Now I don't want to depress everyone, but at some stage or another all of us have to deal with this question, and not just in relation to our businesses. And I'm not talking about being positive and staying motivated, which are whole other issues. This is different. There can be nothing wrong with your motivation, yet things can still be going badly in your business. So how do you deal with it? What do you do? And how do you make sure it doesn’t get you down in the long-run? I'd like to share a few thoughts....
A business, like anything, goes through good and bad patches. In a consulting business, you’re primarily dealing with people, and they have their ups and downs, issues, foibles, and so on. Catch a client at the wrong time, and through no fault of your own, you may end up with a problem in your business. How you deal with this stuff is critical.
As I look back over my consulting career, at any point in time I’ve had various clients I’m working with. Most of the time there’s an issue with at least one of them. It may be as simple as them wanting a little more information in a particular part of a report I sent, or they have a problem with my invoice for some reason, or they haven’t paid when they said they would. Most of these problems are easy to resolve, and the key is to deal with them in a reasonable way before they become significant issues. In themselves, they don’t constitute “things going badly,” but they can mount up if you let them.
It’s worth analyzing what we mean when we say that things are going badly. Is it lack of work? Is it cash-flow problems? Is it staff or subcontractor issues? Is it a couple of clients giving you a hard time? Is it simply you overreacting to something that has happened? As most of us have a tendency to focus on the negative, in my view it's worth taking time to consider what’s going well in your business. In my experience, more things are going well than are going badly. So I suggest making a list of what’s going well and another list of what’s going badly. At least then, as you review the lists, you’ll get a balanced view.
Let’s say you’ve done this, and you identified two or three things that are causing things to “go badly.” Now put them in order. Which one is causing you the most grief, costing you the most money, keeping you awake at night?
Once you can address them one at a time, starting with the most problematic, you can ask yourself a number of questions. I suggest writing down the questions and your answers so you can refer to them now and in the future. What can you do to make things better? Who could help you? Who could you talk to? Why is it happening? Has it been a recurring problem? What fixed it last time it happened? What can you do to prevent it happening again? What happens if you do nothing? Does it get worse or stay the same—or even go away?
The outcome of this analysis is likely to be a list of actions. Once you have this list, run through it, and make sure each action is specific. For example, “I need to sell more work” is a general objective, not a specific one. “Contact Steve Woods at XYZ Company and suggest an extension to the previous project we did for him” is the type of specific action that should be on your list. For each of these specific actions, assign a timescale. For example, “Contact Steve Woods by April 30th.” Then all you need to do is stick to your self-imposed list of actions.
This sort of analysis has worked well for me. It’s an analytical approach as opposed to an emotional response to the feeling that “things are going badly.” Once you’ve worked it through, you’re actively doing something to make it better, which should make you feel better too. It does for me.
If any of this resonates at all I'd love to hear from you. What do you do to make things better when things are going wrong? Please share.
As a highly experienced consultant and author of “Consulting Made Easy”, Adrian assists consultants, or would be consultants, to achieve success on their terms in their own consulting businesses. Adrian helps consultants increase their fee rates, find more clients, have more free time and have more fun.
Contact Adrian at email@example.com to learn more.
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