They say that timing is everything. I am not sure who “they” are, but I am sure that “they” are right. In November of 2016, I wrote an article for Forbes titled, “This Is How You Know You’re Not Meant To Be An Entrepreneur.” It chronicled my journey into consulting after spending 17-years in a full-time role. I gave it the old college try for ten months, but I was unimpressed with my progress and chalked the whole thing up to an experiment that failed. I went back full-time shortly after that and spent the next two and a half years working at a company.
In March of 2019, however, I decided that I needed a change. Creatively, I was stifled, but more than that, the company culture didn’t match my values. I made the bold decision to leave without having another job, and that instead, I was going to launch a career advice podcast to go along with my book, LEAVE YOUR MARK. All fine and good, but then I realized that I would also have to start consulting again to make money. Ugh. That thought really didn’t thrill me. After the last stint, it was not something that I felt confident about doing, but I had made my bed by quitting without another job and so consulting it had to be.
For the next two months, I recorded podcasts and felt great. The freedom to do whatever I wanted was amazing. But those clients that I needed still hadn’t surfaced. I was going through the motions of new business meetings and started to feel that same dread that I had felt the last time. But then something happened. Introductions were made by peers in my network that I didn’t expect, and leads were generated. Before I knew it, I had multiple clients and a real consulting business in creative brand marketing and digital strategy. Was it timing, or was it new tactics? I decided to speak to other consultants to see what has made their practices successful in order to better define what has made mine. After all, nothing lasts forever, but if you can understand why something works, you can hopefully repeat it.
The following women come from all different industries and perspectives, and I have pulled out the most poignant advice from each of their experiences:
Susan McPherson is the Founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies, a consulting business that she has had for six years. McPherson Strategies develops, amplifies and communicates social responsibility and philanthropic initiatives. Susan calls herself a “serial connector,” and as such, her business has entirely been built from inbound inquiries. She credits this to her incredible network, but as someone who knows Susan personally, I can vouch for the fact that Susan has helped hundreds of women in their businesses, and I am very sure that support has come back in spades.
Consultants are often brought in to solve an existing problem or provide expertise in an area that the team doesn’t have. When speaking to potential clients, Susan advises to always ask the client to identify the problem first and make them share what key performance indicator(s) define success for them. She also doesn’t quote them a fee for the project, but instead asks them what budget they think is fair to solve this problem or accomplish this goal.
“Everyone has a number or range in their mind and an expectation of results that matches that price. If the potential client lowballs, I simply say, “You’re not going to receive what you are hoping for at that price, but I’m happy to recommend a freelancer who will be more aligned with your budget.”
Leah Bonvissuto is the founder of PresentVoices. Through interactive training programs for individuals and groups, PresentVoices helps transform miscommunication into engagement at work. With six years in business after being in the theater for many years, she believes that “warm intros” are the secret to getting clients, of whom she counts LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, among others. Having someone make a friendly and meaningful introduction on your behalf is the difference between someone ignoring your email or not. It’s also third party credibility as to why that person should connect with you. Leah also recommends using the peaks and valleys of consulting to your benefit.
“Use your downtime wisely. Take time to think about your business and how you want to speak about the work that you do.”
Trae Bodge is a lifestyle journalist, TV Commentator, and the founder of Trae Bodge Media, LLC. Trae started her own business in 2015 after getting laid off. She believes that forming a community around what you do is important—and she has seen a trend toward people in the same line of work being more collaborative and less competitive. In fact, she recently launched a business with a direct competitor, Andrea Woroch. With One Take Media, they each work on opposite coasts of the country, share resources, and can collectively combat the challenges of the changing media landscape. Trae recommends holding out for what you’re worth.
“It hurts to turn things down, but I absolutely will. If I sense a client will be problematic, or for nickel and diming, I will very quickly say that it’s not a good time, and perhaps we can revisit working together in the future.”
Sara Wilson spent 5-years at Facebook before starting her content consultancy, SW Projects. Through her role at Facebook, she realized that consumer brands needed to think and function like digital publishers, and digital publishers needed to think and function like brands. Facebook allowed her to take on non-competitive clients, which allowed her to test the waters without the risk.
“The more you can do from the stability of a job, the better you can work the kinks out.”
On her own for almost two years, Sara believes that her consulting superpower is time management, and she blocks out three full days a week to just do the work. The best advice she has been given comes from her friend, Caroline Waxler, an editorial director and live journalism producer, who shared the following:
“If you are a consultant, you are in the business of expertise. It’s your #1 job to stay a category expert. Writing consistently— and having your ideas challenged is a great way to keep your ideas fresh.”
Jasmine Garnsworthy is a digital communications specialist who creates editorial strategy for brands. She has been consulting for three years and believes that one of the most important things you can do while working on your own is to keep your skills sharp.
“Without a traditional employer’s structured professional development program or a “boss” for guidance, it’s possible for your skills to grow stagnant. I am a big advocate of informal peer mentorship and regularly turn to friends in this space to learn about what’s working and not working on their current projects.”
Stacie Henderson is the Founder and CEO of Diversa LLC. Launched in March 2019, Diversa provides strategic e-commerce consultancy for both the launch and ongoing operations of e-commerce businesses. Stacie believes that chemistry with a client is the key to success. “You walk in, and even if you know what you’re doing—every day is day one. When I meet with a potential client, I don’t want it to feel like a pitch. I want it to feel like two professionals talking to each other, peer to peer. Stacie also does an interesting litmus test for potential clients.
“I always do research on the business and share my initial feedback as ways to improve. If their reaction is too defensive, I may not move forward with the project. I don’t expect everyone to do everything I advise, but there needs to be a level of openness.”
Ronnit Vasserman is the Founder of Art Connect Group. As an art consultant, Ronnit started her consulting business seven years after leaving the banking world. Her first clients were in her social circle, and admittedly, it took Ronnit some time to appreciate the value of the service she was offering to her clients. But once she did, and as her knowledge of the art world grew, she mustered the confidence to charge appropriately for her consulting services.
“Charging appropriately for my services ultimately gives clients a sense of security that they’re receiving high-quality guidance through the process.”
Kara Silverman is the Founder of Various and Co. tackling B2B storytelling and communications. Kara was thrown into consulting when she was laid off from her job six months ago. With 15 years of experience under her belt, instead of getting another job, she decided to launch her consulting business. Even at her early growth stage, Kara believes that the secret to success is knowing when to say no to things that you can’t give 150% to. On getting new business, Kara believes,
“You have to be fearless about cold pitching— and have no ego or shame.”
Aside from the consulting 101’s— like forming an LLC, getting a proper consulting agreement drafted by a lawyer, handling payment, and invoices through software like Dubsado, the general consensus is that networking is a full-time job. New business can come from anywhere, and relationships must be nurtured and shared.
Consulting can be a feast or a famine, and if you embark on starting a consulting business, you need to be financially comfortable with the downtime that will undoubtedly ensue. That said, sometimes we are forced to try it. The beauty of the universe taking control of your career is that you never know what magic can happen when you invest in yourself. Why not take the skills you have honed from years of experience and use them as your own superpower?