Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Focus and Optimism as a Business Strategy

From time to time I see consultants making the same mistakes regardless of the industry or target market they serve. These mistakes are the need to be all things to all people and when errors mount, the tendency to become less optimistic.

I wouldn’t talk about these issues if hadn’t faced them myself. Some days, I still confront the consequences of these very same mistakes and I’m learning as I go along.

Let’s look at each one individually:

The Need to Be All Things to All People
When I started my consulting business, I tried to be all things to all people. I thought this strategy would help me get clients quickly because I could bend and shape my company to fit their needs. Not so. When I spoke with people about my business, it only left them confused because there was no clear definition of what I did and who I served.

BNET has an excellent article on how to keep you from making your business an unsuccessful “all-purpose” business. It’s called "Defining the Purpose of Your Business." Whether you are contemplating becoming a consultant, just starting out, or have been a consultant for many years, this article is a worthwhile read as it breaks down the strategic planning of your business into three fundamental areas: what you need to know, what to do, and what to avoid.

Keeping Optimism up When Times Are Down
As the mistakes pile up and you are seeing less and less positive reaction or feedback from your hard work, there is a natural tendency to become pessimistic. I struggle with this constantly, but I found a book recently that takes the concept and psychology of positive thinking and puts it in a business context.

Price Pritchett wrote Hard Optimism to explain that personal performance begins inside the head. The key concepts he delivers in his book are to focus in on your accomplishments, externalize the problems or challenges you are facing (it’s not all about you or because of you), and play to your positive strengths. He also discusses how it is perfectly justified to be pessimistic. Sometimes it helps us and keeps us from making costly mistakes.

Why do I tie these two common mistakes together? Because focusing in on who you are (you and your business), who you serve, the need to be optimistic and play up your strengths is a strategy that you can use to create a successful consulting business. It’s not something that can be done overnight. As with all things we become good at, practice makes perfect.

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