Welcome to the first in our series on building a successful consulting business. In this piece, we will be focusing on the importance of having the right entrepreneurial mind-set and, specifically, start to examine a model for the ‘Complete Entrepreneur’. In subsequent articles we'll be exploring all aspects of building a successful consulting business - register for the Top-Consultant newsletter to ensure you're alerted to each new article that's published.
The ‘Complete Entrepreneur’
Maybe you are reading this, pre launching out, wondering whether you have what it personally takes to be a successful entrepreneur? If so, you are right to dwell on this topic. No other feature is going to be more fundamental in determining the success, or otherwise, of your business than your attitude and ‘basket’ of personal values, capabilities, prior experiences and motivations. So, honestly assessing this – now and at regular intervals throughout the journey – with candid critique is really key.
I am going to touch on some of the key characteristics – especially as they apply to the nuances of running a professional services firm. Before I do though, I should give a really important health warning. It is easy in such descriptions to end up painting the picture of someone wearing a cape and underpants outside their trousers – a veritable super person. In reality, no one is ever this complete article or, indeed, anywhere close to it. Rather, the more important point is having, firstly, the self-awareness to recognise your strong and weak aspects and, secondly, the natural inclination towards continuous professional growth and improvement. It is, after all, very difficult to inculcate this type of attitude amongst your future colleagues if you don’t – with evident conviction – believe in it yourself.
The Complete Entrepreneur?
We had an oft referenced expression at Moorhouse which said that ‘the pursuit of excellence comes firstly with the humility to recognise you will never quite get there’. This is as apt for a personal charter as it is for a team one. But I digress ... we were talking about the attributes of the ‘complete entrepreneur’ as required to successfully build and grow a professional services business.
Before I do so, allow me to make one further fundamental point. There is one quality that should permeate through, indeed be the source for, all others. That quality is a passion for the service offering you are about to take to market. From this point on, I will take for granted that your motivation is to offer clients a service that is excellent, better than the competition (or meets a need that is just not fulfilled currently) and you have the idea as to how to do this. Only with such a genuine conviction at your core should you continue. It is such an axiomatic point that I am not going to include it specifically in my description; rather, I just assume it is as your starting out point.
With that said, I present to you the dream package:
#1 Chutzpah. This Yiddish word captures a key entrepreneurial quality perfectly.
It is the quality of audacity. In traditional usage, it has a negative tone – as in someone has overstepped an accepted boundary with little shame. The modern, broader definition – that I am talking to – is that of someone who breaks boundaries with a cheeky, optimistic glint in their eye – knowing they are about to disrupt the status quo.
#2 Marshmallows tomorrow not today.
The famous marshmallow experiment conducted at Stanford University (1972) studied four-year-old children. Each was put in a room with a single marshmallow and told that if they could resist eating it for twenty minutes they would get two in reward. The experiment has been repeated many times since and the resulting footage is invariably hilarious as children wriggle and grimace with the torture of the ‘deferred gratification’ dilemma. More interesting, however, is the point that when the researchers tracked these children into later life, they found that those who were originally able to hold out for the twenty minutes were the more successful in life generally. Simply put, an entrepreneur intuitively, stoically even, knows that it is worth the sacrifice of the near years for the far greater return beyond. This takes a certain degree of mental discipline and the ‘marshmallow now’ brigade don’t have this.
#3 Dream like a visionary, plan like a pedant.
Aligned to the preceding quality, a successful business owner needs to be able to shift seamlessly across time horizons. At one moment articulating – with some vivid description – the type of business you want to be three years hence to, in the next moment, reviewing today’s client proposal with sharp-pencilled pedantry. The best entrepreneurs can do both.
#4 Force multiplier.
This one is essential. To grow a people-based business you will need some inherent leadership capability and passion. On the basis that leadership literature abounds let me boil this down to some simple messages. Leadership involves some key qualities. First, and foremost, integrity. No one follows anyone else – at least not anywhere particularly material – if they don’t believe that person is authentic. Force multiplication – the ability to get out more from a team than the sum of its individual parts – is also about communication. The ability to describe a vision, to instil a sense of collective purpose in others, to motivate in the moment. It is also about belief; in yourself fundamentally but also in others – trust first, without caveats, and you will be amazed how people rise to the opportunities you give them. Finally, it is about a sense of humour and perspective. Never trust anyone in power who doesn’t have this. One of our cultural mantras at Moorhouse was ‘to take your profession seriously but not yourself.’ This is an essential characteristic of a high-performing team and it has to be set from the top.
#5 Jack of all trades.
Building a services business requires some command – if not mastery – over a number of disciplines; from the technical specialism that you sell, through to strategy, marketing, selling, HR, Finance, IT, estate management etc. Over time, you will potentially hire experts into each area; notwithstanding, as the leader, you will need to have a reasonable level of competence in each domain such that you facilitate progress across all of these disciplines. You may come at this entrepreneurial adventure from deep inside one of these verticals. If so, now is the time to broaden out – entrepreneurism requires plural interests and demands. In fact, many successful business leaders enjoy the role for the ‘mile wide, foot deep’ variety it brings.
To be continued...
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