The Society of Professional Consultants

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The purpose of this blog is to provide information to help consultants and solo professionals. Please contact us if you're an active SPC member willing to provide content for our blog. 

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  • Monday, July 01, 2024 6:39 AM | Erica Holthausen

    As an established consultant, you are an expert with a deep understanding of your industry. You understand the complexities and nuances others miss and know how they can impact your clients. Given your depth of knowledge, you might be tempted to pick a topic and just start writing.

    Writing is not about the ink; it’s about the think.

    In addition to thinking about the topic, you must also think about how you will convey your insights and perspective to the reader. This step is crucial and often overlooked. But the more time you spend thinking about the structure of the piece you plan to write, the easier it will be to write it.

    Get your head in the game.

    Set aside some time to engage in deep work. Minimize as many distractions as possible, set the timer for 10 minutes, and get your ideas out of your head and onto the page. You can do a freewriting exercise, capture your ideas in a mindmap, draw a cartoon, or dump your thoughts onto the page.

    There’s no wrong way to do this, so do whatever works for you.

    The point of this exercise is to get into the right headspace to get clear about what you want to say. By taking a little time to capture your ideas, you can filter out the head trash and focus on your core message.

    Identify the point of the article.

    Every article you write needs a clearly defined point. Knowing the topic you’re writing about is the first step. Now, you must decide the angle from which you will approach that topic.

    To ensure that every article you write builds your authority, captures your audience’s attention, and adds your insights to the conversations they are having, conduct a SOAR analysis by answering the following questions:

    • Who does this article serve?
    • What is the objective of this article? Why should this audience read it?
    • What action will the audience be able to take after reading your article?
    • Will this article enhance or diminish your reputation?

    * * *

    Download a copy of The SOAR Model™ to improve your content.

    * * *

    Publications are looking for experts to provide their readers with actionable insights. Every article you write must change the reader’s thinking, mindset, or behavior.

    Equally important, every article you write, every speaking engagement you secure, and everything you do must enhance your reputation. The only way to ensure it does, however, is to be clear about the reputation you wish to build.

    Create a container for your writing.

    The SOAR analysis makes the point and angle of your article clear, but you still need to structure your thoughts. A simple outline creates a container for your writing and structures your article in a way that is clear, compelling, and easy for the reader to follow. You don’t need to go into much detail; a brief statement followed by bullet points works fine. An article outline includes:

    • Working headline.The headline will likely change. Right now, all you need is a simple headline that reminds you of the point of the article.
    • Introduction. The introduction makes the point of the piece clear to the reader and provides the necessary context.
    • Subheads. Each subhead is a supporting point. Your reader should understand your point just by reading the headline and subheads.
    • Conclusion. The conclusion closes the loop and ties the body of your article back to the introduction.

    Business articles have a straightforward structure. But that structure is what allows you to unleash your natural writing style. Now, instead of trying to figure out what you want to say next while you’re writing, you can simply fill each container with the appropriate information.

    Write your shitty first draft. Quickly.

    With a simple outline in place, it’s time to write your shitty first draft. Set a timer for 20 minutes and fill those containers as quickly as possible. Your goal is to complete your first draft within the allotted time.

    One of the benefits of quickly writing your first draft is that it shows you whether you’ve given enough thought to the piece. If your thinking is still muddled, it may be that the angle isn’t quite right. If your thinking is clear, but you could make your point stronger, you may need to do more research.

    Good writing meets your readers where they are and gives them the tools they need to get value from your writing. It helps your readers understand the complexities and nuances of a specific challenge so they can take steps to resolve it. And it positions you as a trusted advisor and authority in your industry.

    * * *

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications, where she equips consultants with the tools they need to develop a body of work that builds their authority, increases their visibility, and opens the door to new opportunities. A strategic thought partner, she guides her clients through selecting and pitching the right publication writing and publishing articles in industry trade journals and business magazines like Harvard Business Review, and using those articles to achieve their business goals. To learn how to raise your profile, register for Pitched to Published, a free monthly Q+A focused on writing, pitching, and publishing articles.

  • Monday, June 03, 2024 9:19 AM | Erica Holthausen

    The most effective way to demonstrate your depth of knowledge is to share your ideas and insights. You can do this through writing articles, posting on social media, publishing a book, hosting a podcast (or being a guest), speaking at conferences, or facilitating a workshop. Your goal is to add to the conversation instead of adding to the noise; to provide real value to your audience.

    To accomplish that goal, you need to share actionable insights. And you need to share these insights in slightly different ways again and again and again. Because repetition builds your reputation.

    Finding new and interesting ways to share the same old ideas requires you to be intentional. You must look for inspiration everywhere and actively read or listen to material about your industry. And you must capture your sources, quotes, research notes, and insights so you can refer back to them. Over time, you’ll start to see your research notes as a conversation, and you’ll begin to connect the dots in new ways.

    Capturing and organizing this information can be a challenge. The best approach to organizing your research and capturing your ideas and insights is the one you’ll actually use. Even if it it’s messy and not terribly efficient.

    Keep a research journal.

    A research journal is a simple document that captures your sources, quotes, research notes, and insights. Keep topic-specific research journals that can evolve along with your learning. For each source, include a complete bibliography. Next, capture relevant quotes. Finally, write down your thoughts and insights.

    * * *

    Download a copy of my research journal template.

    * * *

    Use an online reference manager.

    There are several citation managers on the market. While they are available to anyone, they are popular among academics because they can pull information directly from the university’s library. Here are three of the most common:

    1. Mendeley Reference Manager is free desktop software that allows users to organize and store their references, create bibliographies and citations, and share their research with others. (This social aspect is quite popular with researchers.) The built-in PDF reader makes it easy to annotate and organize PDFs.
    2. PowerNotes is a $10/month subscription service that allows users to create notes and organize them by project, topic, or source. It has a built-in citation tool that can automatically format citations in multiple styles and can capture content from across the web.
    3. Zotero is free, open-source desktop software developed by a nonprofit organization. It allows users to collect, organize, annotate, cite, and share research. It is similar to Mendeley but easier to learn. It has a browser add-on for Firefox and Chrome.

    Customize an alternative platform.

    Many people use other online tools to collect and organize their research, ideas, and insights. These tools tend to have a number of features that allow you to customize your experience (which can be both a blessing and a curse):

    1. Evernote is a free note-taking and task-management application that archives and creates notes with embedded photos, audio, and saved web content. Notes are stored in topic-specific notebooks and can be tagged, annotated, edited, searched, and exported. The web clipper is especially helpful.
    2. Notion is a free or low-cost project management, productivity, and note-taking web application with a ton of features, buckets of templates, and infinite flexibility. It organizes information hierarchically, allowing you to nest pages within other pages. It is popular with solo professionals and creative teams.
    3. Walling is a free or low-cost web application similar to Notion. But instead of presenting information in a linear, hierarchical format, it is organized visually with the option to view information linearly. You can use each brick in a topic-specific wall to capture the source, quotes, and notes.

    While it is important to capture your research, it’s even more crucial to capture your response to that research — your insights. Your insights are how you formulate your point of view or note areas requiring additional study. It’s where you begin to identify the gaps in the research or poke holes in other people’s conclusions. It’s where you figure out what you can add to the conversation that is uniquely yours.

    To unearth your insights, take note of quotes that capture your attention and then explain why they caught your attention. One way to do this is to review each quote and write a statement that starts with “yes, and,” “yes, but,” or “no, because.” Those simple prompts help you dig deeper and bring more nuance to the conversation.

    * * *

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications, where she equips consultants with the tools they need to develop a body of work that builds their authority, increases their visibility, and opens the door to new opportunities. A strategic thought partner, she guides her clients through selecting and pitching the right publication writing and publishing articles in industry trade journals and business magazines like Harvard Business Review, and using those articles to achieve their business goals. To learn how to raise your profile, register for Pitched to Published, a free monthly Q+A focused on writing, pitching, and publishing articles.

  • Wednesday, May 01, 2024 1:50 PM | Erica Holthausen

    When it comes to generative AI, I follow one simple commandment: Thou shalt not outsource your thinking, voice, or relationships to generative AI.

    Generative AI generates media (images, videos, and text) from prompts supplied by the user. Applications like ChatGPT rely on Large Language Models (LLMs), algorithms that generate probabilities of series of words based on large datasets consisting of trillions of words scraped from the internet.

    My biggest concern with generative AI is what it takes from us.

    When we rely on generative AI, we outsource creativity to an application — a thing, not a person. A thing that cannot think and therefore cannot be creative. A thing that generates media in response to a prompt and deprives us of the joy of thinking deeply about an issue, wrestling with our ideas, and creating something in response.

    Relying on generative AI deprives us of our humanity.

    My laments for humanity are often dismissed by those who believe I am too idealistic. Others can’t hear my cries over the din of society’s demands to produce more and more, faster and faster. It’s true that I am an idealist. But I’m a pragmatic idealist (and a recovering attorney), so let’s turn to the business case against relying too heavily on generative AI.

    The legal implications of using generative AI.

    Erin Austin is an IP attorney who helps founders of expertise-based firms build and protect saleable assets. She discussed the legal implications of generative AI on her Hourly to Exit podcast with her guest, attorney Girija Patel. There’s a lot of depth and nuance to their conversation, but here are three key takeaways:

    1. US copyright laws do not protect AI-generated content.
    2. Content you produce with the assistance of AI might be copyrightable. If it’s easy to separate what you created from what AI generated, the portion you produced may be copyrightable. If that division is unclear, copyrightability will depend on how much control or influence you had on the AI-generated output. (Well, that’s clear as mud.)
    3. Consultants, contractors, media outlets, and corporations are adding provisions to their contracts that clarify whether generative AI can be used and to what extent. Use these tools when your contract forbids it, and you’ll be in breach of contract.

    The legal implications of using generative AI is a complex and evolving area of law. But the legal implications of using these tools shouldn’t be your only considerations.

    Generative AI may negatively impact your reputation.

    Your reputation is your single most important asset. When considering whether to use generative AI, and if so, how to use it, you must evaluate it against the potential harm to your reputation. Keep these three points in mind:

    1. Generative AI cannot think. All it can do is use an algorithm to identify words that usually go together and spit out those pairings as sentences and pair sentences into paragraphs. That is why generative AI "hallucinates." If you use it, fact-check it. Always.
    2. As a consultant, your clients pay you for your expertise. AI-generated content is generic; it cannot bring your experience or insights to bear on the challenges your clients face.
    3. Some of your competitors are undoubtedly taking AI-generated content, polishing it up, and putting it out into the world as their own. They will put out a lot more stuff a lot quicker than you. But their work will lack depth, substance, and nuance. You can differentiate yourself by sharing your perspective and focusing on quality over quantity.

    Generative AI can be a helpful tool if you use it wisely. And there are smart ways to use it to make the writing process easier, such as the approach shared by Neil Thompson in this LinkedIn post, especially if writing isn't your strong suit. But it can harm your business and your reputation if you don’t use it wisely.

    Some will take the shortcut offered by generative AI, and many will get away with it even if their contract forbids it.

    The internet is a noisy place. If you churn out as much content as possible as often as possible, you’ll do nothing more than add to the noise. Instead, focus on sharing your experience-based expertise and the insights your clients value most. Let others go after the immediate dopamine hit and burn themselves out on all the socials while you play the long game and build a sustainable consulting business.

    * * *

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications and a strategic thought partner to consultants who wish to build their authority and increase their visibility by publishing articles in industry trade journals and business magazines like Harvard Business Review, Inc., and Entrepreneur. To learn how to raise your profile, register for Pitched to Published, a free monthly Q+A focused on writing, pitching, and publishing articles.

  • Tuesday, April 02, 2024 3:56 PM | Patrice Davis

    I often tell the story of the mild anxiety I used to feel as a new consultant when I read a prospective client’s email. It wasn’t because I wasn’t happy to get the email. It was because I was knee-deep in client delivery mode. I was already working on a client deliverable, had a proposal to create and send, and a few meetings to schedule.

    I wanted to respond immediately but felt obligated to maintain the momentum of the task at hand. Far too often, I would respond several days after they made the initial contact and, who knows, maybe if I'd responded sooner, I could have had more clients.

    This scenario is what life was like for me as a new business owner who hadn’t yet learned the joy of automating certain business processes to save time, eliminate anxiety, and accelerate sales.

    What is automation?

    According to the International Society of Automation, automation is the creation and application of technology to monitor and control the delivery of products and services. IBM describes automation as the use of technology to perform tasks where human input is minimized.

    In a consulting business, automation can be used for functions such as marketing, customer relationship management, scheduling, financial management, payroll, project management, transcription, and more.

    How automation is used in my consulting business

    At Grants Works, automation is used for lead generation, lead qualification, lead nurturing, scheduling, onboarding clients and team members, email marketing, social media management, and research. There are other processes I plan to automate as the company grows.

    How automation saves time 

    It’s not hard to imagine how automating repetitive tasks can save time. Creating automations means you can keep business processes flowing while you’re in a meeting with a client, devising plans with your team, or completing on a client deliverable.

    How automation increases revenue and ROI

    Quite simply, automation increases revenue by shortening the sales cycle. Deskera defines the sales cycle as a series of steps that a company takes to turn a prospect into a customer. So, automation either drastically reduces how long each step takes or may eliminate a step or two in the cycle.

    Automation can also increase your return on investment (ROI) because the application can complete many tasks over a shorter period than it would take a person or several people to complete those same tasks. So, instead of paying a person to send a marketing email each time a lead is engaged, the application does it…automatically. 

    Automation also allows you to upsell or cross-sell products which means--more revenue. It allows you to segment and customize marketing messages and even price points based on what you know about the prospective client.


    Patrice A Davis is the founder of Grants Works Consulting, a government grant compliance consulting firm and the founder of Ready Set Go Consult, a consulting business accelerator for freelance or independent consultants who want to build, grow, and scale their consulting businesses. We teach strategies on how to operationalize their businesses, use their intellectual property, build thought leadership, and more. To learn about the accelerator, watch our free training on the Ready Set Go Consult website.

  • Monday, April 01, 2024 2:41 PM | Erica Holthausen

    Stories are powerful. But they aren’t the only effective way to share your ideas with your audience. And if you are afraid that you are not a good storyteller or aren’t telling stories the right way, this emphasis on storytelling might be holding you back.

    Yes, the power of stories is undeniable.

    Stories bring data, facts, and figures to life by giving them context and meaning. They help us connect with our audience emotionally and intellectually, and that connection allows us to get our message across in a way that is not only memorable but persuasive. A good story can capture people’s hearts and change their minds.

    But have we taken this emphasis on storytelling too far?

    Stories can help, but they can also harm.

    When we think about stories, especially within the context of business storytelling, the underlying assumption is that stories are good for our clients, good for our businesses, and good for the world.

    But stories are not inherently good; they are merely tools.

    A well-told story has the power to engulf our minds. It can help us see the world differently and open our minds to new ideas and possibilities.

    When the message the story imparts is positive, a story can make that message clearer to the audience. It can help the reader understand the idea by giving it form and substance. Moreover, it can compel the reader to take action and implement the idea because they see how to do it and know what they expect if they do it well.

    But what if that message is not true?

    In an interview on HBR’s IdeaCast, the literary scholar and author Jonathan Gottschall raised concerns about the “storytelling industrial complex.” An entire industry has been built around teaching businesses how to tell more memorable and persuasive stories. Many talk about the potential of a good story to “go viral.”

    It’s an apt metaphor.

    Stories don’t care if the message you wish to spread is true or not. The job of a well-told story is simply to spread the message encapsulated within it. And because stories are so powerful, a good story can inspire good people to do horrible things.

    Purdue Pharmaceuticals is the now-defunct manufacturer of OxyContin, one of the highly addictive painkillers at the center of the opioid overdose epidemic. Its marketing strategy was based on an uplifting story about helping those with chronic pain get back to the life they love. This story was bolstered by countless studies, underwritten by Purdue Pharmaceuticals, that claimed the drug was effective and non addictive.

    What doctor wouldn’t want to help their patients live a fuller life? What salesperson wouldn’t take pride in helping people live without pain? When the only story you hear is one where you are the hero, it’s hard not to get excited.

    Stories are tools, and like all tools, they can be used to help or harm.

    Not every article needs a story.

    We know that stories are powerful tools, especially when you’re trying to share your message and capture the fleeting attention of your audience.

    But many articles don’t need a story.

    If you’ve ever looked for a recipe online, you’ve experienced the unnecessary story phenomenon.

    All you want to do is make Mediterranean chicken for dinner. But to get to the recipe, you have to slog through a long, pointless story about the food blogger’s entire family, the time they spent in Greece as a college student, their son’s gluten allergy, and their super-picky daughter who, shockingly, loves this particular dish.

    Sharing a story before sharing the recipe is not inherently wrong — so long as it is relevant. But many food blogs share pointless stories that are way too long in order to boost their SEO (search engine optimization).

    Your reader’s time is worth more than yours.


    If a story doesn’t serve your reader, if it doesn’t add real value, or worse, it detracts from the point you’re trying to make, delete it.

    Stories aren’t the only way to illustrate your point.

    As humans, we use storytelling to make sense of the world around us. And we’ve been telling stories for as long as we’ve had language.

    We all know how to tell a story.

    But today, there are countless books, articles, and businesses dedicated to the art of storytelling. You can read about the Hero’s Journey, developed by the mythologist Joseph Campbell, dive into Donald Miller’s StoryBrand framework, or check out the framework promoted by the good people at Pixar. And if none of those work for you, plenty more people can teach you how to tell a good story.

    But the truth is, we’ve over complicated things.

    And that has created a false story about our ability to tell a good story. The fear that we aren’t telling a story the right way and the belief that we are not natural storytellers stops us from sharing our ideas, experiences, and wisdom. And that’s a disservice to those with insights to share and those who wish to learn from those insights.

    If telling a story feels intimidating, try reframing it. Focus on sharing illustrative examples, scripts, or case studies that help your reader understand the point you are making in your article. Write about the client you worked with who had the same challenge you’re addressing in the article. What were they struggling with? How did you help them? What was the result? And what can your reader learn from your client’s experience?

    Debra Roberts, a conversation expert, regularly writes articles for Because she is teaching her readers how to initiate and navigate difficult conversations, she often shares a simple script or sample dialogue to demonstrate how a conversation can escalate into an argument and how to interrupt the pattern to keep the conversation from escalating. These practical examples give her readers a place to start when fear of saying the wrong thing keeps them from engaging in critical workplace discussions.

    Whether you make your point through a story, illustrative example, script, or case study, keeping the reader in mind is essential. Only use these tools when they help your reader and make it easier to understand and implement your ideas. You are writing to serve your reader. Eliminate anything that doesn’t directly serve them — even if it’s a damn good story.

    * * *

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications and a strategic thought partner to consultants who wish to build their authority and increase their visibility by publishing articles in industry trade journals and business magazines like Harvard Business Review, Inc., and Entrepreneur. To learn how to raise your profile, register for Pitched to Published, a free monthly Q+A focused on writing, pitching, and publishing articles.

  • Thursday, March 21, 2024 11:19 AM | Frieda Wiley

    Regardless of whether you consider yourself a writer or enjoy writing, you likely know that it takes a bit of mental equity to put pen to paper. Nowadays, not only has content remained king, but its “kingdom” continues expanding—largely fueled by drivers such as increased consumer demand and the enhanced use of artificial intelligence. As a result, consultants need to explore new avenues to work smarter and not harder while demonstrating their value.

    One of our colleagues, Erica Holthausen, has written extensively on how writing can increase your credibility—a fact that writers can further monetize into additional consulting opportunities. But how can you do so efficiently without burning out? Gridding offers one plausible solution.

    Gridding is a term I’ve borrowed from my journalism ventures. It describes how you can repurpose one idea, pitch, or concept without significantly increasing labor or workload.

    Allow me to illustrate this concept by using an important milestone in my career as an example. In 2019, I wrote an article about sickle cell disease for the now-defunct-yet-still-highly respected Hearst media publication, O, The Oprah Magazine. At the time, the magazine was one of my dream clients.

    The piece required me to identify experts and conduct a great deal of research to write the article. Ultimately, I had amassed far more information than I could include into an article of ~1,000 words—regardless of how concisely I wrote. Determined not to let those unpaid labor hours and omitted content go to waste, I pitched concepts based on the unused information to additional publications and organizations that might find it of value.

    Doing so successfully required me to understand how to tailor my language and concepts to each organization’s perceived needs. For example, Oprah Magazine was a consumer magazine read by primarily women between 40 and 60 years of age. While the audience included professionals and people of affluence, most readers had limited backgrounds in science or medicine.

    Therefore, I had to simplify my writing and focus only on information the readers would find relevant. Any other information was omitted (and I had quite a bit of it). I used the excised information to pitch various on the same topic tailored to medical trade journals. Because those audiences comprised medical professionals, I wrote my pitches (and subsequent articles) using sophisticated jargon typically used in the scientific community. Doing so increased the likelihood the editors would accept my pitches by demonstrating that I understood how to engage their target audience. And, of course, sharing that I’d previously covered the topic demonstrated my credibility and the newsworthiness of the piece.

    One of my pitches focused on the ethnic idiosyncrasies associated with sickle cell disease, as it typically affects communities of color. Another article addressed issues with medication access, as the three new medications that the Food and Drug Administration had approved for sickle cell disease that year bore six-figure price tags.

    Ultimately, I placed three additional pieces on this topic in separate publications. Not only did this more than quadruple my revenue from what began as a single article, but my increased familiarity with the topic allowed me to write faster and with greater authority. I could pull unused content from interviews, research, and content without doing much additional work beyond writing the article. The pieces also expanded my influence. One reader, who happened to be on faculty at the State University of New York (SUNY), invited me to speak at a global health panel hosted at her institution.

    For all its glory, gridding does come with one important caveat. Some writing and consulting projects may have contractual stipulations in which the client claims ownership of all materials created. So, the prudent consultant must review the contract or consult an attorney before making that content work harder. In my case, Hearst required that I receive permission to use unused material, and I was fortunate. Not only was the editor on board, but she showed genuine interest in knowing what other organizations published my articles and the extent of their influence.

    That said, gridding definitely gives more weight to the saying, “The riches are in the niches,” doesn’t it?

    Frieda Wiley, PharmD is the founder of Medvon Media and Consulting, LLC, an communications and strategic consulting firm. An award-winning writer, best-selling author, ghostwriter, and speaker, her client history includes O, The Oprah Magazine, WebMD, the National Institutes of Health, Pfizer, Merck, and many other notable organizations. Her book, Breaking Crazy: Working From Home Without Losing Your Marbles, is available through Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and wherever else books are sold. 

  • Tuesday, March 05, 2024 10:22 AM | Laura Burford

    You pick-up the phone and hear…

    ​“I was referred to you. I understand you are the expert, the Go-To-Person. I believe you might be able to help me.”

    ​As you listen your face lights up. You get off the phone. You are ecstatic. The person who called understood your focus, that one thing for which are known and the person who referred you understood your expertise. That is GREAT!

    ​Has this ever happened to you?


    I love it when a client calls to say it has happened to them. I can hear the joy in their voice and their face is glowing. They talk about how easy the conversation was and how the next steps include a discussion about a consulting opportunity.

    The first step to becoming a successful “go to” consultant is having clarity as to your WHAT, for want you want to be known, and WHY, the reason for doing what you do.

    Determining your focus requires self-reflecting, assessing, and evaluating you in three areas:

    • Understanding who you are and what matters to you.
    • Leveraging your experience, expertise, and strengthens.
    • Determining what a client needs, desires, and open to paying for assistance.

    Determining your FOCUS, your What and Why, is a balancing act.


    But before I discuss each in more detail, let me clarify what I mean by FOCUS.

    Focus is your consulting business’ FOUNDATION.

    Think about the foundation as the base of a house. Getting the foundation right occurs before a builder can add the frame, roof, and windows. If the foundation is not properly set, the overall structure is weakened.

    The same holds true when establishing a consultancy. You want ensure the foundation, your focus, is solid because it impacts just about every major decision you make within your business starting with how you define and find an ideal client to engaging with and building long-term client relationships. Clarity as to your focus helps you find people who want to work with you and for whom you want to serve.

    Get you focus right and you can soar. Get it wrong and it is very possible you will struggle or even fail.


    When I started my own business, my focus was too board. I was considered the Jack of all Trades, the Master of None. I heard comments such as you have a great business plan; with your experience and expertise you wouldn’t have any problems; and you might want to connect with a ___________ (fill in the blank).

    Looking back, I wish someone had pulled me aside and offered hard love questioning my focus because my focus was not that one thing that would make me soar.

    Overtime I narrowed my focus down to an area of information technology for which I knew people needed and wanted assistance. I knew they were willing to pay for help but there was one problem. It was not an area of information technology that I enjoyed.

    My internal compass was not aligned with the external need and no matter how hard I tried my heart wasn’t into it. There was no joy in running the business.

    It took me time to get my focus right. I wish I could say I was unique but I am not. Many consultants struggle with clarifying their focus.


    Below is an approach to help you clarify your FOCUS – your What and Why. It is the approach I discuss in the Consulting Mastery program. It is an approach that requires you to self-reflect, assess, and evaluate.

    Start by understanding who you are and what matters to you. This requires you to

    • assess who you are and want to be,
    • evaluate what matters to you and is important to you, and
    • determine the effect you want to leave on others

    You define who you are not only based on what you have done in the past professionally and personally but also based on what you want your life to look like in the future.

    You evaluate what you like as well as dislike to do. Ask yourself what lights up your face when you talk about it. People say to me that when I talk about helping people become successful consultants, my face lights up.

    You contemplate how you define success, success on your terms, not someone else’s. So often we define our success based on someone else’s definition.

    Understand You is all about you. This is “Your Zone.” It is where everything seems just right for you. Life feels and is comfortable.


    Next Build on You. This is not about reinventing who you are. Rather it is about building on what you have already done. Many of us have done things because we needed to do them or people expected us to fill certain roles. As you assess your experiences, expertise, and strengths, you may need to change your mindset.

    Start building on you by assessing your professional and personal experiences. Highlight what experiences brought you joy as well as those that you wish you never experienced.

    Evaluate your expertise. Has someone put you on a pedestal because of your expertise? If so, why? You might be surprised to learn that the place on the pedestal, is an area you have never considered.

    Finally, assess your strengths. You want to leverage your strengths and place your weaknesses on the sideline.

    Don’t be surprised if you experience an “aha” moment as you evaluate your experiences, expertise, and strengths. The first time I seriously evaluated them, I did.


    Finally, evaluate the Demand and Desire. It identifies what people are open and willing to pay to get your assistance. It is a merger of their need and want. The easiest way to illustrate this area is to describe a scenario which I’ve encountered several times and you may have as well.

    During a meeting, a person describes something that they would like or they want. They continue by saying they really need that something and provide a reason. However, the more you dive down and discuss that like, that want, and their need, you realize they are never going to be open to paying for any assistance. You might even realize they will never do anything. There is a need and a want, but no demand and desire to pay.


    The Small Sliver

    ​After assessing you, evaluating your experiences, expertise and strengths, and the demand and desire of people, combine your findings. Evaluate everything and look for areas of overlap and mergers. Keep evaluating until you find a point where all three intersect. This intersection is a small sliver of everything you have reflected on and evaluated.

    This point, this small sliver, is where you will find your FOCUS.


    Key: You could end up with several “things” in that small sliver. If that is the case, and that is common, ask yourself what are you most interested in. Often what you are most interested in is the problem you want to solve or the problem you solved for you.

    If you follow this approach, can I guarantee that you will get your focus right the first time? No, I can’t. But I can guarantee you will be closer to determining a focus that you will enjoy, built on who you are, your experiences, expertise, and strengths, and it iwll be something for which people not only need assistance but for which they are will pay.

    What I can ensure is that by following this approach will move you closer to determining that one thing for which you become known as the expert or the "Go To" person.

    Sara Blakely said it well,

    “Differentiate yourself. Why are you different? What’s important about you? Why does the customer need you?”

    My question for you: Do you have clarity as to the one thing for which you want to be known?


    Laura Burford helps solo-consultants create sustainable consulting businesses. She is the founder of Laura’s Consulting Guide and the creator of the Consultant's Blueprint and Consulting Mastery program. Check out her YouTube channel and sign-up for Consulting Insights newsletter.   

  • Friday, March 01, 2024 7:05 AM | Erica Holthausen

    High-quality, original articles position you as an authoritative expert. They capture your readers' attention and add to critical conversations about today's world. But how do you know if an article is good enough to pitch to a high-visibility publication?

    I developed the CORD Framework™ to help my clients evaluate the editorial quality of their articles. Refer to this framework when you rewrite your article and again during the editing process, and share it with anyone who reviews your work before you submit it. As you review your article, evaluate each of the four elements of the CORD Framework.

    Is your article cogent?

    Writing is not about the ink; it’s about the think. And a big part of that think is determining the best way to present the information you are trying to convey to your audience. A cogent article appeals to the mind. It is clear, logical, and convincing.

    A cogent article presents a compelling case in support of a specific position or viewpoint. It starts by providing the reader with the context they need to be able to understand and apply the actionable insights presented. A cogent article makes it easy for the reader to understand the point you are making and to follow your argument. It is useful to the intended reader and gives them the tools they need to change their mindset, thinking, or behavior.

    Is your article original?

    High-visibility publications only publish original work, which means work not published elsewhere, including on your website or social media. But the fact that your article hasn’t been published elsewhere is insufficient to ensure it is worth publishing.

    Every idea has a lineage, so your article doesn’t have to present ideas that have never before been considered. (That would be a prohibitively high bar.) It does, however, need to demonstrate independent thinking.

    An original article presents a strong voice and a clear point of view. It builds upon your experience and positions you as an authoritative expert. It may go against the grain or point out where others in your field oversimplify or overcomplicate the matter.  

    Is your article researched?

    If you want your articles to build your authority, they must be based on more than mere conjecture. While it is not necessary to conduct an in-depth study, it is essential that the insights you present in your article be based on evidence and grounded in fact. To accomplish this, you might conduct desk research and cite other experts in your field or share anecdotal evidence related to your own experiences.

    Every project you tackle is an opportunity for you to conduct field research. It is an opportunity to observe the process you and your clients underwent to diagnose and treat the problem. It is an opportunity for you to deepen your learning so you can share that learning with a broader audience. 

    Is your article deep?

    A high-quality article adds to the conversation, not to the noise. It doesn’t skate along the surface of an issue but explores the nuances, offering insights not found elsewhere. Because articles are only about 1,000 words, each piece must explore a narrow issue to achieve any depth. That specificity, however, allows you to approach the issue from several angles, each serving as the foundation of another article.

    High-quality articles meet each of these criteria. This type of writing requires more effort and cannot be outsourced to generative AI. But that effort pays dividends. Writing and thinking through your ideas is tremendously valuable regardless of whether your work is published. When you publish your work, it not only helps you build your reputation as an authoritative expert but also creates an appreciating asset that you can reference and share repeatedly.

    * * *

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications and a strategic thought partner to consultants who wish to build their authority and increase their visibility by publishing articles in industry trade journals and business magazines like Harvard Business Review, Inc., and Entrepreneur. To learn how to raise your profile, register for Pitched to Published, a free monthly Q+A focused on writing, pitching, and publishing articles.

  • Friday, February 23, 2024 12:48 PM | Vanessa Khan

    Transitioning to a new career may seem overwhelming, daunting, and even fear-inducing. Even as a solopreneur, pivoting our business offerings and embracing various opportunities to generate new streams of revenue through diverse industries can be challenging. It will take confidence, perseverance, and fearlessness to delve into new territory. However, if you are ready to take charge of your own career path, there is no time like the present! There are three main reasons for changing careers; opportunities that come to us, opportunities that we seek out, or changes imposed upon us. What do these scenarios have in common? You. You have the power to shape and control your career path and to construct what success means to you. If you are seeking a career change, here are 3 tips to get you started!

    A) Define What You Want

    In the age of information and social media, time is the new high-value commodity. When we think about the notion of time as a commodity, the reality is that many of us work at least 40 hours a week. Wouldn’t it be great if those 40 hours could be spent toward a career that you are passionate about? The pandemic presents an opportunity, if we allow ourselves to see it, to change careers and embrace a new path. This is a great opportunity to think about your dream career.

    Start by defining the role you want, and the key motivators for switching careers. Are you motivated by salary, innovation, culture, opportunities for career advancement? Do you enjoy working with a team or as an individual? Defining the descriptors of the role will help to identify the type of work that you are seeking. These elements will help build your criteria and career map for your search.

    B) Evaluate Your Skillset

    Once you have an idea of your ideal role, it’s time to evaluate your skillset. Analyze your career history and identify transferable skills that can be utilized toward the career you are seeking. Do you require additional education, or do you have enough practical experience (volunteer and career) to put your name forward? Unless you are seeking a specialized role, it’s unlikely that there will be a requirement for additional credentials. However, if you do require additional credentials, invest in yourself! Empower yourself to learn new skills and experiences that will allow you to bridge the gap to achieving your dream career. 

    C) Network

    Network! Network! Network! Be fearless when you are networking and ask for what you want. If you know the job you are seeking, then mention it to your existing network and other contacts that are recommended to you. People genuinely want to help, but they need to know what it is that you want.

    The value of networking has been proven time and time again. Consider networking as experience to hone your skills toward relationship management. Rekindle your existing network, and ask to speak to contacts who are in the field that you are interested in pursuing. There is a wealth of knowledge in shared experiences and perspectives, not to mention you will be laying the groundwork for joining the community in the job you seek.

    Finding a new career can be challenging. However, once you find one and build a life that you truly enjoy, it is an incredibly rewarding experience. If you are having trouble identifying what your ideal job is, there are resources that can help. Career coaches and mentors are wonderful soundboards to help identify, navigate, and structure your career goals. In today’s job market, ideal candidates possess strengths such as effective communication, relationship management, problem solving and analysis. Your dream career may be closer than you think!

    Vanessa Khan is Management Consultant with a focus on IT and a Business Advisor to small enterprises. She is passionate about creating and implementing strategic frameworks to solve complex problems. 

  • Thursday, February 01, 2024 10:02 AM | Erica Holthausen

    You’ve likely written countless blog posts, articles, newsletters, and social media posts to share your expertise. After a while, it can feel like you’ve said all you need to say. Staying energized and engaged in the process can be challenging when that happens.  

    I get that. 

    But if you stop now, you will lose the momentum you’ve built. So, how do you keep going when you feel like you’re running on empty?

    Repetition builds your reputation.

    No one is paying as much attention to your content as you. You feel like you’ve said it all before, but your audience doesn’t feel that way. Yes, you might have people in your orbit who have been around for a while, and they might even remember you saying something similar in the past. 

    But you are not the only person they follow. And they are not the only person you connect with through your writing. You constantly connect with new people on social media and gain subscribers to your email newsletter. These newcomers are just starting to dive into your work, so they need you to share the wisdom you shared before. 

    Repetition is what builds your reputation. If you stop sharing your core expertise and start sharing something novel and exciting to you, you risk confusing your audience. And when our audience is confused, they stop paying attention.  

    The people you serve need you to keep saying what you’ve been saying.


    Because they know your message is important but aren’t sure how to take action on it yet, and they want your ongoing support. That’s why they follow you!

    Think about the folks you’ve followed for a while. Does it feel like they’re repeating themselves? Or does it feel like they are providing good, solid information with a handful of reminders and back-to-basics foundational information tossed in? 

    Your audience feels the same way. 

    Have you ever read a book or watched a movie and thought it was okay, then watched it again years later and thought it was fantastic? The book or movie didn’t change. You did. 

    As we grow and change, we receive the same message differently. Your job is to share your message and meet your audience — the newcomers and those who’ve been around for a while — right where they are.

    Finding new ways to talk about the same old idea.

    When I say repetition builds your reputation, I don’t mean that you should just share the same article again and again and again. That won’t serve you or your audience. Instead, I want you to share the same ideas in new ways. 
    Here are five tips to help you find new ways to talk about the same old ideas: 

    1. Collect and share illustrative examples. Think about the experiences you’ve had in your life. Which ones illustrate a point you make when working with your clients? These examples may come from a project you worked on, a speaking engagement, or a podcast interview. But they might also come from a visit to a museum, a book of poetry, or an art class. Each example you have (even if they illustrate the same point) can serve as the foundation of a new article. Different examples will resonate with different audience members.

    2. Segment your audience. Your audience is not a faceless mass of humanity. It is made up of individual humans with different life experiences, needs, and desires. Whether your audience includes people across the corporate hierarchy, from executives to managers to employees, across sectors, from business to nonprofit to government, or across skill levels, from experienced to novice, each segment needs something different from you. Write articles that speak directly to the needs of each segment so you can meet every member of your audience where they are.

    3. Consume business content with intention. Be an active consumer, whether reading a book or listening to a podcast. Look for statements that illicit a reaction. What is that reaction? Do you strongly agree or disagree? Is the statement oversimplifying something or overcomplicating it? What is the author or speaker missing? Write a piece responding to that content; don’t be afraid to dive into the nuances. That’s what sets you apart. 

    4. Revisit old material. Read blog posts, newsletters, and social media posts (paying particular attention to the comments). You grow and change, too, so this can be a rich resource for new articles. Read your work critically. Has your thinking evolved since you wrote that piece? Is there more you can share? Can you dive a little deeper into it? If so, write about it. 

    5. Take time to refill the tank. Read books and articles, listen to podcasts, watch movies, take a class, or visit an art museum. Allow inspiration to come from unexpected places.

    ​It may feel like you’re repeating yourself. But that’s because you know your stuff! You, my friend, are the expert. Your audience isn’t. Don’t make them work hard to learn from you. Keep sharing your wisdom!

    * * *

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications and a strategic thought partner to consultants who wish to build their authority and increase their visibility by publishing articles in industry trade journals and business magazines like Harvard Business Review, Inc., and Entrepreneur. To learn how to raise your profile, register for Pitched to Published, a free monthly Q+A focused on writing, pitching, and publishing articles.

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