Why Do Consultants Fail?

why consultants fail

There are potentially a lot of reasons why a consultant can fail. However in today’s article, we are going to approach the potential reason why someone who starts a consulting practice may fail, and you might be surprised where this article takes you.

The common reasons that are communicated about failing as a consultant usually sound like the following (at least in our experience). See if any of them sound familiar or if you have even uttered any of these statements personally.

  • The economy is not good for consulting right now.
  • The industry, my areas of expertise, where I come from, is not spending money on consulting right now.
  • The companies in my geographic area are too small and, therefore, can’t afford consulting.
  • In my area there is a consultant on every corner; the competition is just too fierce.
  • I can’t seem to find enough clients.
  • I can’t get in front of the right decision maker.

The list can go on and on!

If you have not read Reality Based Leadership by Cy Wakeman (http://www.realitybasedleadership.com/), I highly recommend you put it on the top of your reading list. Her concepts are straightforward, on point, and apply to every job description and every job title. Since we work directly with hundreds of consultants and coaches, her concepts really resonate.

Wakeman introduces several thoughtful concepts in her book and we are going to review three.

The first concept Wakeman introduces in her book is the concept of arguing with reality. Your mindset, not your circumstances, is the source of your frustration. So a frustrated consultant who said the economy is not good for consulting right now is creating a story, a mindset, using outside influences beyond his or her control as the reason for his/her lack of success.

Wakeman says “on an average day, you and every other person … waste two hours on unproductive thoughts like these (for consultants we are focusing on the list above). Over time, this habit of thought calcifies into a set of behaviors known as learned helplessness. Learned helplessness leads a person to falsely attribute lackluster results to (fictional) wholehearted efforts.” I tried!

Wakeman also proceeds to write “there is a competency that we have disregarded in the workplace for some time, and that is personal accountability. Personal accountability has great benefits for the organization but it has equal, if not greater impact on the individual who practices it.” (especially for independent consultants)

“What is the appeal of arguing with reality and learned helplessness? Why does it persist? For one simple reason: it feels safer and easier to blame than to act. As long as we can blame something outside ourselves for our problems, we don’t have to take responsibility for our actions (results). Often this is not a conscious thought. It manifests itself into frustration and poor results.” (Wakeman)

So let’s go back to our list from earlier and look at these issues with a personal accountability microscope:

  • The economy is an outside influence, which we cannot control. What has to change in your marketing strategy, in your marketing efforts that would allow you to focus on companies who are either desperate or inspired and would invest in consulting services?
  • The industry is not spending money … Ok, what industries are inclined to spend money, where are those companies located in your area, and how do you network your way to those decision makers?
  • Companies are too small … the question to ask for this one is very similar to the above answer.
  • Consulting competition is fierce … the question to ask for this one is also very similar to the above answer.
  • I can’t seem to generate enough clients to get in front of enough decision makers … the question to ask for this one is very similar to the above answer.

I am sure you are starting to get the idea.

This is a tough concept for many to grasp because we are so used to finding an outside source to blame. However it has been our experience that if you lift yourself out of the subconscious habit of creating your stories which lead to learned helplessness into personal accountability, your results will change dramatically.

I will leave you with a recent and true example. One of our consultants reached out to me via phone extremely frustrated with the list of results she was achieving and the lack of support she was receiving and stated, “Since you were the one who convinced me to do consulting, it is your responsibility to do something.” After we talked a bit and she got to a calmer place, the conversation became more productive. We brainstormed the potential opportunity she had in front of her, laid a plan of action which she left the call excited about. All she had to do was execute the agreed plan. Two colleagues and myself followed up eight times to see if she needed help in executing the plan of action or to see if she needed further help brainstorming, with no response. Imagine her “story.”

If there is will there is always a way!

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