What is the thesis that will make your consulting practice successful?
I was jolted to pondering this question recently.
I was going through my inbox and happened upon a quote featured in a Fortune magazine article. John Hering, CEO of mobile security company Lookout, was discussing the founders’ technical backgrounds. Specifically, how their backgrounds have impacted their approach to the mobile security business.
Here’s the quote:
Our thesis was that if you build products that not only keep people safe but also make them feel safe, that will be a successful business.
It got me thinking…
About my own business activities.
I started jotting down a few ideas and I realized that the original thesis for my own consulting/freelancing practice had evolved fairly significantly these past few years.
In fact, if I’m being completely honest with myself, it’s been more like a series of existential crises which I’ve tried to insulate my clients and family from (not always successfully).
The Evolution I Went Through
Embarrassingly, my original thesis could be broken down to:
I resigned my last position and now need something else to do. I don’t really feel like interviewing for or exploring full-time employment under someone else’s wing. And it’d probably be a good idea to earn some income.
I’m a regular rocket scientist, can’t you tell?
My (first) “let’s put a bit of thought into it” thesis was still naive and overly simplistic. It did have an inkling more – and that’s all – of professionalism though. Basically, it was:
I know some stuff, I know some folks that might like help with things related to that stuff, and I’d like to try something new. Let’s make some time available and see if I can make some money at this, until another opportunity either presents itself or my entrepreneurial bug finds something to sink it’s teeth in.
A later thesis was slightly better. It was effectively as follows:
If you provide technical assistance that people ask for, charge money for it, treat those you interact with with respect and behave with professionalism, leverage your professional network and reputation, then that will lead to a successful business.
(Full disclosure: these aren’t originally what I wrote; in some cases I didn’t write anything… or so many variations of the same thing the lineage is impossible to rebuild with 100% accuracy. I’m paraphrasing here, following the spirit of the evolution of my thinking and to make my point clearer. I’m likely benefiting from hindsight which makes me look even smarter than I am when it comes to this stuff. 🙂 I’m also being honest about my mistakes so, hopefully, it’ll balance out and the lessons within my own evolution will not be lost to those reading this.)
A more recent thesis, nurtured over several years, is three-pronged and goes something like this:
1. If you provide advice and services that not only solve technical challenges faced by organizations, but also focus specifically on areas tied to strategic business priorities, that will be a successful business.
2. If you provide advice and services that not only solve technical challenges faced by organizations, but also solve business and professional development challenges faced by the individuals that make up these organizations, that will be a successful business.
3. If you develop relationships with many types of individuals regardless of their role or position, through simple follow-up and one-on-one contact, by demonstrating a desire to do so without any expectations, and by being helpful from time to time, that will be a successful business.
Ultimately, the thesis is that if I (your own list will be different) do all three of the above – more often than not – and with the majority (or at least a sufficient quality) of the organizations and individuals I cross paths with, that will be a successful business ((It doesn’t even have to be “the majority” that you cross paths with, but I happen to think about it that way because: (a) I like to aim high; (b) even partially hitting that high bar will likely mean success; (c) I’m not smart enough to know which folks are the best ones to focus all of my resources on ahead of time; (d) I find it easier to be helpful to folks if I’m not limiting myself to certain types ahead of time; (e) I like to be helpful.)).
What do we mean, specifically, by a “successful business”?
I thought about that a bit too. I attempted to write down some concrete thoughts that were specific enough to be helpful and motivating. Being specific was key for me because it is very easy to get buried and lost in the day-to-day, week-to-week, and … (you get the point) noise and chaos that arises when running your own business.
It seems necessary, at least for me, to remind myself specifically why I’m doing this. This keeps me focused, motivated, and growing towards my goal(s).
It’s not as simple as literally being “for the money.” The money angle is more a link in the chain that gets me there, not the destination. I do enjoy being in business for myself and earning a good income, but that’s not – in the end – why I’m doing any of this.
In that sense, I suppose, the money piece, while important, is simply an aspect of the journey itself, rather than the destination. Therefore, I had to dig deeper with specificity.
Here’s an early iteration of what I wrote down.
A “successful business” is one that:
1. You can be proud of, that will support you and your family comfortably
2. Will nurture the lifestyle you desire financially, emotionally, relationship-wise, and experience-wise
3. Will be fulfilling, interesting, and attractive to you both professionally and personally.
4. Will be sustainable, given maintenance and nurturing, providing for income stability as well as opportunities for growth
An Iterative Process of Continuous Improvement
Keep in mind that I’ve continued to revise these since, as I imagine you may as well if you decide to do this. I’ve honed in on each of these areas with even greater specificity, refining them to their essence as they pertain to my own desires and goals.
Of course, other things have evolved over that same time period. Namely a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses, a greater awareness of (distinction between) my interests versus my passions, my own analysis and hard-won lessons about how to turn certain talents, skills, and resources into money making (or not) professional activities, and – critically – a painful and difficult confrontation and separation of myself from the “product” (a very difficult endeavor when your own brain-for-rent is essentially the core “product”).
This has all served to further inform my thinking, planning, and each iteration of my professional (and personal) thesis.
What about you?
So, what is the thesis that will make your consulting practice successful for you? And what does success, specifically, mean for you? Finally, does your current strategy and priority list align with that thesis?
Our thesis was that if you build products that not only keep people safe but also make them feel safe, that will be a successful business. –John Hering, CEO Lookout
This just scratched the surface on a topic I could easily write a book about. I’ll cover this, and other topics, further in the future.