I do a lot of speaking.  My audiences range from college students to senior executives.  I enjoy them all.  Speaking can be a great way to build your business and your brand.  I have met so many great friends and clients through my various speaking engagements.  I end every presentation with the points below, regardless of the audience.  They are equally important to college students and senior executives.

Never compromise your ethics, integrity or the quality of your work

This sounds like a statement on morality, but I am actually focused on good business practices.  The world is very small and bad news travels quickly.

My Dad was a Silicon Valley CEO.  He was extremely disciplined and went to the gym every morning at 5:00 am before work.  He worked out at an executive gym in the heart of Silicon Valley.  Although my Dad had a huge personality, he was not a big man.  One morning he was working out in the weight room and another guy had just come in from the pool.  He was dripping water all over the equipment.  My Dad asked him to grab a towel and wipe up the water.  The guy looked at my Dad and said, “What are you going to do about it, Skinny?”  My Dad ignored him and finished his workout.  A little later that morning around 10:00 am, Jane, my Dad’s long-time secretary said, “Dan, the gentleman is here to see you about purchasing new health insurance for the company.”  My Dad made his way out to the lobby to greet his appointment.  You know what I’m going to say, don’t you?  You know who it was?  Right.  The idiot from the gym that very morning.  My Dad said the guy looked at him and said, “Oh sh#t…”  I asked my Dad what he did.  He said, “Well, I listened to the guy’s pitch but, what do you know, I didn’t end up buying health insurance from him.”

I love this story.  Karma, sweet, karma.  But it’s also a good reminder to mind your P’s and Q’s.

Suit up

Now that your business card no longer says Microsoft, it’s more important than ever before to be professional.  Now is not the time to show up in shorts and flip flops.  You are a highly skilled professional and you want to be paid and treated as a highly skilled professional.  This means you need to look and act like one.  If I am presenting to the board of a pharmaceutical company, I wear my best suit, best shoes and carry my best briefcase.  If I am climbing on the roof of Target (yes, this has happened doing a project for a national HVAC company), I wear jeans and tennies. I want you to be thoughtful about how you dress.

It’s important to be professional in aspects beyond appearance as well.  Your phone greeting and business cards should be professional quality.  Good quality business cards are not expensive, and they are readily available for $20 to $30.  This should be one of your first investments.  Don’t worry if these are not your final version, for $20 you can do them again in a few months.  Make sure your voice mail message sounds professional.  Under no circumstances should it be the kids singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer during the holidays. LOL!  Make sure your email address is some permutation of your first and last name.  It should not be lovestoknit@aol.com.  Don’t laugh, I have seen this many times.  Some people have always had a corporate email address, so they forget their personal email address is not appropriate for professional use.

You don’t need a web site right away.  If you use a custom domain or URL, you can point it to your LinkedIn profile until you are ready for a web site.  When you do have a web site, make sure it is professional.  You should probably not build it yourself.  You also need a good, professional head shot for your web site and your LinkedIn profile.  Please don’t use a selfie you took on vacation in Hawaii.

Regular mail correspondence is rare these days, but please remember that business correspondence is not addressed by hand.  Take the time to get out the labels and run them through the printer if you do need to send something via regular mail.  The one exception to this is a handwritten thank you note.

Treasure your relationships – they will be your gold

All of my business comes from referral and yours will too.  It’s always somebody I know.  Or somebody who knows somebody I know.  Most consulting business comes from referrals.

“People buy from people that they like and can relate to,” says Adrian Miller, a sales trainer based in Port Washington, N.Y. “When business owners overlook the importance of that personal connection, they run the risk of losing the prospect to someone else–usually someone who took the time to create a relationship and help the prospect buy something rather than trying to simply sell to them.”

Never burn a bridge

Do I really need to tell you this?  There are times when it is so tempting to go out in flames.  Don’t do it.  It never serves you.  Be selfish.

From time to time I end up with a client who is a real jerk.  Luckily, I get to choose my engagements, so I don’t have to work with that person again.  I don’t say a word about it to anyone, but the next time they call I can say, “I am so sorry, but my capacity is fully booked for the next 18 months.   I don’t have the bandwidth to take on your project.”

I managed a lot of people during my corporate years and still serve as a mentor to many of them.  Here is the advice I give for resignations and exit interviews.  You say, “Thank you very much for this amazing experience.  I am leaving because I have been offered an opportunity that is too good to pass up.”  This is all you say, everything positive and nothing negative.  It does not serve you to complain or criticize.  You can leave a bottle of champagne for your boss if you think it’s appropriate.

Be very careful about working for free – save that for the non-profit sector

Never work for free.  It doesn’t pay the mortgage or the health insurance or the college tuition.  As soon as you become a consultant, smart people with good ideas will come out of the woodwork looking for your free expert help.  Make a rule now that you will never work for free.  That doesn’t mean you can’t review a business plan for a buddy or bounce around ideas over a glass of wine.  But never do real work for free.  Make that a rule and stick to it.  I promise you will thank me.

This doesn’t mean you don’t give.  It doesn’t mean you aren’t generous.  It doesn’t mean that you aren’t focused on building good relationships where both parties contribute.  I’m talking about real work, that in your gut, you know you should be paid for.

It’s pretty easy to get a job that doesn’t pay.  But here’s the thing, if you’re not getting paid, it’s not a real gig.  If you are working for free the client should be a 501c3.  That is the IRS designation for a non-profit organization.  And in that case, it’s called volunteering.  The fact that an entity isn’t making a profit does not mean they are a non-profit organization.  All the more reason to stay clear.

There is no such thing as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity

You will have many “once in a lifetime” opportunities.  Even American Idol sometimes brings people back.  Trust your gut and don’t be seduced by an opportunity that doesn’t make sense.  Something better will come along.  I promise.

Initiative will take you far

It’s surprising how far you can get if you simply ask.  I have met with so many amazing people over the years simply because I asked.  Be polite, assertive and respectful.  Some of those meetings turned into great jobs and fantastic projects.  Initiative will take you far.

People sometimes ask me, “What can I learn from you that I couldn’t figure out on my own?” I reply, “Absolutely nothing, but it took me 15 years, how long do you want to wait?”

It’s easier than you think to start consulting. All you need is a computer, a phone, brainpower and business experience. The work is the same as the work you’ve been doing in your corporate job only better.

The best way to get started as a consultant is to dive in. This free email course will walk you through three action steps to generate revenue now. If you start right away, you can be doing billable work as soon as next week. Following these three action steps gives you the best possible chance of landing a consulting project. It works for me and I see it work for others, over and over again. Take control and take the plunge!

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