Working Smarter, Not Harder — A Critical Mindset for Consulting Success

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As consultants, we often work so hard to get business and deliver our services that we forget to manage the business. This is an all-too-common mistake that can sabotage all of our hard work by impacting profitability, increasing our workload, and causing burnout.

Recently, I had a wake-up call about the impact of not managing my business practices well enough. The symptoms might sound familiar:
  • Feeling like no matter how hard — or late — I work , I will never get ahead of the workload or receive an equivalent increase in income
  • Scrambling to pull together the funds to pay quarterly taxes
  • Resisting the option to outsource many tasks because it's ''just easier to do it myself''
Looking closely at these ''symptoms'' helped me see the issue in a new light. It was clear that I needed to change my approach. And the ''cure'' resided in an all-too-familiar phrase: ''work smarter, not harder.'' A critical mindset for long-term business success, working smarter, not harder is about being strategic and making sound decisions that ensure that you and your business will be around for the long haul.

Small Changes, Big Results

Since having this epiphany, I've made two changes in how I manage my business — and I'm already seeing results:
  • Get serious about finances. I've always done a good job of tracking my expenses (including having a budget in my accounting software), but I never consistently evaluated my income and expenses against that budget. Now, I regularly evaluate my budget (which I also fine-tuned) against actual performance each month. Just the act of watching my expenses more closely ensures that I'm making smarter decisions with my hard-earned money — both personally and for the business. I also tuck away 40% of my revenue to cover tax payments each quarter. This has eliminated a lot of stress.

  • Work with a business coach. Hiring a business coach who understands all of the fundamentals of running a business gave me the perspective I needed to improve my business processes in a number of areas:

    • Establishing clear guidelines for when to utilize outside resources versus doing the work myself. I gained a clearer understanding of when it makes sense to outsource and also developed procedures for the outsourced work, thus streamlining the process of orienting new resources and avoiding the ''it's easier to do it myself'' syndrome. Moreover, I'm free to work on the tasks that make the most sense for me to do: account management, marketing, strategy, and analysis

    • Developing and managing a sound marketing plan. Defining the activities that lead to the bulk of my new business, establishing measurable goals, and regularly monitoring my activities in light of those goals, gives me a clear, concrete plan that's easy to follow versus fuzzy and easy to avoid.

    • Creating clear criteria for what constitutes profitable business versus work that isn't worth pursuing. I've always suspected that certain projects are more profitable than others, and analysis confirmed this suspicion. Projects that involve an ongoing relationship and repeatable processes deserve my priority focus, while onesy-twosy opportunities should be moved to the bottom of the list. A project's start-up process is always hardest, regardless of the project's size, so it's preferable to invest in that process once and then reap the benefits of an ongoing relationship.
A coach's true value goes beyond helping to implement best practices. My business coach holds me accountable and helps me stay strategic, preventing me from slipping back into the ''doing'' mode. And that's an invaluable benefit.
Since getting serious about my finances and working with a business coach, I've noticed a shift in my workload and mindset. The weight of day-to-day administrative and processing tasks has been lifted off my shoulders. I'm able to focus more on the ''brain work'' that's essential to being a valuable resource to my clients. And my business profitability hasn't suffered at all. The small investment I've made to work with a coach is already showing improvement to the bottom line. I have more profitable projects and feel more in control than ever before. Equally important, these changes have done wonders for the work/life balance challenge!

About the Author

Jennifer Berkley is the owner of The Insight Advantage, a San Jose, California-based research company that helps organizations implement various research tools (surveys, focus groups, telephone interviewing) to help them better understand their customers as well as to monitor customer loyalty and satisfaction. Jennifer is also vice president of Women in Consulting. Contact her at

Women in Consulting (WIC) is a San Francisco Bay Area-based collaborative organization of seasoned business owners and consulting professionals in more than 30 specialties. Contact WIC at or
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