Consulting, At Last

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It was exactly ten months after I had set myself up, established my hourly fee, and had been working on long-term projects for monthly retainers that I abruptly started to do actual consulting. I received three telephone inquiries within one week. Two of them were from individuals who had found my name in the Yellow Pages. The third was from the executive director of a large association; he had heard about me from someone I had never met (this has happened a number of times). In all three cases, I asked them to identify the general nature of their problems on the phone. All confirmed appointments for three different days.

A word about those Yellow Pages. I have never placed an advertisement in them. I simply have the regular listing to which I am entitled by dint of the fact that I have a phone. Over the years, I have averaged one inquiry per week from this source.

I must confess that, unbeknownst to the client, I experienced extreme "stage fright" before each of these meetings. What would they ask? What vast stores of knowledge was I supposed to be the repository of? What if their problems dealt with subjects and areas I had never been exposed to and that were beyond my expertise? In short, what if I didn't have the answers? Forty dollars an hour! Big shot! Now I was on the proverbial spot. What do I do if they ask ten questions and I can answer only five? Refund twenty dollars? How many people in what short period of time would they tell that I was a fraud?



Well, my friend was right, of course. We don't know how much we know. The sessions went smoothly and professionally. Without any specific preparation (impossible because I didn't know the actual questions in advance), I was both knowledgeable and erudite in every instance. The clients were pleasantly surprised at the amount of useful information they received in one hour's time. No, I didn't stretch it out to increase my fee. I had something to prove to them and to myself - that I was a bargain. And I did. This stage fright did not end after those three sessions. It cropped up again and again for two more years. Not always. Just in those instances where I had forgotten how much experience I really had. Always, this uneasiness left me within the first five minutes of the consultation.

So, above my regular income that week, I earned another $120 for three hours of work. The most pleasant and exhilarating work I had ever done. A taste of blood, so to speak. I wanted more, much more of this. I realized, though, that, just like those first three, the rest would have to come in of their own accord. There was nothing I could do to push it, rush it, or in any way make it happen. The only thing I did then was carefully add those three names to my Wheeldex. Over the years, I have sent these people and those who followed some unusual communication at Christmastime to remind them that I am still here should they ever need my services again.

I did one thing, however, which helped me as I went along. I printed up a partial list of clients. Partial because I only listed the more familiar and notable names. As the list grew, so did my credibility as a consultant with prospective clients. Now whenever I present my calling card, I also proffer my list. I have the list lengthened and reprinted every six months.

My consultancy started to pyramid. With that, my reputation pyramided, too. Requests started to trickle in for me to speak about my industry before small groups. At first, I jumped at the chance to do this free of charge. Later, as the groups became larger, I required an honorarium. Additional requests came in for me to write articles in trade publications. Here again, I started without benefit of fee and later charged for it. The Mark Twain syndrome was repeating itself, in a sense.

All of this activity brought the yearned - for additional consulting work. Two years after those first phone calls, my consulting work accounted for fifty percent of my revenue. I had arrived.
 
 

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