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A business is a ship at sail

My business is a ship at sail in the water. It needs to be constantly navigated against the currents, the winds, and other elements around me. And as my goals evolve it needs to be turned in the appropriate direction. And sometimes I need to do whatever is necessarily simply to be able to live through and fight another day.

Things I’ve done to get through challenging times in my consulting business:

  • Contacted repeat clients that were inactive to check in with them
  • Contacted reliable referral sources to check in with them
  • Offered special prepaid or recurring retainer arrangements
  • Set aside cash reserves (both inside and outside my business)
  • Arranged for borrowing capacity (both inside and outside my business)
  • Borrowed capital (both inside and outside my business) to remain liquid during highly unusual times
  • Written and then shared useful things with my mailing list
  • Checked in with other consultants and freelancers to compare notes, share ideas with, and learn from
  • Temporarily accepted smaller engagements than normal
  • Temporarily accepted larger/ lengthier engagements than preferred
  • Gotten more disciplined about including optional, value enhancing upgrades in proposals
  • Temporarily offered unusually high discounts for 100% prepayment
  • Taken a regular job, gained new experience, bought time to reflect & regroup, and added new people to my network
  • Updated my mailing list / contact database with new folks since the last time I did maintenance on it
  • Written and shared something else useful with my mailing list in a different format than the previous mailing
  • Done something “on spec” for a long time client
  • Switched to invoicing biweekly rather than monthly
  • Made requiring payment upfront customary for doing business with me
  • Invested personal savings in myself: in my business, in my consulting business education
  • Cut unnecessary overhead
  • Deferred necessary overhead temporarily
  • Dove deeper into things my mentors had been repeating over and over, but that I’d not yet fully attempted or grasped
  • Gathered more testimonials from inactive clients and past colleagues
  • Repeated any of the above

The funny thing is that everything noted above is useful not just during the tough times, but also when things are going well.

I’ve also learned that while it’s key to always be tweaking and optimizing the business, it’s also just as critical to be pragmatic and in the moment. There is theory, there is long-term stuff, and there is “oh crap, my house is burning down right now so what can I do about that immediately?” Then after that – when the embers are cold and I’m asleep in a hotel room – I can get back to thinking about those long-term adjustments again.

This business is not rocket science, but has required discipline, persistence, faith in my own abilities, and openness to experimentation. And because I primarily work alone, it’s also required being even more strategic about how I spend my time and energy (far more so than when working as part of even a small team: because there is literally no one else to pick up the slack).

Don’t ever feel ashamed about doing whatever needs to be done (ethically) to get through and fight another day.

By Josh Richards

Josh is a consulting network/ systems/ cloud engineer, freelance high stakes IT project manager, and former technology executive. He has consulted on information technology matters for over twenty-five years. In 2006, consulting became his primary source of income (just before the global financial crisis!). He’s a big fan of craft beer, freshly roasted coffee, artistic burlesque, good food, and applying science and reason to problems and opportunities small and large (and just for fun). When he has time and energy he also likes to get out on his bike or attend a soccer match.

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