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Insights

Growing Talent Development Firms: The One Big Tip for Consulting Business Success

Monday, December 23, 2019
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A couple of months ago, I was asked to record a video for Elaine Biech and Halelly Azulay’s online course, Building Your Successful Training Consulting Business. It’s based on their combined 50 years of experience as consulting business owners and is uniquely designed to help talent development professionals like you build and grow your successful consulting business. I encourage you to visit YourTrainingConsultingBiz.com and sign up to receive lots of free tips, tools, and resources as well as become informed about their next enrollment opening.

The question for which I was asked to comment, and one which I think would be a great blog to end this year, was: What is the one big tip you would offer for consulting business success? I was glad to oblige and thought this would be an easy question to answer. However, it took me much longer to sift through all the tips I could think of to come up with just one. What follows, with their permission, is a summary of the gist of what I said.

First, let me say that if there was just one big tip, everyone would know it and be highly successful. The truth is that success in the consulting business, at least in the talent development industry, is multi-faceted with lots of layers. In addition, success is a loaded word. What do we mean by this? Surely, one person’s success can look like another’s failure. Without sounding too glib, the tip is to first define what success looks like for you. But, let’s assume for purposes of this exercise, you have already done that and are ready to build and grow your consulting business.

Admittedly, there are steps and processes that are linked and build upon one another. But of these steps, there are some foundational cornerstones that need to be in place and that can be built upon to create both short- and long-term success.

Many of us just fall into the consulting business and make it up as we go. This has worked for some but mostly not for others. I think you have to, at some point, be more planful in figuring out who you are, what you are going to offer, and how you’re going to ensure your customers’ success. If your customers are consistently satisfied with you and what you have to offer, you will end up a successful consultant. But how do you get from here to there? As I think about my more than 40 years consulting and leading those eight different enterprises ranging from $1MM to over $50MM in revenue, and fortunately selling four of them, a few things come to mind.

In my 2017 ATD-published book and this blog series during the last five years about building and growing talent development businesses, I’ve identified 12 steps to success that fall under three larger, relatively sequential buckets. Namely: getting grounded, creating momentum, and moving forward. It stands to reason that you really can’t create momentum or move forward until you have been grounded. But, what exactly does getting grounded mean? Among other things, it means becoming clear on what you want and need and defining your core purpose.

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So, if I had to state the one big tip to being successful as a consultant it would be: Decide on what you want to do and be and stick with it. None of us can be all things to all people, and too often we are tempted to chase the next shiny object that distracts us from our purpose and often from what we most like to do, do well, and are passionate about.

To be successful as a consultant, you must create a niche for which you develop significant deep expertise and become well-known. Ideally, you become one of the industry experts in your chosen area. You write articles and books and speak about the subject matter with confidence and passion. You know your stuff. And people flock to you to sit at your feet.

Granted, notoriety alone won’t guarantee success. You don’t really have to be the world’s number one leading authority on your subject matter to be effective and successful. Remember, there are many facets to creating and building a successful business or even a small practice. But if you don’t stay in your lane, establish your credibility, and remain focused, you probably are going to be just another of the thousands of everyday consultants, undifferentiated from each other and contributing less than you want and need.

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So, at the end of the day, the one big tip is pretty simple: Know who you are! Understand what you want and need! Do what you love! Follow your passion! Stay focused! And, you will end up doing well.

Oops! That’s more than just one big tip, isn’t it? Told you this was a multilayered challenge.

What have you done to understand what you truly want and need from your consulting business? How have you developed deep expertise in your areas of focus? What have you done to ensure you don’t stray too far away from your core purpose?

For more insight, check out my book The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm.

About the Author

Steve Cohen is founder and principal of the Strategic Leadership Collaborative, a private consulting practice focused on business strategy and development. A 40+ year veteran of the talent development industry, largely on the supplier side, he has demonstrated a proven track record for building equity by growing top and bottom-line performance for eight different consulting enterprises in the education and training industry he has either founded and/or led. He has been called on to consult with numerous firms needing strategic planning guidance, business coaching, and board advisory services.

His latest book is The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm.

He can be reached at: 952.942.7291 or [email protected] or at his website: www.strategicleadershipcollaborative.com.

1 Comment
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Such great insights, Steve. We can't wait to share your tip, along with many distinguished others, with our course members!
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