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  • Deb Zahn

How to Make Your Consulting Business and Life Better and More Fulfilling in 2021

Updated: Jan 1

Like most people, I want 2021 to be better. But I’m done with vague New Year’s resolutions that fade away in January and don’t really impact my consulting business and life. So this year I am getting very specific and taking action before 2020 ends.


And I’m starting with looking back at what worked and what didn't in 2020. I don’t want to let 2020 to end without gleaning whatever lessons I can out of it. Because, if nothing else, 2020 was a stress test for my business and life. And stress tests are incredibly revealing! They tell you what works no matter what and what has to be fixed to withstand whatever happens.

So based on that assessment, here is what I am working on now and will do into 2021. (Steal any or all of it to improve your business and life in the new year!)


Plan More, Drift Less.

I could say that 2020 was just a year to react and get through because too much was unexpected. While it’s true that 2020 was like no other year I’ve known, it would be a big ‘ole cop-out to say planning had no place. The reality is that when I did pause and plan, things got better. Much better. So 2021 is all about making more deliberate decisions about what I should be doing and, importantly, what I should not be doing.


I'm generally very good at planning. But it is easy to just get carried away and let planning slip. Since I know that and also know what triggers that slippage, I know I have to plan for that likelihood.


My solution for 2021 starts now. I am scheduling planning time in my calendar throughout 2021. I need that planning time to assess what is working and what isn’t so I can make decisions throughout the year and not just wait until the end of the year or when there is a crisis or disruption.


Plan for Your Weaknesses

Since I know myself and my weaknesses pretty well, it can't end with a plan for planning. I am also scheduling about 20% more time than what my brain tells me I need. Why? Because my brain can't yet be trusted with estimating the time it takes to plan thoughtfully and execute skillfully. It also accounts for the reality that there may be other things happening during the time I set aside, things that need my attention. So that 20% gives me a cushion. If I need it, I have it. If I don’t, lucky me. I will get to decide what to do with the extra time.


Ditch Vague and Get Specific

Saying I’m going to plan is not enough. I know that being vague doesn’t help me. I need to get specific about what I will be planning, when I am planning, and what inputs I’m going to use to inform my planning. So here's what my planning will look like:

  • Quarterly financial planning to look at things like actual vs. projected revenue, where my revenue actually came from vs. where I thought it would, when I got paid vs. when I thought I would, what expenses were worth it and what weren’t, etc. If you want the Excel tool I am using to create, assess, and update my financial plan, click here.

  • Monthly pipeline assessment to see who is in my pipeline and at what stage of cultivation they are. The goal is to make decisions that keep a nice, steady flow in my pipeline and intervene if there are any feast-or-famine risks.

  • Quarterly content audit to review the content I am putting out in my market and make decisions about what I should do more or less of based on what the content I produced yielded (or didn’t) relative to the effort to create it. The goal is to only do what is serving my business and not what I think I should do or what feeds my vanity.

  • Bi-annual systems audit to make sure I am have created automated systems for everything I can. am maximizing the use of the systems I have, and am not paying for systems I don’t need.

  • Weekly and monthly life balance “audits” to make sure I am not letting other things that are meaningful to me in my life slip. Every Sunday, I will review how my previous week went and plan for the week ahead based on what did and didn’t work or in response to any new realities. Monthly, I will set aside an hour to ask myself tough questions about how I am making choices and acting and switch up where I need to.


Free Me Up…Please

I want to free up as much time as I can to do the things that only I can do and to have more time for what it most impactful and meaningful in my business and life.


Systems for Life

One of the ways I will do that is to create more systems—for my life and business. Here’s what I learned in 2020. At the beginning of the year, I created a list I called New Life Rules. It included 10 things that I was and wasn’t going to do to. These were meant to be hard and fast parameters. when I looked back at 2020, I saw that I kept to about half of them. Holding

fast to half of them made a huge improvement in my life. For the other half, I can’t blame the pandemic, Yes, it threw some of my rules off, but it also made a couple a lot easier, such as traveling for work less. (Hello, Zoom!) When I look closely at what happened, I see that the ones that stuck are the ones I created systems for—blocking time off, changing my scheduling system to include time to cook meals and exercise. The ones that didn’t stick were just aspirations but had no systems to make them automatic or easier. So that’s for 2021!


No. Nope. Not Doing It.

The other way I am going to free myself up is by not doing some things. Even if they make me feel important or are seemingly easy to do. There are just somethings I don’t need to do anymore. They are not worth it. They aren’t worth it relative to the other things that matter to me or yield more. Or they are worth it or do have a yield, but I don’t need to be the one that does them. Or I just don’t like them. And since I’m the boss of my business, I get to say no!


For example, I love systems (like a lot), but I don’t need to be the person who sets them up. I have an operations person to do that. She loves systems even more than me and is better at creating them than me. The systems she has set up so far have freed up a tremendous amount of my time time and reduced the need for me to tax my executive function, which is critical because I need my brainpower for other aspects of my business. There is more we can do, and 2021 is about doing it. With the extra time I will gain, I will focus more on getting business, closing deals, and serving my clients, which only I can do.


Another example is I am breaking up with Facebook and Twitter. I don’t like them. I don’t need them to be successful. And I don’t have to do them. I am going to focus on LinkedIn and Instagram. They are where my target audience is and where I get the most engagement and highest yield. And I like them, which is a good-enough reason to dump social media channels that I don’t like.


More Momma, Less Drama

My mom is one of my big whys of being a consultant. I spend a lot of time with her. Mom, my husband, and I are a pandemic pod—or the Tripod as we call it. But the isolation of the pandemic has been tough on her. She’s 80 and, while she’s in great shape, I am aware that she is getting older. I don’t want to waste the time I have with her. She loves to travel but hasn’t been able to. She loves to bike and kayak but doesn’t want to do it alone.


Mom Time

Every day she and I will spend some time together, even if it’s a couple of hours watching the nightly news or working out in our home gym. But assuming that was going to happen naturally wasn’t enough. It ended up being too haphazard. So I’m implementing “Mom time.” Mom time means dedicated weekly time that is reserved for her. It’s not the only time I spend with her, but it is guaranteed time. To make mom time a reality, I am going to schedule weekly recurring, protected time in my calendar. She can have me do errands with her or have me work on things in her house. Or we can go have fun.

Mom time also means big fun things. Special things we will do together. When it’s safe, we are also going to go do at least three things in 2021 that she has always wanted to: go to Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Pennsylvania, go on a road trip to Montreal (when Canada lets us back in), and see a beaver in the wild. (That's an odd bucket list, but mom wants what mom wants!)


Planning Is Underway Now

These are the things I’m planning right now for 2021. And I'm intentionally being very specific to increase the likelihood I make lasting changes and staying creative and curious. My focus is on making deliberate choices, making the smart changes, staying curious about what works and doesn't, and getting creative to make the changes stick.


Thank you for letting me share those with you. I can’t wait to share more strategies, techniques, and tools with you to help you start, build, and grow your consulting business in 2021.


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