Hey, Wait a Minute…
Hey, Wait a Minute… I Started a Consulting Business!
I talked to Jeff Prouty recently about the basics of starting a consulting business. He actually made it sound, if not easy, at least possible. Here are some helpful pointers:
✓ Getting Started.
Jeff began his own consulting business seven years ago by imagining an ideal client. He said, “I then tried to come up with the kind of project I could envision doing day after day.” Beginning consultants need to avoid saying yes to just any consulting opportunity. “Pick a niche,” Jeff advises, “and stay with it.”
✓ On Vision.
Draw it. Jeff recommends fledgling consultants have their vision drawn by a professional artist, as he did, employing the services of artist Truman Howell (612-449-9303). Truman’s bronzed depiction of Jeff’s business hangs on The Prouty Project’s office wall. “Someone once said, you can make good money if you can say what you do in 25 words or less. You can make great money if you can say it in 10 words or less,” Jeff related, adding, “Be able to talk about what you do, not who you are.”
✓ Client Satisfaction.
Jeff decided at the outset to conduct an annual client survey “like clockwork.” It measures client reaction to quality of service, innovativeness and community responsibility, key attributes of reputation. It also asks if the client would recommend Jeff’s consulting services to others. Jeff treats referral sources “with kid gloves.”
✓ On Advice.
Jeff invests in “The Inner Circle, (call Norm Stoehr at 612-542-0682) where he was initially matched with a group of eleven other entrepreneurs. The group gathers monthly to discuss relevant topics, and each month one group member presents his or her vision for their business, which is then critiqued by others. “This is a no-holds-barred group,” Jeff explained, adding that he gets candid feedback he probably wouldn’t get from friends.
✓ The Power of the Written Word.
Early on, Jeff read Howard Shenson’s The Complete Guide to Consulting Success, and decided to publish a newsletter based on Shenson’s advice that consultants establish themselves through the written word. “Zig when everyone else is zagging were his watchwords as he designed his quarterly newsletter now sent to over 4100 friends of The Prouty Project. Jeff described his newsletter as “first-class, filled with ‘actionable’ tips, with contents to make the reader smile.” “I can’t afford not to do it,” he added.
✓ Invest in Yourself.
Each year, Jeff invests in premiere training aimed at continuous self-improvement. “Spend the dollars to see the big time players,” he advises, “and you may meet potential clients and contacts at the same time.” Gurus whose advice Jeff has absorbed in the past include Walter Hailey, Tom Peters, Chester Karrass, Jim Kouzes, Barry Posner, Gary Hamel, Harvey Mackay, Steven Covey, Ram Charan, Michael Porter, and Kathy Dannemiller.
✓ Smile…Everyone Has Potential.
Jeff cited examples of being referred to business by fellow passengers in airport vans, college students, cab drivers and the unemployed. He admitted, “There is some truth to selling at the top, but secretaries are powerful people too.”
✓ On Accessibility.
Jeff makes a practice of returning all phone calls within twenty-four hours. He also includes his home phone number on correspondence with clients. Jeff firmly believes in “being easy to do business with,” and prefers communicating informally with brief, handwritten notes which add a personal touch.
✓ Give Back to the Community.
Jeff suggests seeking out community efforts “you can put your heart into.” He likes fundraising, because, as he put it, “You meet extremely talented people.” He also enjoys working on boards of directors for non-profit organizations. Jeff is a member of the Keystone Community, which gives 5% or more of pre-tax earnings to charity.
✓ It Takes Time.
Jeff asks potential consultants, “Are you committed? Are you willing to give it 5-7 years?” He believes the consulting business is a relationship business, and relationships take time.
I asked Jeff a final question: “Where will you be in five years?”
He replied, laughing, “In this building, because of the lease I signed!” He paused, and then added in a slightly more serious tone, “I’ll have a great consulting business. I envision being viewed as one of the best at dealing with CEOs, senior management teams and executive boards. My publishing business will be up and running. I’m exploring the role of ‘connector’… a cable talk show host, perhaps. And, I want to throw a big party or two for charity benefits!”
A dream? Maybe. Once you talk to Jeff Prouty about turning visions into reality, that dream sounds like it’s sure to happen. For anyone interested in consulting, Jeff offers a compelling example of how to do it right.