Michelangelo Buonarroti was one of the great artists of recorded history. One of his greatest problems was not with tint, or raw materials, or difficult settings, or criticism, though these were all difficulties of one degree or another.
His greatest problem was securing business. He was not wealthy, could not create art for art’s sake, and had to pay his helpers and landlord. He needed business—patrons—in order to survive. He managed to attract them and mostly please them, though with customers such as Popes Julius II and Leo X, you didn’t need enemies or critics.
Can People Do Business with You?
Michelangelo was able to leave us with his grand sculptures, paintings, and the Sistine Chapel ceiling because he had paying customers. He was a pretty good businessman in a time when patrons were finicky, capricious, and all-powerful.
To what extent are you organized to conduct business? I’ll stipulate that you’re probably a very fine consultant. I would suspect you are committed, passionate, possess effective methodologies, and have successfully helped people and organizations in the past. But those qualities are almost worthless if you don’t allow people to do business with you.
Recently, an artist displaying her work at an art fair we visited told us that she usually didn’t ship (the work was ceramic, and we were 3,000 miles from home), and didn’t accept credit cards. Most of the booths around her provided both services. Why was she spending a day in the sun sitting with her work if she wasn’t trying to sell it within reasonable business parameters?
Can you accept credit cards? You don’t have to be selling products. I’ve been paid by no less than Toyota and the Air National Guard with plastic. Can you be available for the business hours of the opposite coast or another country? Will you allow wire transfers of funds internationally? Can you provide evidence of carrying malpractice (errors and omissions) and liability insurance? Can you provide an office and/or conference room if someone visits you?
You Can Dabble but It’s Not Business
This is a business, not a hobby; an occupation, not an avocation. I’ve been told the most ludicrous things by people who come to me for mentoring: They believe they don’t need to incorporate; they should never use a street address (or should never use a postal box number!); that the prospect should pay the expenses when they visit for a sales call; that they should be paid for travel time.
If you want to dabble in consulting because you don’t need the money, by all means, be my guest. You may want to donate that time to non-profits and charities, where it would be most appreciated. But if you intend to support your family and pursue your dreams, you’d better develop the accoutrements required to successfully conduct business.
Let’s put this in proper perspective: You need business processes and skills to support your consulting methodology. You want your consulting methodology to fulfill your marketing strategy. You want your marketing strategy to create business. You want that business in order to generate money. You want that money to support your lifestyle, loved ones, and interests. One of those interests is consulting….
Yes, but the Postage Meter
Get the picture? There is nothing unethical, immoral, or illegal about running an effective business which provides prospects with all reasonable support and responses, and provides you with equitable recompense for your talent and commensurate value. (I suspect that if anyone had had any inkling about Michelangelo’s historic contribution to our aesthetics, he wouldn’t have had such a tough time with his patrons.) Just because you’re in consulting (or art, or teaching piano, or coaching, or calligraphy) doesn’t mean that your profession is antithetical to proper business practices.
Invest in the material goods AND mental preparation you need to be effective as a businessperson. Someone gave a poor review to my book Getting Started in Consulting on Amazon.com because he was outraged that I said a postage meter, scale, etc. were essentials for your office as a consultant! The reviewer (most amateur, vociferous reviewers review because they can’t write) pointed out that this equipment was expensive and a poor use of money for a fledgling consultant. I can just see this guy at the post office with his letters and packages, spending hours in line and buying stamps. If my accountant or attorney or designer did that, they wouldn’t have become my accountant, attorney, and designer.
This is a business and you’re a businessperson. Get used to it and act like it. Michelangelo realized that, and his work has lasted for the ages. So can yours.