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  • Deb Zahn

3 Big Lessons from 2020 to Help Your Consulting Business Thrive in 2021

Before you put 2020 behind you, it is helpful to look back and glean whatever lessons you can so 2021 can be a better, more fulfilling year. I get the desire to run screaming away from 2020, hoping to find more predictability and stability in 2021. There also are many lessons from 2020 that are helpful, even if we didn’t like how we learned them. I hate to say it, but many of the challenges of 2020 won’t stop at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.


So here are my big lessons.


1. Expect Disruptions

Although you can’t always predict the form or scale of disruptions, you can anticipate that disruptions will happen throughout the year. Not only will they happen, they will not politely wait until the last disruption is done to appear. That means, you will often be contending with more than one disruption or perhaps even a domino of disruptions.


What do you do with that reality? Well, my big lesson is that’s why baselines matter so much—life baselines and business baselines. If you have a strong foundation and a disruption hits, everything doesn’t get sucked into chaos and stress. You can shift and fix what needs your attention, but everything won’t crash.

For my life, that means eating well, sleeping well, and exercising regularly. It also means having some reflective or meditative practice to calm and focus my mind and spirit.

For my business, that means setting up systems that don’t require my executive function every day. I need that brain power for solving problems and making choices that propel my business forward and solve novel problems. Having systems is a beautiful thing because it means I make those decisions, create a system—making it as automated as possible—and then let it do its thing. Periodically I (or someone on my team) tweaks it to make it better. But I don’t have to spend so much time every day on repetitive tasks.


It also means keeping my mindset in shape so I don’t so easily revert back to unhealthy and unhelpful mindsets and actions, which is easy to do when faced with disruptions. If I yield territory in my mind to imposture syndrome or if I don’t deliberately assess, know, and embrace my value, any disruption can throw me into a bad spiral that is now bigger than the original disruption. And I will be more likely to make panic decisions and take panic actions, which never works out well. If I have not done the work to get comfortable with selling or banish perceived scarcity, then having to do those things under the duress of a disruption will be much more difficult. 2. Be the Boss

Doing consulting work you love can be a joyous thing, but you are also in the business of consulting. Guess what that makes you. A CEO! The boss of a business. So you have to do boss things to make your business thrive.


In 2020, it was especially easy to forget that. That is, until there was a crisis. Like me and so many other consultants, you probably had at least some business disappear or get delayed because of the pandemic. You likely suddenly had to focus on your financial circumstances and act fast to get income in the door. You may have had to consider how you might pivot, increase your visibility, and reengage your network.

Before the pandemic hit, you may have just gotten business so you could focus on the work you love to do and then just got more business when you needed it. That can work if you are well-established as a consultant, but it opens you up to significant risk. And given the reality that disruptions happen, there’s no good reason to allow that risk to lurk in your business.


The goal is not to spend all your time working in your business. You also need to work on it. As the boss of it. Working on your business means you are continually looking at and making decisions about the totality of it, how the pieces work together, and what to keep doing, start, and stop.


Being the boss also means freeing yourself up to focus on only doing what only you can do. For consultants, that means doing what you have to do to generate revenue and deliver excellence to your clients. Which brings me to my next point…


3. Get Help

Having a team to support me and free me up to focus on generating revenue made a huge difference in 2020. I had someone who set up all my systems for repetitive tasks, which preventing me from overtaxing my brain with endless details. I had someone focus on updating my website when it needed it. I had someone who took care of scheduling my social media. I had someone enter my expenses. I had someone edit and oversee the post-production process for my podcasts. Could I do those things? Sure, but that would have meant that I had less time to get clients, do excellent work for them, and be the boss of my consulting business.

So even if you just start with a virtual assistant, I encourage you to get more help in 2021. Free up your time and brain power to do what only you can do!


Going Forward

Those are the top lessons for me in 2020. As I plan for 2021, these lessons come with me and will help me make better choices.


I am also feeling grateful and blessed to be doing the work I love and having wonderful clients, colleagues, friends, and family in my life. I wish you all health, calm, and joy now and in the coming year.



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