Should You Be a Consultant?
Teufel kindly invited me to have a drink with him at the Oak Bar in the Plaza Hotel, where he gave me two pieces of advice that served me well and remain etched in my memory to this day.
Incidentally, this isn’t just advice for freelancers, but for anyone in any business.
1. Don’t over promise. Never guarantee delivery of two or more big projects on the same day or even the same week. Even out your workflow. Otherwise, you’ll miss deadlines and tick off the people who were expecting the work.
2. Always go first class. Clients and prospective clients like to do business with people who have an aura of success. Wear nice clothes, Teufel told me. Drive a nice car. Take clients to nice restaurants. When I told Peggy, she said, “I can live with that.”
Shortly thereafter, I met a hard-charging direct mail pro named Jim Prednergast who hired me by the day to write copy in his office, and gave me weekend assignments on a per project basis. I was on my way.
In 10 years freelancing and consulting, I was hired by all kinds of businesses that I needed to become intimately familiar with in order to write their mailings and ads. People were paying me money to learn all kinds of fascinating things. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Over the years, I discovered three additional rules that are critical to being a successful consultant or businessperson:
3. Never let a single client (or customer) represent more than 40 percent of your business. Maybe the number is 30 pecent or 50 percent, but if you get fired by a client—or dropped by a customer—that you were counting on for 80 percent or more of your revenue, you have a problem. An example of this was in the news this week about Imclone—memorable for the insider trading by Martha Stewart and founder Sam Waksal that landed them both in jail. A judge decreed that Imclone didn’t have exclusive rights to the patent on the colon-cancer drug, Erbitux, which is basically the company’s only commercially available product. Right now, Imclone must do some fancy footwork to survive.