimonials, references, and referrals from pleased clients (a chronic weakness of most consultants).
6. Stop following up so much. This sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out. I send out such a professional and powerful press kit in response to inquiries, and I make it so easy to contact me (toll-free number, several e-mail addresses, response option on my web site, fax number, reply card, etc.) that if a prospect doesn't respond to that kit, no amount of follow-up from me is likely to change that. Follow-up on anything other than a proposal that was submitted or a promised checkpoint is usually worthless, especially if you're dealing with a gatekeeper and not an economic buyer. Focus on sending out an irresistible package and drawing the prospect to you, not on receiving a generic response and then hunting down the prospect like a predator.
7. Be happy at 90 percent - or less. No article, position paper, pamphlet, report, booklet, or letter to the editor will ever be perfect. There are some weaknesses in The Grapes of Wrath and some slow parts in The Great Gatsby, for heaven's sake. Simply write what's on your mind, edit it (or have someone you trust critique it), rewrite it, and send it off. We tend to invest 50 percent of our time trying to move something from 92 percent perfection to 94 percent perfection, and that behavior is simply dysfunctional.
8. Stop beating yourself up. Don't agonize over rejection, and drop the post-mortems on every presentation that failed to secure business. Often the cause is nothing you can do anything about - the timing was poor, the prospect was unreasonable, the competition had a solid connection, your contact wasn't honest with you. Such is life. Don't throw good time after bad.
9. Confront energy-sappers.Tell people that, no, it's actually not a good time to talk, can this be done at another time? Tell the client that a (clearly unnecessary) meeting after work is inviting, but it will throw your entire schedule off. Cut people off who approach you for free advice or want to "collaborate" (e.g., they want you to take money from your pocket and put it into their pocket). Don't get involved in stupid e-mail threads.
10. Have fun and keep your perspective. Your business is simply (I hope) a support of your life and your life goals. Consulting is a profession, and a noble one, but not an adequate reason to exist. Focus on your family, your loved ones, your contribution to the environment, your actualization, your legacy.