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We all know about the benefits of being a hard-working, go-getter sort of consultant. When you repeatedly, routinely put yourself out there and try to make things happen, you eventually get good at it. You build a network and client history. You get higher paying jobs. If you're not afraid to keep hearing the word “no”, you can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars while enjoying a level of freedom and flexibility most people only dream of.
But what about the timid, inactive consultants? The ones who are so terrified of making mistakes and looking bad that they don't do much at all? We know they're not getting great clients and huge monetary benefits, so let's talk about what they ARE getting – because they wouldn't hold back like that if they weren't getting something out of it.
Are You a Timid Consultant?
Deep down, you'll probably know if you ‘re one of the timid consultants I'm talking about. Some people start out there, and others never leave that place. Some are so deeply in denial they don't have the slightest clue they're not doing the things they need to be doing. After all, they've got a website, and they've sent a few emails or filled out a few proposals on ODesk. It's not their fault the money's not piling up, right?
If you're not sure, or if you think you might be in denial, there are a few clear signs to look out for.
You're not contacting potential clients.
This is the biggest, most obvious sign, and I see it all the time. Instead of just reaching out and making connections with people who could hire you, you're putting it off. Maybe you're running ads and hoping people find your website and contact you first. Maybe you're doing endless training courses. I've known a couple people who actually insisted on getting entire degrees before they get stared. It's a mind-blowing waste of time. That's not to say you can't or shouldn't do those other things, but if you want to be a consultant, you need to start contacting people. It's the only way you'll build a network, and it's the only way you'll get better at pitching.
You're contacting clients who are too small to pay you what you're worth.
If you're afraid of failure or change, you might set your sights too low, thinking it will be easier to land little jobs from small clients. In reality, that approach actually sets you up for much more grief, as the smallest clients with the tightest budgets tend to be the ones who require the most work, have the most unrealistic expectations, and the lowest retention rates. What's more, I've never found the small clients to convert at a rate much higher than the big ones, either. It's not that it's bad to take on the occasional small business client, but if you want to make money and avoid burnout, you have to aim higher. You only have so much time, and you can't scale up very well if most of that time is taken up by people who pay far below your desired income level.
You're not standing up for yourself.
You let clients walk all over you. If they want a random hour-long phone call without notice or payment, you take it. If they need something at 10pm on a Saturday night, you do it. When they ask you to come down on your rates, you do it nearly every time.
People don't value you much if you don't value yourself – and letting clients walk all over you will not only make you look weak, it will wear you out and leave you poorer for it. That hour you randomly give up in the middle of your day? It's worth something. It's one thing if you've discussed your availability and factored it into the original pricing, but it's quite another if it's beyond the scope that was originally outlined.
Some clients will take as much as you let them get away with. It's not nice, but it's true. Timid consultants are often so afraid of losing their clients (and being required to go find a replacement, the horror!) that they become doormats.
You daydream about the kind of consultant you want to be, but it feels distant and unreal – and you're not taking any steps to get there.
Maybe you've got a moderately successful consulting business already, or maybe you're just starting. Either way, if you find yourself dreaming of being one type of consultant, but none of your thoughts or actions line up with that vision. You dream of being asked to speak at conferences, or getting pulled into huge 5-6 figure one-off consulting projects, but all you ever do is just continue to service the same old clients and low level referrals. See the disconnect?
Then again, maybe you're occupying yourself with $15-25 social media management or copywriting jobs and you can't even fathom why someone would pay $10k for a single long-form sales page. Too many timid consultants let themselves believe there's something different and special about those people who get the other jobs – and instead of taking action to close the gap. You could make a million different excuses for why that couldn't be you, or why you're not going after it yet – but the only way to close the gap is to take action and risk a little failure and embarrassment.
You go after a few clients, but just a few, and you do it in the ways least likely to cause embarrassment.
When somebody tells me they're not making any progress as a freelancer or consultant, my first questions are usually:
- How many companies and people have you contacted?
- How have you been contacting people?
All too often, the answer to question 1 is under 20, and the answer to question 2 is either ODesk or email.
I'm not going to say those methods don't work, because I've gotten clients both ways. – but it generally takes a lot of pitches to get good at it, and a lot of pitches until you happen upon people who are in need of someone like you. The bigger problem, though, is if you're doing it as an avoidance tactic because you don't want to face the awkwardness of building a personal network and meeting new people. Whenever you have fear or resistance like that, it's worth studying to figure out the why behind it. All the best stuff is just past the scary stuff..
The Benefits of Being a Timid and Inactive Consultant
Still, being a timid, inactive consultant is not without its benefits. Instead of newly-earned confidence, dream fulfillment, and financial success, they get a different set of perks. What could YOU earn by holding back? Well…
You don't have to get off the couch.
Holding back is awesome. Instead of using those extra hours to pitch potential clients and build your business, you can stay on the couch and binge-watch shows on Netflix, go out with friends, or work on your hobbies. True, hard work does present rewards eventually…but laziness pays off NOW.
You can be awesome in your own mind.
In our minds, we can all be the kind of consultants who effortlessly achieve 6 and even 7-figure incomes serving household name clients. Our websites are slick and bug-free, we speak at all the best conferences, and big companies practically beg us to look upon their businesses and tell them what they're doing wrong (and we instantly spot problems that eluded experienced employees for years). Everywhere we go, clients, competitors, and trade publications speak of our otherworldly genius.
When you don't take action, you can protect that mental image by thinking things like, “I could be one of those consultants, but I don't have time right now,” or “I'll do that once I have a little more experience.” Nevermind that deep down, some part of you will know better…
You can view yourself as a martyr.
Some people, particularly those with young kids, like to tell themselves they're not taking action because someone needs their attention or help. Instead of taking hard but important steps towards a better life, they elevate themselves to martyr status in their minds, turning personal issues like inaction and fear into their idea of love and sacrifice (conveniently ignoring the little pockets of time that could have been used productively).
You don't have to do unpleasant things.
Real consultants have to do more than just consulting. There are accountants and bookkeepers to deal with, taxes to pay, and a million different boring little tasks associated with growing your business. It's much easier to treat your work like a hobby and never grow past the sole proprietor stage.
You don't have to adjust your money mindset.
Most of us (myself included) grew up with a middle or working class money mindset. This isn't a post about that, but suffice to say it takes some serious mental work to see $10k/month as realistic when you're used to $2-5k, and it takes a lot to go from a $10k/month to $50-100k/month. By not taking action, you get to avoid the effort and sometimes even pain that goes along with understanding your money issues.
Your relationship with family and friends won't change.
When you start earning more than friends and family, funny things begin to happen. You might feel guilty. They might get jealous (though most will never admit it). They may decide you're screwing people over because there's just no other way you could make so much. People may start asking for money.
You'll want to do things, but friends and family may have to decline. You might offer to pay, and that's awesome and generous but it can make people feel weird. Worse, it can lead to expectations put upon you. If you ever have a slow period or fail publicly at something, all those people who were jealous may take pleasure or poke at it. You may feel pressure to appear successful at all times, leaving you feeling stressed and even more alone when times are hard.
It's tough finding new balances with the people you've always known. You may even lose some friends. Now, you and I both know that if a little money causes someone to stop being your friend, they were never a true friend – but it doesn't make it any less fun.
But hey, if you hang back and struggle like most people, you'll have that in common and you won't have to worry about these things.
You get to be right.
If you're like most people, you've spent your life being told it's hard to make money. Money doesn't grow on trees. A lack of confidence might be telling you that you can't be one of those high-earning consultants you've seen or heard about.
Guess what? If you don't take action, you get to be right, instantly! That may seem so obvious it's trivial, but think about it for a second. It's REALLY hard to accomplish something your mind doesn't really believe you can do. It takes a lot of mental work to start to see yourself as a different kind of person who does these amazing, independent things. You can do that, or you can take the easy route and just prove all your doubts right.
The main point here is that there's so much going on in your head that factors into whether or not you're successful as a freelancer or consultant. If you don't stop once in a while to think about those things, you'll never get past them. Sometimes, we procrastinate because there's something deeper going on.
So – next time you feel like you're not where you want to be, take a moment to think about whether you're being timid, and what might be causing that. What do you gain from holding back? Once you think about it, you may find it much easier to move forward.