Dan Coughlin

Article Summary:

Ten tips on how to build a professional service firm.

Building a Professional Service Firm

In January of 1998 I left my position as a high school math teacher for Fenton University High School and set out on my own to form a consulting firm, The Coughlin Company, Inc., that would specialize in enhancing the effectiveness of top performing executives. Over the past 38 months I have tried many ideas, failed often, always learned and along the way worked with corporations such as McDonald's Corporation, The Coca-Cola Company, Marriott International, Eli Lilly, IKON Office Solutions, Fenton Cardinals, SBC Communications, Gundaker Realtors and many, many others. What follows are some of the most important concepts I've learned for building a professional services firm from scratch.

This is critical to your success. Your internal foundation consists of your self-esteem (the value you see within yourself), self-confidence (your expectation for success), self-discipline (your ability to do what you say you will do), personal integrity (your ability to do what you say is the right thing to do) and personal initiative (your ability to move an idea into action.) These five components are the basis of your long-term success. You must see the value you have within you before you will ever be able to offer value to a customer.

Clarity is the ability to see and communicate things clearly. Why does your business exist? How do you deliver value? What value do you deliver? If you were ultimately successfully in your business, what would success look like for you, your customers and their customers? What are your 3 most important priorities? Without clarity, your efforts will go in ten directions and you will become less effective. With clarity, you can drive better results in your highest priorities.

Value is anything that increases the chances that another person will achieve what they want to achieve. Your job is to add value. I don't think of myself as a consultant, professional speaker or executive coach. I think of myself as a value adder. All of my marketing is value-based marketing. By that, I mean that every time I interact with another person I want to add value in the form of clear and practical suggestions. This can be done in a conversation, in an e-mail, in an article, in a presentation, in facilitating a meeting, in a written recap and many other ways.

I don't work with McDonald's, Coca-Cola or Marriott. I work with people who work at these organizations. That is important to keep in mind. The basis of your business is relationships. I'm not talking about someone who buys off your website or contacts you solely through e-mail. I'm talking about real-life relationships with people. And I'm also talking about relationships based on value where you are increasing their chances of achieving better results in their highest priorities. When you come across an idea that would be of value to that person, send it on to them. This could be in the form of an article or a story or an idea that popped into your head. Meet with them for lunch and offer more practical suggestions.

Synergy happens when every part of your business supports and promotes every other part of your business. Say, for example, you have an idea that would be of value to your customers and prospects. You could write an article, provide a keynote or workshop or seminar on it, place the article on your website, give the article as a handout at a meeting, insert the idea into a conversation, and connect the idea to several other ideas to make it stronger. If you work in multiple industries, you could take what works well in one industry and apply it to another industry. If you have a testimonial from the vice-president of a major company, you can use that as a credibility builder for another industry. You could get into an organization by speaking on one topic, but then stay around by speaking about several other topics. You can offer value in multiple ways: as a presenter, facilitator, individual coach, telecoaching, coaching via e-mail or voicemail, author of books and videos and audio programs and several other ways. You might get into an organization coaching one person and end up presenting to huge groups of people.

Strategies are guidelines that channel all of your activities, decisions and meetings along the same path toward achieving your vision. So what guidelines do you want in place that will channel your efforts toward achieving your vision? The clearer your strategies are, the better your chances are of hitting the mark. For example, my strategies include: strengthen my internal foundation, expand intellectual breadth, build a brand based on a professional image and value-added marketing, hone my craft and master the proposal process. Everything I do fits within those five strategies. What are yours?

In my opinion, the only consistently fair way to base your fees for both you and the buyer is value-based fees. In other words, the fees have to fit reasonably within the value of the outcomes for the buyer. "Reasonably" means that they are not so high that they are bigger than the value of the outcomes and that they are not so low that you feel the buyer is ripping you off.

Every day try at least one new idea, one new wrinkle in your program, one new approach to a prospect, one new networking event, one new topic, one new book, one new magazine, and/or one new life experience. It will not take very long to double and triple and quadruple your effectiveness and your fee.

Essentially, we are in the business of gaining opportunities to deliver value, delivering the goods and charging appropriately. We never know which door will open for us or how big the room will be so we must constantly search for opportunities. Make a list of everyone who thinks well of you. Write four practical articles that would be of value to them on topics you know well and mail those articles to them with a personal note from you. Always add value and then take on the opportunities that you can. You never know who will introduce you to the right person for the opportunity to add value.

In the end, remember what Stephen King said in his book, On Writing, "Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around." Take 3-4 vacations a year. Reserve your nights for your family and friends. Take time to play and have fun. Laugh a lot. When times seem toughest, go for a walk, get some fresh air and get away from your phone and desk. Always your renewed energy will have a positive impact on your business. Customers want us to be fresh and energized. They expect us to come with solutions, not problems.

As a consultant and professional speaker, Dan Coughlin works with executives and entrepreneurs to accelerate their critical business outcomes. His clients include McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Marriott, Citigroup, St. Louis Cardinals, SBC Communications, Auxeris Therapeutics, Fru-Con, McCarthy Construction and more than 70 other organizations. He specializes in leadership, management, teamwork, innovation, branding and strategy. He has more than 100 free articles on his website, www.thecoughlin company.com.

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