Past President’s Column: A 12-Step Program for Building a Successful Consulting Practice

Bernard Luskin

Bernard Luskin

Bernard Luskin, EdD, LMFT

I have operated a visible successful consulting company for over 25 years.  Interestingly, during these years, I needed to attend to the development of my company and my clients only intermittently because many of the consulting jobs became totally consuming; they literally occupied me for years and because my clientele continued to grow once I got started.  Many colleagues have asked for advice regarding building a successful consulting practice.  In this article, I am taking the opportunity to respond to a frequently asked question: “What should I do to make my consulting practice successful?”

In a consulting practice, integrity, hard work, reputation and your brand name and personal identity are prime ingredients for success.

Planning is important.  An insightful anonymous quote sums it up: “The major benefit of not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.”

Personal reputation is basic.  I brand identify myself on my website as a “Solutions Architect.”  I help solve education, media, business and personal problems and develop opportunities for clients.  I also help with turnaround needs and acquisitions, conduct searches, and coach executives.  Each of these activities has application in forensic media, general media, and higher education consulting.  The term “Solutions Architect” has worked for me.

The primary objective in any consulting business development is to get the phone to ring.  Remember, personal reputation makes the phone ring.  In a consulting practice, reputation and brand are synonymous and essential for success. Reputation and brand are intangible assets in much the same way for a media or education consultant as for a physician.

Here is a 12-step program of “best practices” that I have identified and found useful over many years of successful consulting.

  1. Listen. Identify the needs felt throughout the industry you serve.
  2. Specialize. Develop an acknowledged specialty understood by those you serve.
  3. Get to the point. Establish and present clear goals.
  4. Talk the talk. Speak the language of your clients.
  5. Do your homework. Demonstrate a solid research capability.
  6. Show up. Engage in activity related to your specialty at every opportunity.
  7. Shoot straight. Become known for ethical behavior and trust.
  8. Be enthusiastic. Demonstrate your passion for the work. People gravitate to enthusiastic individuals.
  9. Walk the walk. Demonstrate consistency.
  10. Have a “You” attitude. Eliminate “I” and accentuate “You.” The more you use “you” in your communications, the more effective your communications will be.
  11. Have a “global” outlook. Remember that today’s world is flat so displaying a nationwide or global outlook will help.
  12. Do something every day to move your practice forward.

I hope that you can use my 12-step program of “best practices” outlined above for successful consulting.  Additionally, the following wise words of John D. Rockefeller may help you maintain your perspective: “The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee.  I will pay more for that ability, than for any other under the sun.”

Most of what I have explained is “uncommon” sense, because, as simple as my 12 steps may seem, many people don’t recognize or follow them.  Please remember that planning is learning—thinking ahead, charting your objectives, demonstrating trustworthiness, and being persistent and reliable will pay dividends.   It takes time to build a reputation that is best documented by a track record of results. As the old adage goes, “actions speak louder than words.”

Please send me your comments and share what you found helpful in building a successful consulting practice.

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