I closed my consulting business last week, after 30 years. It was a sad feeling to close the bank account and realise it’s the last tax return I’ll lodge. It was only a one-person business really. I never wanted to hire staff, but I’d have loved to have found a business partner who shared my ideals, goals, philosophies, ways of work and concern with on-time delivery. I’m going to miss it.
What I did
I’ve consulted on business and corporate strategy with over 60 different organisations of all sizes and types in many industries, some over several years, from BHP Billiton to a 3-partner food exporter, some volunteer groups and NFP professional organisations. Each assignment excited me: a new challenge; how to understand the organisation and the industry; how to get hold of the issues quickly; how to construct a framework to deliver insightful analysis and a valuable, feasible result for the organisation.
Most people who hired me knew me from my classes or from involvement in my work in other organisations. They knew what they were getting – honest, high quality, straight, no frills analysis and facilitation of top teams, without fear or favour. Sure, I could have made lots more money by stretching assignments out, being entertaining, pandering to CEOS, but it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do for the organisation. I wouldn’t have believed in the outcomes and the organisations wouldn’t have been getting good value.
My double life
I’ve been lucky to be able to do all this consulting alongside my academic roles over many years. I think everyone benefitted. Students got disguised, real-world examples. The university benefitted reputationally from the work I performed and the experience I gained helped me as an academic and as a researcher. I benefitted from all this, and the money was good. But I never did it for the money. I did many jobs at low prices or free for NFPs and voluntary groups, but I did find that charging more rather than less seemed to give my advice more gravitas. I often said to myself, ’If you’re doing this for the money, it’s the wrong reason and it’s not worth it.’
Legality or trust as the basis of a relationship
I also found that those organisations who wanted to tie me down in legal forms were rarely worth working with. They rarely got much done. They didn’t trust people. They often underperformed. Mostly I worked on trust, a handshake. In many cases, a fee or a quote wasn’t even required, especially if I’d done work for the person or organisation before. They knew they’d get value for money. They knew the right issues would be raised. They knew we’d get to the issues of implementation.
What now my love?
Right now I’m working on a set of organisation case studies for the new (sixth) edition of my textbook and that keeps my business mind tuned. Being president of an environmental organisation with 500 members and being on the board of a very small community bank also ‘feel’ like ‘real’ paid jobs, even though both are voluntary.
But I miss the call of a significant business, seeking my advice on how to solve a significant business problem. I loved it. But I also realise now that the ways of the business world have moved on and my skills and experience, though still highly valuable in my biased opinion, are lacking in the online area, online experience. Younger people are more attuned to this.
Pity that so little is really understood about strategy though. (Hint: the 5Qs framework will quickly sort you out!)