I have been in the “advice giving” business since 1981, with a big chunk of that time devoted to helping other advice givers build better businesses. During that time I have done the whole circle of consulting . . . founded, run and sold advice giving businesses; consulted to advice-giving businesses; and hired advice givers in my role as entrepreneur owner and senior executive.  I think I know this space about as well as anyone.

Some quick highlights. I have . . .

  1. Founded or cofounded nearly a dozen advice-giving businesses (and one coffee company). Most were founder funded, one was venture funded, and one angel funded. 
  2. Turned my ideas into programs that have generated millions of dollars of revenue for me and my partners. I have literally cashed single checks from clients for more than a million dollars.
  3.  Helped some of the biggest accounting firms, ad agencies, and financial firms in the world dominate categories and make hundreds of millions in new annual revenues and book billions in new assets by developing breakthrough top line strategies, programs and tactics

I’ve only ever worked for someone else four times . . . otherwise I just figured it out myself.

  1. I worked for Michael Gerber before he wrote his blockbuster book about the e-Myth.  He was still trying to figure it out then.
  2. I worked for a General Engineering and Construction firm running the back office.  Great example of thinking just because I was smart, I could figure it out. Not my superpower. Massive mistake on my part.  I lasted about a year.
  3. My partners and I sold a consulting firm to Onyx, at the time a hot CRM software company. I ran vertical markets, ran competitive intelligence, wrote a book, and did go-to-market consulting for our clients.
  4. And then because I thought it would be interesting to be on the other side, be the executive instead of the advisor, I joined Russell Investments as a Managing Director running US retail marketing.

Add all that up and it’s about seven out of 36 years, more than five of which were at Russell.

Just to give you an idea, here are some of the big name firms I have advised. 

Arthur Andersen, Advisor Software, Bank of America, Barra, Bristol-Myer Squibb, CapitalOne, CIBC, Colgate Palmolive, Colonial First State (Aus), Commonwealth Bank (Aus), EDS, Ernst & Young, Fidelity Investments (FESCO), Fleet Bank, KPMG, Lloyds / TSB, Microsoft, Russell Investments, Teletech, Trimble, Union Bank, United Utilities , Washington Mutual, Wells Fargo Bank, Wells Fargo Mortgage, Young & Rubicam.

There are more lessons learned from these clients than I can recount here.  Having said that, If I were to boil it all down to just a few points, they would be these:

  • Focus and specialize.  Much, much more than you think you should.
  • Treat people fairly . . . don’t offer someone something you wouldn’t accept if they offered it to you.
  • Work with “true pros.”  Don’t take assignments from clients you don’t like and don’t match up with.  Don’t hang around with people who drain your energy.  Do hang around with people who bring out the best in you . . . who make you want to be the best version of yourself you can be.
  • Think “lean.”  There is a ton of literature on lean startups.  The basic idea is get things into the market as quickly as you can.  Minimum Viable Offers. Test, learn, measure, modify, repeat.
  • Never lose site of value . . . the value you create for your clients; the value you place on your time, life energy, and expertise.  A timesheet is horrible way to measure and compensate you for what you know.
  • Build a business that makes you smile