Networking, Mentoring, and Education for Consultants and Solo Professionals
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.
When we are preparing for significant events in our careers, we tend to focus on our physical preparation. If we have a big presentation to do at work, we practice until we are comfortable. If we have an interview for a new job, we research the company and the key players to ensure we have answers to obvious questions. If we have a project deadline, we manage our time and our team to ensure the best results. When we take this approach, however, we are only doing half the work to be effective and successful.
When you are trying to prepare yourself for a successful outcome in your work or career, how often do you take the time to prepare your brain? What do you do to ensure that you keep your brain in the game, not just your body and actions? You might say that physical preparation is what controls the brain but there are specific things you can do to ensure your brain is as prepared as your body for those important career situations.
Many people have the misconception that emotions just happen and we have no ability to control how we feel. This leaves us at the whim of our emotions, reacting based upon our feelings. The problem with this is that emotions are subjective and don’t typically allow for logical or strategic thinking.
The truth is that you can manage your emotions but this starts with controlling your thoughts. Every emotion we experience comes from a thought. The thought occurs, consciously or unconsciously, and then we experience one or more emotions based upon the thought. The challenge you likely have is that you will recognize the emotion but not take the time to identify the thought creating it. This is what leaves you feeling like you can’t control your emotions and you’re right. You can’t control your emotions until you learn to control the thoughts creating the emotions.
In business this can be detrimental at best and dangerous at worst. If you are reacting from emotion, you might not make the best decision or choose the most effective path for optimal results. You might be distracted by your emotions, unable to focus your energy and attention to productive actions. Instead of functioning from your peak performance level, you get pulled into the whirlpool of emotions that leave you feeling out of control and depleted.
To avoid this, you can start with an analysis:
The first step is to clearly identify the emotion that you are experiencing and then asking yourself if that emotion serves your goal. For example, you might experience a heightened level of anxiety regarding a professional presentation. Instead of sinking into the anxiety, ask yourself if the emotion facilitates your goal of doing well in the presentation.
If the emotions don't serve your goal the next step is to identify the thoughts that are creating the emotion. In our example, the thoughts creating the anxiety might include that you don't want to make a fool of yourself or seem like a fraud, or that people will be staring at you and judging you. The anxiety isn’t just because you don’t like public speaking. The emotion is coming from specific thoughts that you have now identified.
Once you know the thoughts, you can take the time to break down these thoughts by replacing them with data. By asking yourself specific questions you can replace the detrimental, anxiety-provoking thoughts with information. You can consider how many times you've given successful presentations. You might also do a quick mental scan of your resume to remind yourself of all your accomplishments, training, and education which makes you qualified to give this presentation. You could consider the people in your audience and identify allies who will support your presentation. When you provide your brain with evidence and facts, your brain doesn’t have to fill in the uncertainty with “what-if’s”. By reminding your brain that you do have the skills to give the presentation and you do have the background to be credible on the topic, your brain will create emotions which align with your thoughts, replacing anxiety with confidence.
As a professional, you are likely very aware of the power of words. Words can be used to motivate or demoralize, strengthen or undermine. But how often do you think about the words that you use on yourself? The words might be the conscious things you say to yourself or the words might be the unconscious or whispered things you say to yourself. Ask yourself, would you say the same conscious or unconscious thoughts to fellow colleagues or to your team? For many professionals, the things that they say to empower others are not generalized to themselves.
The problem is that these words create the thoughts and emotions that are detrimental to optimal functioning. It may be the obvious words like when you call yourself an idiot for making a mistake or tell yourself that you aren’t as skilled as others think. You might catch yourself thinking you are likely to fail at something important to you. These words create undermining thoughts which will generate emotions aligned with the thoughts.
There are also the smaller words that can create an internal climate which sabotages your goals. These words —should, have to, need to and must — create thoughts of you not doing enough, not being enough, or that you are falling behind your peers. They also create the illusion that you are being forced to do certain things. These words then generate emotions which align with the thoughts. You might experience pressure, stress or guilt from words you commonly use when you talk to yourself. Because of this, you might make decisions out of desperation to prove yourself or catch up, which ultimately will not allow you to function in an optimal or healthy way.
To avoid creating an internal climate of negative thoughts and emotions, you can replace these pressure words with power words. Words such as want and will can change the internal dialogue and put functional control back in your hands. For example, instead of telling yourself that you should go into work to review practice for the presentation so you don’t mess up, the internal dialogue becomes “I will go into work to practice because I want to be confident about the presentation.” Changing from the pressure word of should to the power words of will and want, and shifting the focus from making a mistake to building confidence, puts you back in control of your thoughts and emotions.
Ultimately, your brain is lazy. It will focus on whatever you tell it to focus on. Consider this. The last time you were looking to buy a car, you likely came down to one or two styles you were interested in purchasing. Most likely, you began seeing these styles everywhere you went. Was there suddenly an uptick in the amount of these cars being purchased in your area? Not likely. Then why were you seeing these styles around you when you never noticed them before? It is through a process called priming. We prime our brains to search for evidence and examples of whatever we tell it to. When you told your brain the types of cars you were interested in, your brain found as many examples as possible to support this focus.
How can you use this same approach when it comes to your professional functioning? One way is to decide what perspective you want to have regarding your work. If you tell your brain that you hate your job, your brain will search for and provide you with evidence of why you should hate your job. All you will see will be supporting data aligned with the thought of hating your job. So how do you apply priming so it works for you instead of against you?
It’s true. You might not like your job but you can tell your brain that you appreciate earning money at your job while you look for new opportunities. Your brain will search for examples to support your idea of appreciation and it will search for areas of opportunity. You don’t have to create an inaccurate statement about your job and lie to your brain, but you can decide which aspect of the situation your brain spends time and energy on. This strategy again allows you to function at your optimal level instead of being drained of your focus and power.
Consider this. When you work on a project for your organization, do you plan to complete fifty percent of it and hope the rest will come together on its own? Of course not but it is likely that this is how you’ve been functioning if you only do the physical preparation for your professional role. Overall, how you function is your choice. You can determine what thoughts you want to practice and implement to create beneficial emotions which get you closer to your peak performance. You can decide what words will generate the behaviors and actions which align with your goal attainment. You can tell your brain where to direct your focus and energy in order to get the results you want in your career. These strategies help you control your brain so it is your greatest tool rather than your biggest obstacle.
It is great when a potential client asks for your help, but what do you do when you see the person can use your help but they don't ask.
I’ll admit that I love it when someone asks me to help them because if they do there is a good chance they become a client. It becomes a win for both of us. However, that does not always happen.
Sometimes you need to ask them if they are interested in working with you and that can be hard for many consultants (freelancers.) As hard as it can be to ask, you must.
If you have built a relationship and people are comfortable with you, it can be easier to ask them but for many consultants it is still hard.
Sometimes the person doesn’t want to admit they have a problem or they can’t see that they have a problem.
However, there are other times the person is waiting for you to say “Would you like someone to help you?”
The challenge for many consultants and freelancers is they never think the timing is right but at some point, they need to ask.
It is very easy to keep nurturing a relationship forever and, in the process, build a great friendship. However, on more then one occasion I’ve watched a consultant lose the chance to help a “client” because they never asked the client if they could use some help. The reason the consultant lost out on the opportunity could be as simple as the “client” didn’t think the consultant (freelancer) would be interested in helping them so they never asked.
If it is fear that is preventing you from asking, put the fear behind you. What is the worst thing a person can say? No. But the person could say Maybe or Yes.
This article looks at three scenarios — Yes, No, and Maybe — where a consultant asked a client or potential client if they were interested in someone helping them.
Here is a link to the entire article.
Hiring a good writer or editor will elevate your business writing. But the idea of working with a writer or editor can be scary for a lot of business owners. What if the writer you hire is not very good and you’ve invested time, money, and effort into a project and have nothing to show for it? What if the editor you hire tears your writing to shreds so it no longer resembles what you wrote?
We’ve heard the horror stories, so we know your fears are valid.
But we also know what you should look for when hiring a writer or editor, and why the writer or editor you hire does not need to be an expert in your field.
What Should You Look for When Hiring a Writer or Editor?
The relationship between a business owner and the writer or editor they hire should be collaborative. Professional writers and editors want their clients to succeed, so it’s worth taking the time to find the right person. When hiring a writer or editor:
You rarely need to hire a writer or editor who is an expert in your field. In fact, depending on your audience, it may be much more beneficial to hire someone who knows relatively little about your field because they share the perspective of your audience.
You are the subject-matter expert. The writer or editor you hire makes sure that the work puts the reader first — regardless of whether that reader is an industry insider or not.
As the subject-matter expert, you have the information and knowledge that needs to be communicated to the audience. A writer knows how to ask good questions and craft a clear and compelling story based on the information and knowledge you share. An editor knows how to take that written communication and clarify it so the reader understands the point you are making. Together, you make an unstoppable team.
Next month, we’ll share some of our favorite resources, including writing and editing advice, reference tools, and where to find quality freelance writers and editors.
Sophie Michals is a writer, editor, and writing coach who helps subject matter experts deliver clear, concise writing with a consistent brand voice. Learn more at (SM) Edits LLC.
Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications, a collaborative of writers and editors partnering with executives, consultants, and coaches to transform their ideas into published articles.
My daughter’s high school varsity volleyball team won the State Championships in November. It was an amazing experience to watch, even more so because this group of girls are incredible. They support each other, like each other, visibly and audibly have fun when warming up or playing together, and credit their success to being “14 strong”. They worked hard, enjoyed every minute and achieved their goal.
But while I am happy for and proud of my daughter and her teammates, their success came due to trickle down. The team achieved success because of their coach, the leader of this group. It was due to this woman’s integration of powerful leadership skills that the team succeeded.
There were five specific things Coach R did which made her stand out as a leader and brought her team to the championship level:
1. She created a platform of unity. Coach R made sure there wasn’t a spotlight on one or two players. There was no “star” of the team. Those on the bench were as valuable as those on the court. When she was interviewed after winning the State Finals game, Coach R said, “The U.S. volleyball team, their motto is ‘23 strong’. Even though only 12 players went to the Olympics, it took 23 players to get them there. And so that’s the model that we’ve embraced this year. It takes all 14 of us to earn the state championship, even though not every player was on the floor tonight.”
In an organization, this approach is also true. Consider your own organization. Is the success of the organization reliant on one member, or the team? And if the focus is on one team member, what does that do to the organization? The other team members feel devalued. They stop giving their all. They lose sight of the goal. And where does it leave the organization if that one “star” leaves? Left behind is a disjointed, disconnected and dissatisfied group of people. The unity Coach R created became the platform for the team’s approach to the goal.
2. She created a shared mission and vision. Winning the State Championship honestly didn’t seem like the sole purpose of the season. While going to States is a vision for most high school or collegiate teams, it seemed that for Coach R the vision didn’t smother the mission she created with the team. The mission was twofold: play their best and have fun. Watching the team the night of the Championships demonstrated that mission. The girls were singing and dancing the whole time as they waited their turn to warmup. They weren’t letting stress or anxiety get in the way of their fun. They were meeting the season’s mission even in what was the biggest athletic night for them. Coach R made sure the girls knew they didn’t have to do anything different than they did every game. She led her team in this mission which guided them to attain their vision of the state championship.
The same applies to your organization. Ensuring everyone within your organization knows the long-term vision but buys in to the daily mission to get there…and then keeps the mission alive even in the face of the vision.
3. She recognized her players as individuals not just players. This was my daughter’s first season with this coach after transferring to the school. My daughter came home after practice one day and when I asked her what she did to kill time between the end of the school day and practice, she casually said, “I had my 1-to-1 with Coach today.” Huh? I had no idea what she meant. Turns out, Coach R schedules time to meet with every player during the season. She sits with each girl and while she certainly asks about the player’s goals for the season, more importantly she connects with each girl as a person. She asks real questions and they get to ask questions to her. They talk as people, not as coach and player, not as adult and kid, but as women and athletes.
Can you imagine what this creates and what the same practice could do within an organization? Coach R’s players feel a real connection to her and her to them. It builds trust. It builds commitment. It increases performance and retention whether in a volleyball program, in a family or in a Fortune 500 company.
4. She demonstrated the behavior and thinking to support the mission. Coach R never yelled other than in excitement. She never demonstrated frustration. She was either smiling, offering praise, giving motivational talks or offering coaching strategies for players to use towards the team’s mission and vision. Coach R’s team saw this every time they looked at her or heard her. Their coach’s attitude and actions became the standard they emulated. She became the model of how to be and they all adopted that model. There wasn’t room for negativity because it would’ve been an outlier, an anomaly, and in fact when typical issues came up through the season, the team quickly dealt with them and positioned themselves back in line with Coach R’s standards.
As a leader in your organization, you can do the same. Certainly there are times which are challenging, but does expressing anger, frustration or disgust move you close to your vision, or farther away? What behavioral, cognitive and emotional expressions help keep your team on track and focused on the mission and vision?
5. She emphasized trying over succeeding. Of course Coach R wanted her players to succeed but the emphasis was not on succeeding. Coach R emphasized trying. Try a new skill. Try a new approach. Try coming to practice when you'd rather quit. Just try. Because what Coach R knew was that the only way to succeed was to try because in trying, her players learned. They learned what worked or what didn't work. They learned they could accomplish things even when it was hard. They learned that sometimes trying meant failing but that they could learn from those failures in order to grow.
Encouraging people within our organizations to try can achieve this same level of success. If we focus only on successes, people are less likely to take chances. They are hesitant to think outside the box. They stick to safe ways of doing things and this will eventually lead to stagnation. So ask yourself what is more important? To create a culture that only values success or to create a culture which promotes trying in order to foster creativity, growth, learning from failures and yes, eventually, success as an outcome of trying.
Anything you publish for your business is part of your brand image, and sloppy, inconsistent writing can diminish your brand and damage your credibility. Therefore, it’s important to take the time to carefully edit your writing so it reflects well on you and your business.
You should always self-edit to get your writing in the best shape possible. But you should also hire an editor who can bring a fresh perspective and ensure your writing fulfills its intended purpose and is clear and easy to understand.
While writing assistant tools like Grammarly and ProWritingAid are useful, they’re rigidly rules based and limited in what they can do. For instance, Grammarly will always flag passive voice as being wrong, even though it’s useful and often necessary, especially in technical and scientific writing.
These tools also cannot spot incorrect word use (e.g., complement instead of compliment) or catch when your headline is 11 Ways to Cook an Egg but your list contains only 10 items. They also can't point out that the first two paragraphs are not necessary or that the lede is buried down in paragraph five.
Similarly, these tools cannot read a piece of writing and determine whether it is clear, compelling, and relevant. While these tools are helpful, they cannot replace an experienced human editor.
Editing is a quality control measure that helps ensure a consistent brand experience for your customers. And there’s much more to editing than checking for proper spelling, grammar, and sentence mechanics. While those things are important, organization, structure, and a consistent brand voice are equally important.
Good business writing should have a clear purpose, make a clear point using specific information, and be logically structured and concise. The brand voice injects personality into the writing and is the key to holding the reader's attention — it’s also what makes your brand stand out.
My best tip for keeping your writing consistent is to keep track of your writing preferences. Seemingly small things like using the phrases emergency room and emergency department interchangeably or formatting your phone number 555.555.5555 in some places and 555-555-5555 in others can make your writing look haphazard and unprofessional.
Keeping track of your writing preferences will simplify your writing process, reduce conflict over style and formatting preferences, and ensure a consistent brand experience for your customers.
Next month we'll discuss how to partner with a writer or editor.
Sophie Michals is a writer and editor who helps subject matter experts deliver clear, concise writing that showcases their expertise and resonates with their target audience. Learn more at (SM) Edits LLC.
Before starting any presentation, I listen closely to the pre-session conversations, observe the attendees, and if appropriate, ask questions. During one presentation, an attendee asked if I would mind providing a little consulting career advice. Since the presentation’s title was The Entrepreneur Within, why not!
As she asked her questions, the people sitting around her lifted their heads and chimed in with their comments.
“I’m currently working at a company. My position is not in jeopardy, but I’m thinking about my future. I want to become an independent consultant, but I’m not sure if there is anything I can do now to prepare.
Can I start becoming a consultant while still working within my company?
If so, what do you recommend?”
“I’m currently working at a company. My position is not in jeopardy, but I’m thinking about my future. I want to become an independent consultant, but I’m not sure if there is anything I can do now to prepare.
Can I start becoming a consultant while still working within my company?
If so, what do you recommend?”
What great questions!
By the way, my response to starting to build a consulting business while working within a company was a resounding YES!
My response to her question about recommendations is relevant whether you are contemplating consulting, a fairly new consultant, or have been working as a consultant for years. Every person who is a consultant (or freelancer) craves to not only successful but desires to be known as the “go-to” consultant. Or, at least I think they do.
Before I describe my top three recommendations, I must provide a caveat. There is an ACTION ZERO.
This action is for people who are thinking about embarking on a career as a consultant. If you are considering consulting, evaluate you by starting with your personal reasons for wanting to become an independent worker — a consultant. Becoming a consultant is not for everyone.
Action 1 — Clarify Your CORE
This is my top recommendation — Clarify Your CORE.
Sorry - Due to length, it isn't possible to post the entire article here but here is a friendly link with the three action items.
If you are an extrovert, you have an advantage in most Western societies. The stereotype of a successful leader is dominated by extroverted characteristics. As an extrovert, you are comfortable with verbal communication and often dominate a conversation. You like to engage in debate and discussion. You thrive as the center of attention, and your energy builds within these social settings. Your social and professional networks are extensive, and you tend to embrace risk-taking opportunities. Overall, because of your extroverted nature, you are accurately or presumptively seen as a leader.
If you are not in this category of individual, it is likely your actions are often misconstrued because you are compared to your extroverted counterparts. Your quietness might be seen as meekness. Your tendency to reflect on problems to determine a solution is interpreted as indecision. Your preference to work alone is perceived as aloofness. Meanwhile, you might be managing feelings of imposter syndrome because your approach is different from that of many around you.
But as we know from diversity education and training within our businesses and schools, having diversification in our work teams provides perspective and variations in thinking. We acknowledge this when it comes to culture, race, age, gender and sex, but little discussion occurs regarding the benefits introverts offer to a society dominated by extroverted ideals. Consider the valuable characteristics introverts bring to the table.
Because of their preference for independent work, introverts won’t tend to need excessive supervision to get a task done. They are used to relying on themselves and their skills to accomplish a goal. Very often, they will work hard to figure out a solution rather than, or before, going to someone to talk it out.
Introverts aren’t going to talk for the sake of talking. They will take in information and process it before offering a response. This allows them extra time to analyze a problem or project and potentially see roadblocks or alternate options before venturing down a quickly determined path.
Incorporated into their reflectiveness, introverts use their quiet natures to listen and observe the variables within a situation. Because they are not vying for attention and looking for the next opportunity to talk, introverts pay attention to verbal and nonverbal communication and can use this information as part of their reflection.
Introverts don’t like small talk and forced conversations. When they choose to interact with others, it is typically at a more meaningful level than superficial social conversations. They will take time to explore a topic through one-on-one or small-group conversation, integrating their strength in listening to acknowledge others’ perspectives.
Their strengths of reflection and observation also enable introverts to be more aware of their own reaction and feelings. They aren’t distracted by needing to integrate themselves into social situations and are comfortable being alone with their thoughts. While they won’t likely share their feelings in large group settings, it is in the connections they make with individuals that they will comfortably express themselves.
Introverts grew up in a world that promoted and applauded extroverted characteristics. They were the ones teased or overlooked for a promotion or chosen last in PE class. Introverts learn to live in a world not geared for them and survive. They develop strategies and coping mechanisms, which allow them to function in the workforce, rarely needing constant reassurance or praise to keep them motivated.
Being an extrovert or an introvert is not better than the other. As a team member or a team leader, recognizing the strengths in both is the key variable for success. Celebrating and encouraging what introverts bring to the table benefits the organization, team and individuals who learn they don’t have to fit an extroverted mold in order to contribute. Overall, a heterogeneous mix of both styles can result in more creativity, problem solving and productivity.
Good writing always serves the reader. It delves into a specific topic and strives to explain it so that the reader understands the issues surrounding the topic of interest. It has logic and structure that makes a complicated subject clear and accessible. Good writing is clear and compelling. It serves a specific purpose and is presented in such a way that it meets the requirements of the platform.
These last two points are vital yet often misunderstood. Below we’ll offer some advice on writing clear and compelling copy and explore how different platforms and purposes impact your writing.
Clear and compelling copy is relevant and relatable. It focuses on one key point at a time and minimizes distractions and tangents. Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought — so take the time to think about the message you want to convey and then say it as simply as possible. To write clear and compelling copy:
Will your writing be published online, or will it appear in a printed document? Are you writing to persuade someone to take a specific course of action, or are you reporting your findings? Your writing must be responsive to the platform on which it appears and the purpose for which it is written. Before you submit the final draft, you must:
Writing is an essential skill that anyone can develop with practice. To start, understand the purpose behind the piece you are writing and determine how it will be presented to the reader. Take some time to think about the message you want to convey and distill it to its simplest form. Finally, write it all down — and then rewrite and edit it until it is clear and compelling.
Next month, we’ll talk about how to edit your work, how to work with a professional editor, and the importance of consistency.
Please note that I'm not an accountant nor a tax expert, but I feel that this information is important to share with anyone running a business.
The IRS has temporarily increased the tax deduction for many (but not all) business meal expenses from 50% to 100%.
This change applies to:
- business meal expenses from 1/1/2021 through 12/31/2022
- that are also from qualified restaurants.
The IRS defines a restaurant that qualifies for this 100% business deduction as one that prepares and sells food or beverages to retail customers for immediate consumption, either on or off the premises.
As far as I understand it, this includes the following types of business meals and vendors:
- dine-in from restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, pizza shops, bakeries, etc.,
- take out,
- delivered directly from a restaurant,
- and from restaurant meal delivery services, e.g., Doordash, Grubhub, Postmates, Uber Eats, etc.
A non-qualifying restaurant (for which business meal expenses will remain at the longstanding 50% deduction) sells pre-packaged food or beverages not for immediate consumption, including:
- grocery stores and markets, e.g., Star Market, Stop & Shop, Roche Brothers
- convenience stores, e.g., Store 24, 7-Eleven
- theater concession stands, e.g., Boston Symphony, Roxy Theatre
- vending machines or kiosks, e.g., Leanbox
- specialty food stores
- beer, wine, or liquor stores
- drug stores
The good news
- This will probably lower your federal taxes by increasing your deductible business expenses.
- Since Massachusetts automatically adopts federal changes to business meals and entertainment expenses, this will probably lower your state taxes as well.
For more information, see the IRS web page:
or google: 100% restaurant deduction 2021
And, if you haven't already, I also suggest that you talk to your accountant soon about this (and the many other recent tax law changes) to find out how your personal and business taxes and deductions may be affected.
Kadansky Consulting, Inc.
Which of the 5 Basic Consulting Pricing Models is the Right Model for YOU?
Boy, I wish when a consultant or freelancer asks questions about pricing, I had a quick and easy answer, but I don’t. I don’t have a secret formula that crunches numbers or a magic wand to flick that displays a number.
I wish I did because just maybe I would never be disappointed when an engagement isn’t as profitable as I would have liked. Or just maybe I wouldn’t struggle to determine the right price to quote.
What I have learned is that when determining a price, it is important to use the right pricing model. There are five basic pricing models from which to choose. Each model has pros and cons and there are variations of each as well.
This article provides an overview of each of the five basic pricing models: time and expense, fixed price, value-base, risk-reward, and retainer. Use the posting as a guideline to help you determine the model or models that are right for you.
Some people believe there is one right pricing model, but I don’t agree. I believe a consultant needs to decide what is the right pricing model for them
Two of the models are cost-based models: time and expense, and fixed price. This means that the price you determine is based on the cost of the services to you. This requires having a solid hourly rate or hourly cost that can be used as a basis for determining a price to quote.
The other three models are service oriented models: value-base, risk-reward, and retainer. You determine the price based on the value of the services you provide to the client.
Let’s dive into each of the models in more detail.
This article is too long to post on the Society of Professional Consultants site.
Here is a friendly link to the article.