Magazine article Training & Development

Diary of a Consultant

Magazine article Training & Development

Diary of a Consultant

Article excerpt

Last month, David wrote about how Clow Zahn Associates officially launched and sold its first few projects. Now, after the euphoria of starting their own firm has begun to wane, it's time for David and Jeff to get down to doing business day-in, day-out. Here's how they sorted out their roles to sustain a thriving practice.


September 5

With the official close of the summer and the excited chatter of our kids about back-to-school specials (and an end for me having to make creative excuses for not appearing in a bathing suit), Jeff and I are eager to ensure that our first couple of months were only the beginning of an uphill trend of success.

The bills are coming in on a regular basis now--office rent and supplies, professional services, credit cards, and so forth. In rough terms, Jeff is the recognized sales or outside guy; I am the operations or inside guy. Therefore, I keep the checkbook and ensure that cash flow and deposits and all matters financial are watched carefully. I also maintain our inventory of supplies (binders, tabs, printer toner, and so on) at an appropriate volume, and Jeff focuses on pursuing opportunities to get in front of clients. With frequent discussions between us and being vigilant not to let bills pile up or let decisions be made unilaterally, we fall into the rhythm of our respective jobs. We both contribute across all functions, but, generally speaking, I take care of operations and Jeff takes care of sales.

September 13

Jeff's wife calls while we're out of town on a client assignment to let Jeff know that his teenaged son, Chase, has been sent home from his job with extreme pain in his chest and difficulty breathing. Had there not been an airplane available to take Jeff home, I'm reasonably certain he would have run across two time zones and arrived at the same time as the plane. I complete the session with the client (who is very understanding and offers to leave at once), but my thoughts are with Jeff and his son.

Later in my hotel room, I reach Jeff and get more details. Chase experienced a collapsed lung (the fact that he's 6'3" and rail-thin turns out to be a contributing factor) and will need surgery if it doesn't heal on its own. My thoughts are for his speedy recovery. (Jeff and I had co-coached Chase in Little League, and Chase's fastball once broke the ring finger on my left hand. Since then, I've felt linked to Chase, due to my forever-crooked finger.)

September 21

Chase is going to need surgery. Jeff is distracted, but he still tries to fulfill the requirements of the burgeoning firm, as well as schedule doctor appointments and x-rays and call insurance companies. I try to ramp up my own contributions in the selling effort, spending a few hours each day on it to give Jeff some extra time.

September 29

Jeff and I leave the hospital after visiting Cahse post-surgery to meet with a client who has a fairly simple need. On the way, Jeff and I discuss our approach. He feels ready to address this issue (and also seeks a break from seeing his son in pain), and we agree that we can't make it appear that the solution the client wants is all too easy to see. We decide to spend a good part of the meeting having the client play back to us what the need is, what has been tried before, why that has or hasn't worked, and what would constitute a good outcome this time.

We're escorted into the meeting room, and Jeff turns on the sales magic he's noted for. I have more of a meat-and-potatoes consultant style. I prefer the logical approaches, penetrating questions, clever insights, creativity, and being factual in my recommendations. Fortunately, in this instance, Jeff kicks off the meeting and engages the client in banter and discussion and very slowly leads the client to our agreed-upon recommendation. When Jeff starts to run out of steam or questions or (just needs a break), he turns to me (trying to hide that I'm bristling at the slow pace) and asks me to expound on the benefits of one approach over another. …

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