• Deb Zahn

Breaking Through Decision Overload When Building Your Consulting Business

There are so many decisions to make when you are starting or building your consulting business that it is easy—and quite common—to get overwhelmed. The sheer volume of decisions may feel so paralyzing that you can’t make any decisions, or you stop from continuing down the consulting path at all. It may make you feel so stressed that you just start making decisions without really knowing what the consequences may be or if the decisions are the right ones for you.

Does that sound familiar?

A Better Way to Start and Build

Luckily, there is a way to get through all that with less stress and get better outcomes.

Even though it can be overwhelming, remind yourself that you have what it takes to get to the other side and succeed. When you’re feeling stressed, it’s easier to succumb to doubt about yourself and your ability to succeed. So here’s the thing. If you can do something to help clients achieve the results they want and you are willing to learn the business of consulting, then it is likely that you will succeed as a consultant. Once you can say yes to both of those, just remember that it is less a question of “if” and more of a question of “how.” Have faith in that—or at least enough faith to let yourself take the next few steps.

The other thing to remember is why you want to be a consultant. Why do you want to be a consultant? What do you want earning a living as a consultant to do for your life? The answers to those questions form your own personal “why.” And trust me when I say that you will need to remind yourself of your why many times throughout your consulting journey so you don’t give up and don’t deprive yourself of the livelihood and life you want.

You Get to Decide

There are some fundamentals to being successful as a consultant, but, ultimately, you get to decide how you want to be a consultant and run your business. That may seem at odds with your feeling overwhelmed when confronted with too many decisions, but it’s still an important point. Why? Because chances are one of the reasons you want to be a consultant is to have more freedom and flexibility than most jobs allow. If that’s true, then celebrate that you don’t have to fit into some cookie-cutter mold of what a consultant is. You have to get the basics right, but, otherwise, you have the freedom and flexibility to do it your way.

You have to define what you can help which clients in which market achieve, but those are your decisions. You have to get and keep clients, but you get to choose how and even which clients you want to work with. You have to earn an income that sustains your lifestyle, but you get to say how and when you will and won’t work. And on and on. Think of all the things you did not get to decide when you were employed. Now many of those are now your choices.

That’s all pretty great, right?

Getting Past the Overwhelm

But making decisions still has to be manageable. It doesn’t serve you or your business if you are making decisions while overwhelmed and stressed out.

So how can you make it more manageable?

Deciding About Deciding

There are so many options for starting and building your consulting business that the best first step is to decide how you are going to decide. Develop a set of clear criteria by which you will choose among various options. The beauty of this approach is that it helps you more quickly assess options and eliminate ones that don’t match your criteria. Knocking some options off the list can make it so much easier to decide.

Having criteria also enables you to ensure that the choices you are making align with what matters to you. Creating those criteria also will help you clarify what matters to you and balance it by other things that matter to you. For example, a criterion could be “It generates revenue faster,” but that could be balanced with the criterion “It aligns with my brand” so you don’t do any damage to your brand and reputation in your market just to get some fast revenue.

I would also include criteria about your life and not just the work aspect of your life. For example, you might include “It makes my daily life easier” or “It frees up my time outside of work.”

NERD BONUS: If you want to get really nerdy about it, you can do what I did. You can create an Excel spreadsheet, apply a weighted score to each criterion, and then calculate and compare the final scores to aid in your decision making. I like this not just because of the nerdiness of it, but also because it makes you decide what matters to you relative to other things that matter to you.

First Things First

The next step would be to define which decisions need to be made first and then set the other decisions aside for a later day. I usually pick my first steps by determining which decisions will help me make future decisions. Then I keep sequencing decisions in the same way based on considering those future dependencies.

For example, deciding what your value as a consultant is will help you identify the specific services you will offer as a consultant. So it makes sense to start by assessing your knowledge and skills and what you have done previously that achieved results or contributed to them. Once you have an initial sense of what your value it, you need to decide which clients in which market you will serve and what they have a demand for that matches your value. That will help you further refine your value and select services for which there will be a demand in your market. If you started by defining your services but didn’t know who they are valuable to, you may pick services that no one will buy. It also lets you take each step without trying to do it all at once, which can be overwhelming. Even If it is an iterative process, it gives you something to start with that lets you take the next step.

You may also want to pick decisions that require a long time to implement. For example, you will have to decide what type of legal entity you want your consulting business to be. Once you decide, there are often numerous steps that take time. Making those decisions at the beginning will give you the lead time you need to get everything in place.

This process takes discipline. It’s easy to fall back into feeling like all decisions are priorities and urgent. It’s even easier to avoid the big, tough decisions and focus on the fun ones, like colors for your website. But the discipline also makes it easier for you to keep moving forward.

Being a Copycat

It’s also perfectly fine to take shortcuts. One of my favorite ways to do that is to just decide what someone I respect and is further down the road decided. For example, when I was picking a financial system and a social media posting platform, I just copied what other people I knew did. I knew they researched it. They told me what they did and didn’t like about them, and then just went with what they chose. I didn’t want to spend the time researching it and figuring it out myself. I wanted to save that time and energy for things for which I really needed to make choices because the consequences of the choices were significant.

The key here is that everything doesn’t need your time and brainpower! Save those for what really does need them.

Switching Up

All of your decisions won’t be the right decisions. Or they won’t stay the right decisions.

There. I said it.

And, guess what. It’s OK. You can still be a successful consultant as long as you pay attention to the outcomes of your decisions, be willing to admit that you made the wrong choice (or something changed and now it is the wrong choice), and then switch up what you do. Make a new choice.

The truth is that this is a muscle that you want to build up over time because it is a valuable asset to your business. If I’ve learned anything after a decade of being a consultant, it is that being able to pay attention and switch up when it makes sense will help you be more successful in the long run.

Making Decisions About Getting Clients

If you need to make decisions about how you are going to get consulting clients and need to do it quickly, I’m hosting a weekend virtual intensive retreat. Over 2+ days, I will work with a small group of consultants to get them ready to get clients and start to build a pipeline of work for their consulting businesses. The next one starts on October 23, 2020. Register by October 4 and get a 20% discount. Find out more or schedule a time to chat with me to see if it’s right for you here:

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