Trust Tree

trust_tree_final_headersizeI can’t tell you how often I’m asked, “What did it take to start your own consulting business?”  

I love that question because it helps me to reflect on what has gotten me here. And by here I mean being able to ride an Icelandic pony on a Monday afternoon. Stand with an intelligent, kind caring executive as she looks into the fire, leaving the past behind to be the best she can be today. Waking up at 5:30 a.m. excited to create and write. Hiking a trail above the Pacific Ocean and having my phone ring and someone saying, “I heard about an amazing talk you gave. I have an event coming up and want to see if you’re available”.


What was my path to this successful consulting business? Well it's a blend of steps I choose to take, unexpected steps that I can only realize I took in hindsight, steps I choose not to take and steps I took that I wished I had not. But they are started with one foot in front of the other as action.


I didn’t go out on my own sooner because I had a story in my head for that I was better working for someone else. That having my own business was too scary and I wasn’t responsible enough, hard working enough, smart enough (there is that "not enough" thing again!).


I was working as the Executive Director of a local non-profit when I got a phone call from a former co-worker. He had moved to a new company and they needed some consulting. He asked if it was okay to give my name. Then another friend called and wanted to refer me to a local organization that needed some consulting for a specific, one-time gig. These little sparks of interest caught my attention. This all started happening at the same time that I started to feel like I had done all I could in my present job.


I also had just found out I had to move out of the house I was renting. My heart was broken. My realtor friend said, “You’ve hit the sweet spot in the market. Buy! Don’t rent!” Uggh. I had made a firm commitment to myself that I would NEVER own a house again (beware of saying never…trust me on this). I decided he was right but I couldn’t leave my job and get approved for a mortgage. This would take some doing!


I had an “ah-ha” moment! Everything was coming together and all the signs meant only one thing. It was go time. I told my realtor to start looking for a house because as soon as my mortgage was approved I was resigning my position. He is a really conscientious, caring guy and he asked me not to tell him this again because it made him nervous for me! But I just knew in my heart space that it was the right thing. Within weeks I found my home, was approved and resigned from my job with only one contract in hand for $750 per month.


This was the perfect storm that propelled me into the beautifully tumultuous waters of my own consulting business. And in the years since, I’ve not looked back until now when a new perfect storm has shown me that there are many others that want to walk this path with me.


What I learned:


1. Understand my strengths. I paid attention to what people most asked me to do. I asked people I had worked with what they thought I did well. I sent as survey to friends asking what they saw in me.


2. Networking. Some of the networking happened through step number 1. “Why are you asking?” they’d say. Once they heard I was going out on my own, people wanted to hire me. I also reached out to people who were doing the kind of work I wanted to do in the way that I wanted to do it. This resulted in a great deal of referrals. My favorite was connecting with people who were doing work one step to the left or the right of what I was doing. These people became great resources for me.


3 Coaching. I’ve found coaches who have the skills to stand with me when I was insecure, felt vulnerable or needed something spotlighted so I could improve or change course. Who weren’t afraid to be frank. Through coaching I’ve learned that I’m not broken, I am capable and have some really amazing skills for doing the work I do. I have several of these people in my life. It is critically important to make sure that anyone you use for coaching is doing what I call “clean” coaching and aren’t trying to drive you toward their own goals or fears. Check out the missteps below for more on this.


4 Mentors. I surrounded myself with people who were operating on the level I want to operate on. This includes in person through workshops and retreats, reading their books, blogs and following them on social media. Piles of books and reading material continually surround me. Michael Gunther of Collaboration Business Consulting uses the term relentless learner. That describes me perfectly.


5 Create a Team. It took me a few years to really understand that my business is stronger and better when I get help with the things I don’t do well. I’ve hired someone to do my accounting, filing and generally organize me. I’ve hired a highly skilled person to do post my content on line, manage my website and a multitude of other tasks. And I’ve partnered with an amazing woman whose entire focus is on helping me amplify my business and the representation of it.


6 Find My Tribe. What I know above all else is that growth happens magically in a group-learning format. I facilitate a Mastermind group of CEO’s for one of my clients and that has been a mind-blowing experience. I participated as a client in a program that used the word mastermind in it’s title (see missteps below) but it wasn’t until I saw the value of this CEO group and read what Napoleon Hill was talking about when he coined the term Mastermind. Check out this video of him talking about Mastermind (remember it is through the lens of the someone at the turn of the century).


7 Place of Authentic Integrity. These instrumental people in my life thus far showed the greatest key to my success to me. Dr. Mary Kay Stenger who helped me to understand that I have all the knowledge I need in me and that it is in caring for myself (meditation, time in nature, writing and being connected with those I love and care for) that I do my best work for clients. Bart Crawford, Crawford Collaborative Consulting helped me to see that self-employment means I get to choose the work I do and don’t do. I can always choose to work with people I enjoy and have the same passion and purpose. Brooke Branning, successful entrepreneur and businessperson, who reminds me that loving my work and loving to work isn’t a bad thing. It is actually a blessing. She reminds me that there is no quick scheme for overnight success. The path to success is filled with calculated risks, operating intentionally from my place of deepest authentic integrity and being kind to myself about missteps.


A few missteps:


In looking to continue to grow, I looked for an Internet coach to help me expand my work. I entered into a mastermind coaching relationship to up-level my business. What I found was a better sales person than a coach who was pushing my business to where she shined instead of where I shined. I take full responsibility because I wasn’t 100% clear on what I wanted and I fell for the idea that someone knew how to grow my business better than I did. It took me off balance for a few months.


I realize now that what I was seeking was a group like Napoleon Hill describes. A group in which no one is the guru and everyone is the teacher. A group in which we are all relentless learners. A group in which I can share my knowledge and my vulnerabilities with equal passion. A group where we all come from the same place of authentic integrity. A group where coaching is clean and not about the coach. Thankfully I’ve found that group. Not surprisingly the core is composed of people like me who first found what they weren’t seeking. Next Tuesday I head to Chicago for the first retreat of these like-minded people. A place to grow and learn, reflect and look forward, share strengths and vulnerabilities and build strong, long-term connections.


Everyone in the group is looking to level up in some way. Some are business people. Some are wondering how to tap into their passion and purpose as they navigate milestones and transitions. Others are entrepreneurs seeking ways to collaborate and grow.


Because you are someone who is connected with me through my work, I think it would be great to have you as part of this amazing community! If this sounds like a group you want to connect with, put your name on this list. This upcoming retreat is full. The good news is you can get your name on the list for the next retreat this fall.


Click here to learn more about the Trust Tree!