Monthly Archives: March 2009

Consulting Wisdom

If you visited Amazon’s consulting book list today you would have found that I have 5 of the top 25 books on consulting, and, oh yes, the Number One in the country (the third edition of Getting Started in Consulting).

These listings are quite dynamic, and I won’t hold onto #1 consistently, but I almost always have five books up there someplace, because I’ve written more books for solo practitioners than anyone else in history. I think that’s because of my philosophy: I strive for volume, not accuracy. (I wanted to see if you’re paying attention.)

A few of the readers’ reviews are not complimentary (my books average 4.5 stars of 5) because they think I’m arrogant (viz.: they either can’t write like I write or can’t understand what I write). Everyone’s a critic on Amazon. Nevertheless, the books do well enough, and the fourth edition of Million Dollar Consulting, appearing in the fall, will probably see the 200,000th sale of that book alone. Not bad when you consider that I believe there are only about 250,000 serious (e.g., not “between jobs”) solo consultants in the US, and maybe twice that number globally.

I share all of this because this profession has zero barriers to entry, which is both wonderful and depressing. The way to tilt your plate toward the wonderful side is to keep growing and developing. I’m weary of conferences in the profession which feature concurrent sessions on how to charge by the hour (calculate your lifestyle expenses, divide by available hours, and there’s your rate—you might as well just slit your wrists now). If there is such a thing as “unintellectual property,” you’ll find it in the literature surrounding this profession, with retread articles on six points to make a point, or how to use the telephone, and so on. One “expert” with a big name actually was also advertising his used luggage for sale at one point. (He also had published a plagiarized book.) If you’re successful, do you really have to sell your household goods?

You don’t have to agree with me or anyone else, but you do have to understand what I and a few learned others are really talking about. Then you have the right to disagree. Frankly, if you’re starting out in this profession and haven’t read Getting Started in Consulting, or if you’re a veteran and haven’t read Million Dollar Consulting, then you’re just kidding around. It’s like majoring in psychology and not taking the 101 course. You don’t have to like it or agree with it, I suppose, but you must have the grounding.

There are free articles, checklists, and tools on http://www.summitconsulting.com, which you are welcome to download. There are print, video, and audio resources here on this blog which is free. You can read postings from my global community at AlansForums.com without joining it (you just can’t post unless you join). I frequently speak for free at various National Speakers Association Chapters (Los Angeles recently, New Jersey on May 15, Oklahoma on May 9, Dallas on June 13) where the admission price they charge is quite low.

There is a lot of data out there that many of you can turn into information. Synthesizing the information into knowledge takes experience and help. And utilizing knowledge until it’s innate wisdom it harder still.

It’s a great time to be a consultant. It’s even a better time to be a great consultant. What are you doing to accelerate your progress down that path?

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.

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The Best Swan Lake Ever

Take a look at this:

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Random Consulting Thoughts

I’ve been looking and listening, gathering material for new projects. Here are some excerpts:

1. Wal•Mart has a new tag line, “Save Money. Live Better.” It is elegant in its simplicity. And whether you like the company or not, whether you shop the stores or not, it’s brilliant. Everyone should have a sharp point on their “arrow.” How do you want to be known? I create community. What result do you provide? Or do you have a flying barn rather than an arrow?

2. Sweden, apparently, is not going to intervene to try to save Saab, one of the preeminent icons of the country. They make good cars and have crafted highly effective jet fighters, among other things, impressive in a small country. Yet Sweden, often cited for its socialistic bent, is deciding that it’s better for the company to fail than for the government to save it. We once made televisions in the US, but no longer do. No big deal. We’ve allowed airlines, steel mills, textile firms, and paper companies—once all stalwarts of the economy—to fail. Why are current auto companies immune from this treatment in this country? I don’t see any Studebaker or DeSoto dealers around. As consultants, we have to do what’s in the client’s best interests, and that often means acknowledging that long histories don’t justify long futures, for people, for processes, or for businesses.

3. Mother Teresa was cited after her death as “doubting” her faith, which created great press among those citing the weaknesses of organized religion. They all missed the point, which is that doubt is common and necessary. We should all be willing to doubt what the client tells us, doubt what we hear, and doubt that an off-the-shelf or generic response will work. Counterintuitively, it’s a sign of confidence to be able to doubt (or else the doubt is overwhelming and terrifying). People free to doubt, who then voluntarily pursue a belief or course of action, are the freest people there are.

4. Life is about options. George Will, the conservative pundit who is the resident intellect on ABC’s “This Week,” often comments that the two political parties are supposed to disagree, are supposed to oppose the other, and are supposed to be tough to create alliances with. That’s the nature of the system, the “loyal opposition.” There is nothing disloyal about questioning your client, your colleagues, or your collaborations. Don’t allow inertia to pull you into an undesirable future, as if it’s the default position.

5. The two primary factors in building self-esteem and confidence are successfully managing time and successfully managing relationships. If you can go through life in control of your time and not burdened by festering sores from diseased relationships, you are a free person. You can always make another dollar, but you can’t make another minute. Wealth is discretionary time. Are you working so hard, or brooding so much, that you are making more and more money while decreasing your wealth?

6. Remember the “ski instructor principle,” which I write about in my books and columns. You want that instructor who is just a few yards ahead of you on the slope, demonstrating what you should do, giving you expert help in the midst of the action, and commenting on what was done immediately after. You don’t want the instructor who talks a good game over brandy in the chalet, takes your money, and sends you up the hill by yourself, waiting to hear how it went. A great many people today are offering advice and coaching—certificates, initials, equipment, and all—who have never gone up the hill. Caveat emptor.

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.

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New Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame Inductees

I’m proud to announce the following inductees into the Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame, as revealed at the Mentor Summit in Las Vegas this week. The criteria for induction include:

• Serving as an exemplar to others in the profession.
• The highest levels of integrity, ethics, and accountability.
• Revenue and profit achievement and growth.
• Contributions of intellectual capital to the profession.
• Continual, challenging, personal and professional development.
• Risk taking and resilience.

I am very happy to announce the following 2009 inductees into the Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame:


Suzanne Bates: The owner of a powerful business focused on improving executive presentation and communication skills, with two superb books on executive performance, a member of the Million Dollar Club, and a former network news anchor.


Seth Kahan: An outstanding organization development consultant who constantly contributes to the Mentor Community by selflessly sharing his victories and setbacks, and is an exemplar of lifelong learning and growth, formerly with the World Bank.


Patricia Lynch: A human performance and productivity expert who has worked with highly effective results in public sector and highly politicized environments, nevertheless driving clients toward demonstrable and repeatable results.


Linda Popky: A marketing and message expert, who helps clients clarify their message, who is one of the most frequent and powerful contributors to Alan’s Forums, recently bestowed with a Woman of the Year Award, and the president of Women in Consulting.


Katherine Radeka: An outstanding professional in lean management and business processes, who has created significant intellectual property and become the “go to person” in her field through her highly effective promotion of her value in her marketplace.


Scott Simmonds: An insurance expert who selflessly shares with the community of professionals he joins and supports, and who constantly experiments with more effective ways to reach and assist clients, generously sharing effective techniques with those around him.


Phil Symchych: An expert in business growth who literally traveled the globe, from Australia to Germany, from the UK to the US, to discover best practices to make him more valuable to clients in an ongoing perpetual learning quest.

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My Week in Vegas

The Six Figures to Seven Workshop (41 people) and the Mentor Summit (73 people) were fabulous. The Platinum Hotel, a last-minute replacement, did a GREAT job, provided suites for everyone at $129, and catered outstanding food with gracious service. I urge anyone and everyone to consider this place for their meeting or stays. There is no casino, which makes it less frenetic, but it’s a mere five minutes from the strip.

Tonight is the Million Dollar Consulting® College Reunion cocktail reception in our suite at the Bellagio, followed by a dinner with friends, and tomorrow is the Reunion itself. Chad is managing it, and I’m not sure if we have 30 people or 50 people.

Reviews:
1. Cher: Just what you’d expect, twelve songs, 20 costume changes, all kinds of dancers and diversions to allow her to change and catch her breath. She looks great and is in fine voice. She’s in the theater that Celine Dion used (and where the dreadful FX played), which is shared with Bette Midler, whom we’re seeing in June. Somehow, though, there wasn’t that much energy in the place.

2. Zumanity: Produced by the Cirque du Soleil folks, this is a train wreck. It’s old vaudeville, with some specialty acts (women climbing ropes, contortionist, etc.), very lame sexual double entendre, audience involvement on stage, and toplessness. I fell asleep 20 yards from a nude women, which should tell you something about the show.

3. Yellowtail: An outstanding Bellagio sushi restaurant with dark, exciting ambiance, and both a formal dining room and lounge/bar. Wonderful cold saki, original rolls, and very fresh fish. The chef wouldn’t give me my quail eggs on the tobiko and ikura because he didn’t feel they were of sufficient quality. Great service.

4. Rao’s: In Caesar’s, this is a tough ticket in New York but a huge place here. Fine Italian food, but somewhat over-rated. Our service here was utilitarian, but not gracious. The outdoor tables overlook the pool and are quite pleasant.

5. Spago: Wolfgang Puck’s famous eatery, also in Caesar’s, with very innovative food and a wonderful half-bottle wine list. Very open air, I prefer to sit well inside and not alongside the people wandering through the casino, many of whom don’t add to the aesthetics of fine dining. The maitre d’ said, “Take any seat you like.” That’s both a sign of wonderful hospitality and the slowness of business here.

6. Michael Mina: We got back to the Bellagio after the cocktail party I hosted at The Platinum, and asked our concierge for a dining recommendation in the hotel. You get to Michael Mina by walking through The Conservatory, an oasis of quiet, flowers, flowing water, and butterflies (yes, huge butterflies). Once inside, we had a novel, encrusted Dover sole that was spectacular. After my martini, the captain asked if I’d like a glass of wine. “I would usually order a Montrechet by the bottle, do you have anything close?” I asked. “We serve Montrechet by the glass,” he informed me. Walking in late, with a reservation from 20 minutes earlier, we were nonetheless seated overlooking the lighted pools. Go there.

7. Gallaghers: A chain which we chose because it’s in New York New York, right across from the Zumanity theater, it helped to salvage the night. Outstanding cowboy steak (bone-in rib eye) with real New York service: They care, they just don’t want you to know it.

Business is clearly down in Vegas, but the place is still crowded and pulsating. I’m off for a massage to prepare for the cocktail party of unknown number tonight!

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.

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From LA to LV

I’ve just delivered a morning session to the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the National Speakers Association at CBS studios, on the set of the Bill Maher show. (My wife was delighted to walk through the set of The Young and the Restless down the hall.) We had a great time with wonderful people and a pleasant stay at the Beverly Wilshire.

Now I’m writing from the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Tomorrow we begin the Six Figures to Seven Workshop at The Platinim Hotel and Spa a few minutes down the road. We’re seeing Cher tonight at Caesar’s after dinner at Rao’s.

Vegas is crowded (the traffic is always a nightmare) but not like it used to be. On a Saturday night the Bellagio had huge areas of gamine closed down, and you can get into virtually any restaurant in town on short notice (Rao’s used to be an impossible reservation, for example). We’re here for eight days, which is unusual, but the Mentor Summit follows 627, and the Million Dollar Consulting® College reunion after that.

You see some great beauty here, and some tawdry shocks. And I’m just talking about walking through the casinos. Last night, a woman in a short cocktail dress, high heels, coiffed and made up to within an inch of her life, was holding onto a guy with a tee-shirt, ripped jeans, and running shoes. (I know what you’re thinking, but they were a real couple.) I’m wondering what’s in store for the rest of their lives? He was no rock star.

We have a large suite in the tower, so we have a private check-in, lounge, and concierge, and miss all the lines and the turmoil. We even have a card that allows us to cut restaurant lines and limo lines. I always wondered who those obnoxious people were who were given permission to go to the head of the queue. Now I find that they’re actually very nice, gifted, likeable folks…..

Of some interest: This suite, with steam room, Jacuzzi, two bathrooms, three televisions, etc., costs LESS than a single night in a regular room in a hotel such as The Peninsula in New York.

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.

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“From Panic to PROFIT”: Teleconference

I’m presenting a special teleconference on May 12 at 11 am Eastern for one hour, called “From Panic to PROFIT: How to improve your business, your life, and others in tough times.” It is in the spirit of “How to Accelerate Business in Dismal Economic Times,” which was my most popular teleconference ever.

The fee is $100 for everyone for that special event, including the downloads if you register prior to the broadcast date. There is limited “seating.” It should be on my web site in about a week, but I’m providing this opportunity for Alan’s Blog readers to register early by sending a check or credit card to any of the contact information immediately below. (Please don’t leave a message asking me to call you back–the phone line is mine alone.)

Be sure to INCLUDE your email address so that I can forward instructions!

Click here to register online or:

alan@summitconsulting.com
800/766-7935 (401/884-2778)
FAX: 401/884-5068

Box 1009
East Greenwich, RI 02818

Twitter: (kidding)

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Avian Lessons

(NOTE: REPRINTED FROM MY COLUMN IN RainToday, raintoday@raintoday.com)

I’ve been using the new Providence, RI train station for 20 years (it’s not that new). It’s a typical six-track station, with a small restaurant, newsstand, vending machines, baggage office, ticket counter, and so forth. The Boston commuter trains use it as the terminal for their routes, and Amtrak uses it for its Northeast Corridor, a highly-profitable business that features the high-speed Acela.

About two months ago, for the first time, I noticed a pigeon walking around the station, pecking its way through the crowd. A police officer slowly ushered it toward the automatic doors, weaving in and out, until the bird found itself outside. The officer, in uncharacteristically sensitive language, told me, “I keep throwing him out because he tends to befoul the station.”

Ten minutes later the bird was back.

Getting in the Door

I know it could have been another bird, but it had the unhurried pace of a creature that was totally familiar with the surroundings. And I could have sworn that it nodded at the cop.

This morning, once again headed for New York, I found three pigeons in the station, diligently cleaning up crumbs and other detritus under benches and tables. The officer on duty made no effort to herd, direct, or arrest them. And it looked like that original bird was part of this threesome.

I’m assuming they’ve learned how to time the automatic doors, have established some sort of nest (the station is locked from about midnight to 5 a.m.) and no one seems to object to them at all. In fact, they add some interest to the place.

I’m predicting that the station will ultimately house that number of birds which can be supported by the food supply and is less than the number that will create public outcry or neccesitate animal control. That number might be six or ten, and that will be it, a happy co-existence. (Interestingly, I haven’t seen one sign of “befoulment.”)

I’m relating all this because the pigeons have learned to go where the food is, in comfortable surroundings despite outside conditions, to master the doors and gates to enter, and to get along with other, transient users of the place. They are also diligent in returning when they are thrown out, never taking it personally.

Avian Learning

What does this mean for you? Let’s summarize, in terms of the sales process:

Find the location of the sustenance.

Figure out a way to get in.

Elude and avoid the gatekeepers without offending them outright.

Co-exist with others who use the place for other reasons.

Understand that if others like you are thriving somewhere, the odds are good for you to thrive there.

Don’t take rejection personally or permanently.

Keep returning for additional sustenance.

If you can, feather a nest and become unofficially “permanent.”

Don’t be greedy, you can allow others to prosper, too.

When you’re the first one in, and know the ropes, you’re the hardest to displace.
You may think that this is all for the birds. I assure you it is not.

We see around us every day examples in nature of creatures that must hunt in order to eat, raise families, and perpetuate the species. Some of the biggest sales failures I’ve seen are among people who begin with a base of business and referrals, engage in zero marketing, run out of the original business base, and then starve, because they have built neither new business potential nor new business sales skills.

Just because you were born on third base doesn’t mean you’ve hit a triple.

We all need to thrive, not merely survive. We need to feed our families and perpetuate the species. But we can do so by providing value, by also enabling buyers to come to us. We don’t have to hunt in the train station, but the processes aren’t all that different.

Birds Are Simple Creatures

Are you pursuing real buyers (not middlemen) and avoiding the gatekeepers and blockers? Do you have the self-esteem necessary to provide you with resilience when you are, inevitably, rejected? Do you know how to form relationships that create a permanent place for you in buyers’ esteem and in a key position on their speed dials?

People selling professional services tend to make things too complicated. They focus on elaborate methodology when the client merely wants clear business results. They build elaborate models and matrices which are often unnecessary and onerous (when one only has to say, “Stop doing that and start doing this”). They focus on their honorifics and their credentials rather than their expertise and their outcomes. They form relationships with people who can’t help them because they think it’s important to be liked more than it is to be successful.

I’ve always thought that “eats like a bird” was an oxymoron, since birds eat like hogs. And equally untrue is “bird brain” as a metaphor for slow-witted. Those in sales and marketing could do a lot worse than to follow the example of the pigeons, and could be called a lot worse than “birds of a feather”….

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.

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Consulting Notes on These Times

Some of my random observations that became too long for my note pad:

1. Always build, don’t destroy. The Democrats seem too intent, for example, on destroying the Republicans, who have done a pretty good job of doing that to themselves. When you work on a project, fix or improve the conditions, don’t assess blame or gloat about how the internal people blew it. Help the internal people to get it right the next time and you’ll be even more valuable and likely to prolong the relationship.

2. Stop thinking and act. Ninety percent of people who tell me they will “think about joining one of my programs” never do. They are just giving themselves an excuse not to act, usually out of fear of what they’ll find. We’re not talking about brain surgery here. Take action, and then fine-tune. Endless studies and the dreaded “needs analysis” rob you and the client: you of energy, the client of money, both of you of lost opportunity.

3. Get your approach in order. Engage the prospect in the diagnostic during the marketing process, then become prescriptive during the intervention, AFTER you have the proposal signed. Don’t become prescriptive at the outset, because the buyer will gag at the arrogance of your determining solutions in five minutes while the client couldn’t resolve the issue in five months, and don’t become diagnostic during the intervention because the client IS the one who screwed it up and needs an outside blast of air. Direction follows consensus.

4. Stop listening to overpowering bad news, take your eyes off the television, and look out the window. What do you see? People going about their lives. Go about yours. Our profession’s mission is to engage and help people and organizations to improve their condition, by providing powerful value. If you do that well, eventually the television news will change.

5. Engage in real and meaningful actions, not symbolism. If you want to volunteer at a shelter, contribute to a charity, or provide pro bono help to non-profits, that’s great. But refraining from buying a new suit, or taking a colleague to lunch, is just silly (and hurts the clothing and restaurant business).

6. Reducing your fees is not a required or intelligent move, it is an enabling move for those who use the economy as an excuse for their own inept management. You deserve to be paid commensurate with your value, and rending your garments or degrading your worth isn’t necessary or noble. Your duty is not to enable those who have poor habits. (Fortunately, we are not government agencies where poor management just results in more money being granted to cover our mistakes.)

7. Everyone I know who is doing very well—and that is a majority of people in my community—is diversified. I’ve been urging this for years, but now it’s mandatory. People who are solely non-celebrity, keynote speakers, for example, are desperate. Use your intellectual capital to consult, coach, speak, publish, facilitate, create products, train, and so forth. No one is going to do that for you. Pretend you’re your own client.

8. Get used to the ambiguity of the times. No one knows—in government, in universities, in the media, in the coffee shops, in think tanks, in executive suites, not anywhere—what is going to happen next. The current conditions could continue for years, or we may see a greater decline and a 5,000 DOW, or we might see a startling recovery in a year. No one knows. Get used to it. Focus: What is your value, who can best utilize it, how do you reach them, how do they reach you?

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.

PS: “How to Accelerate Business in A Dismal Economy” was my most successful teleconference of 70 I’ve delivered. It’s available as a download on my site.

But keep you eye out for my next Special Event Teleconference: “From Panic to Profit: How to build your life and your business during tough times.”

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The Dog Star: Deer Me

(The Dog Star is a symbol of power, will, and steadfastness of purpose, and exemplifies the One who has succeeded in bridging the lower and higher consciousness. – Astrological Definition)

The dogs and I were completing our coffee run this morning, turning into the main gate. Koufax was riding shotgun, and Buddy was perched on the truck’s console. We cleared the gate and the three of us came face-to-face with three deer. The smallest was about the size of Koufax, though with slightly longer legs. The six of us just stared for about five seconds. Then the dogs went manic.

While I tried to control them and still watch the deer, which simply trotted around on the grass, I marveled at how many deer were living amongst us, just 60 seconds from Main Street, in wooded areas. The deer were curiously reluctant to leave, when I noticed that the dogs’ focus was not on them, but on two additional deer I hadn’t seen on the other side of the truck, near the bridge. The five joined, took another long look at the two apparently mad dogs, and wandered down by the creek.

I drove up to the house, and Koufax jumped out and headed for the door. Buddy Beagle made a frenzied charge, nose to the ground, trying to make up 200 yards on the deer. I caught Buddy before he caught them. Obviously.

There is a school bus I can see from my den window, through the rear yard’s trees, and a plane silently soaring away from the Providence Airport. And yet, not far away in the other direction, easily within site from other parts of the house, the deer are probably still grazing (or whatever deer do).

It’s refreshing on occasion to stop thinking about “challenging economic times” and just contemplate life. If the deer can survive and even thrive, so can we.

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.

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