Four years ago, I decided to leave my position at one of the nation’s top Big 4 consulting firms to launch my own company. I was beyond tired of the corporate BS and knew that I could do something better and more impactful on my own. Looking back, I was BOLD. Starting a business is a tremendous effort and risk. But for me, it was riskier and more dangerous to continue to operate in an environment where my talents and contributions weren’t being respected and rewarded. Over the span of these past 4 years, Precise Process Consulting has grown into an extremely successful boutique consulting firm and developed a reputation for being experts in the areas of Change Management and Process Improvement. However, it was not without its ups and downs, and sometimes painful lessons learned. So, in honor of this achievement, I want to reflect on the 4 Biggest Lessons Learned in my 4 years as a business owner:
- It’s Not Enough to Be Great- In my naivety, I believed the ability to offer exceptional consulting at more competitive rates would instantly set Precise Process Consulting apart and position us for greatness. But unfortunately, as good as our consultants are, we were an unknown entity. I learned that a lot of time and effort would continuously be required to position the company where it deserved to be, as a premier consulting firm at the top of our client’s list. I decided that in order to establish the company we would need to not just meet but exceed expectations at every step of the way. I invested time and energy into going above and beyond, being flexible and adaptable to our clients needs and even anticipating issues. I showed client appreciation, sent thank you notes and holiday gifts. I wanted to make our company more than just a consulting firm, it had to be an experience. I wanted our clients to really enjoy doing business with us.
- Persistency Pays Off, and I’m Persistent- Rejection is a frequent part of entrepreneurship, and it can be discouraging. Luckily, I was well positioned for muddling my way through the countless rejections received throughout the business because I had NEVER had it easy. From growing up as a Black girl who liked math and wanted to be an engineer, I never took the easy path and had constantly heard No. Frankly, I was used to it. My father has a saying that I love, “It never hurts to ask, the worst they can say is No and then you’re right there where you started anyway”. When I was launching the business and trying to find potential clients and projects, I heard a lot of No’s. In fact, I have heard way more No’s than Yes’s. But a no wouldn’t stop me, I would still follow-up, and check back and continue to reach out. Because I knew, when and if something did come up, I needed to be top of mind. We weren’t some big-name firm that could coast on name recognition, we would have to fight for every project and opportunity. Just as I had done my entire life.
- Consulting is Cutthroat, Big Bad Big 4- One thing I hadn’t anticipated however, was the vicious and blatant hatred and deception experienced on projects with other big consulting firms. On my 3rd project as a new business, we were collaborating on a project with one of my ex-consulting firms. We were leading the Change Management effort while they were responsible for the Systems/Technology piece. You would think a major company with million-dollar projects would have better things to do than be intimidated by and subsequently harass a small startup. Well, you would be wrong. Their portion of the project was a disaster, but at every turn they would attempt to shift blame or find opportunities to throw my company under the bus for their mistakes. I was placed in the exceedingly difficult position of trying to defend my company and stand our ground, without being perceived as the “angry Black woman”. Fortunately, I had built a small team of advocates who supported me at the client and could see past the Big 4’s attempted tricks. However, this wouldn’t always be the case because typically the big firms had higher level contacts than I did at the company (somebody had to sign off on those bloated contracts). I would learn that every project or situation was not a winnable situation for us and we would sometimes have to take a loss on certain items.
- People Must Pivot, Change is Required- One of the biggest lessons for me came last year in the wake of the now infamous pandemic. I had grown the business to a really solid place and found some good reoccurring clients. Well, as usual just when you think you’ve got it all together, life throws you a curve ball. When the pandemic struck and companies were forced to shut down, uncertainty and fear took over within the business world. Projects began to get delayed or cancelled, and some of my top clients were bleeding money due to the shutdowns. I realized that I had to reevaluate the services we were prioritizing and the types of clients/industries we pursued. The carefully planned Sales & Marketing strategy I had developed for 2020 had to be completely thrown out and rewritten. And I had to do this in the midst of still managing employees and working projects. 2020 was TOUGH. But it taught me so much about how to pivot and change, and frankly, it made me practice what I preached. Change Management isn’t just something we consult on, we LIVE IT.
Despite all the challenges and unexpected changes however, I can’t say I would change a thing. I wake up everyday and genuinely love what I do and the culture that I have created at PPC. I am in awe of the journey that I have been able to take and optimistic about the path ahead. And now more than ever, I know I can withstand the storm. So, as we come into this new season of change I am curious to know, what lessons you have gained from these past few years within your career? Please share in the comments