Updated: Jul 3, 2019
When you are a consultant, you need to know how to get out in your market and get business. But first you have to believe that there’s business out there that you can get. That means you have to have the right mindset or cultivate it if you don’t have it today.
What is mindset? Mindset is your attitudes, beliefs, and habits of thinking about what something is and what it isn't, who you are and what you aren't, and a whole host of other things. Essentially, it is how you've set your mind to look at the world around you and yourself in it.
Mindset matters tremendously to success at consulting. It’s not just about reducing stress or feeling better. It is about seeing the market for your consulting services and yourself in it clearly so you can take the right action.
The good news is that mindset can be changed! You can shift your mindset to develop a better understanding of what is and isn't true about your market and your ability to get business.
What is a Perceived Scarcity Mindset?
A common mindset issue for consultants is believing that there just isn’t enough business out there for you and, because of that, you will never be able to get enough business. I call this perceived scarcity.
A couple caveats. I use the term perceived scarcity quite precisely. I do not mean having a scarcity mindset because you actually experience being in a prolonged state of deprivation that is caused my many real factors, like living in poverty. I also do not mean the notion of generating abundance in your life just by believing in it and without you having to do something to create it.
Instead, perceived scarcity is a mindset that is based on believing that the negative assumptions that you have about what your future consulting business is going to look like are true and that you can’t do anything about it. The truth is that that is just a perception. It is a belief that there is a fixed reality that can’t be changed, but it is not a true reflection of reality.
The reality of most markets is that there is enough business out there. Unless you're in a really narrow, specialized field that is already flooded with consultants, which is not true for most consultants, there's room for more consultants, especially fantastic ones. The other reality is that your ability to get clients is largely based on the things that you do. And you can make decisions about the things that you can do.
Mindset Matters Because It Drives Action
Shifting the perceived scarcity mindset is key so you can take the right actions to get business. If you get stuck in a perceived scarcity mindset, you may give up and go back to work at a regular job. You may believe that you can’t be successful because you believe that there is just not enough business. So instead of taking actions that could get you that business, you hang it all up and go back into a job—even if that’s not what you want to do.
A perceived scarcity mindset can also cause you to take actions that do not help you build your business in either the short term or long term. Psychology and behavioral economics (neither of which am I an expert in) offer some helpful information to understand what happens in your brain that can contribute to that. If you have a scarcity mindset, it can cause you to over overvalue the benefits of what you see immediately in front of you. This means you can't appropriately judge what actions to take. A common example is feeling so worried about not having business that you go after opportunities that don't make any sense for you to go after. I’ve seen this over and over again with consultants apply for Request for Proposals (RFPs) even if there is little or no chance that they will get it. The problem is that it takes a lot of time, energy, and effort to apply for an RFP. And that has an opportunity cost. If you choose to go after the wrong RFP, you won’t have the time, energy, and effort to do the things that are most likely to yield results, such as networking, creating and disseminating high-impact case studies, or expanding your knowledge and skills.
Having a perceived scarcity mindset can also make you block out thinking about future benefits, such as what you need to do to build your business. Why? Because to pay attention to the future, your brain needs “cognitive resources.” Cognitive resources in this context are essentially your brain power or the mental bandwidth. What psychology has shown is that a scarcity mindset depletes your brain’s ability to focus on making decisions about your future, actions you need to take to build a consulting business, such as like planning, expanding your network, or problem solving.
Shifting to a Reality-Based Mindset
The key to shifting to a mindset that is a more accurate reflection of reality is to interrupt and question your narratives (or the stories you tell yourself) and replace them with evidence of what is actually true. Start by paying attention to the things you're thinking and believing and don't assume that they are all true.
When I worry about my ability to get work (and, yes, I get those feelings too), I often like to ask myself “Do I know that this is true?” Often the answer is “no” or “um, well, not exactly.” When I first started consulting, I used to say, “I am never going to get business.” This kept me stuck for a while. I was so certain that that was true that I didn’t take the right steps to get business. Once I questioned that assumption, I could do what I needed to do. A short time later I could be heard complaining, “I have way too much business!” My original assumption was wrong. Go figure!
Asking yourself if you know if something is true can create an opening to do the work to find out what is true, such as reflecting on your past ability to get work, talking to someone in your field about their experience or opportunities they know about, or doing market research. This can help prevent you from constructing narratives based solely or largely on negative assumptions and emotions about scarcity.
You can also use those feelings as a motivator to spur you to action. Instead of buying into a story you have created in your head, you can ask yourself questions related to action. Things like, if I am going to change this:
Should I try something different because what I’m doing isn't working?
Should I be doing more of something?
Should I be doing less of something?
Who is doing this really well that I can ask for advice?
The more you interrupt your mind’s narratives and then switch to focus on problem solving and action, the more your mindset will shift. And the more results you see from doing this, the more that new mindset will take root and grow.