Celebrating 1 year in business – What I’ve learned along the way.

It’s been one year since founding Three Chairs Consulting. From setting up an ABN, TFN, PAYG, domain names, and a website, to finding clients and delivering to high quality standards – the year has been packed with experiences that have taught me a lot about business and myself.

For context, Three Chairs Consulting works with customers to support business strategy, change and transformation. This year, our clients have included Roads Australia, IAG, CGU, RMIT, Fenwick Software, and Bega. Our key programs have involved strategy development, strategic partnerships and alliances, governance, leadership development, capability uplift and cultural change.

1. To earn business in the consulting space requires a huge amount of trust. This is one reason why your existing network is so important.

When someone knows you, your brand, or your team, it’s easy to have a conversation about how you can work together. You have a basis of trust. Trust is absolutely essential to work effectively with a customer as part of their team.

At a recent Women in Leadership Program at Melbourne Business School, Marianne Broadband shared a framework around this that seems appropriate to share here. In short, trust is a combination of character and competence. Where character is comprised of intent and integrity, and competence is made up of capability and results.

So, if you are out there trying to establish a business, the first place to look is the people who know you. The people who know that you and your team operate with integrity and know how to get results. With newer opportunities, building this trust quickly is critical.

2. Building new networks is a lot of fun and a great way to build industry knowledge.

This year I’ve attended some great events, including events put on my Melbourne Business School, Roads Australia, Fine Foods International Australia, Tangible and AICD. This has helped broaden my industry knowledge, as well as serving as a brilliant way to meet fascinating people across diverse industries. I’ve turned up to a few events where I had absolutely no idea what to expect, and have found it valuable every time. For introverts, sign up, put it in your diary, and commit to going along.

3. Structuring your time is critical.

Someone recently shared the expression ‘feast or famine’ and that seems like a great way to describe what it can be like when you’re first starting out. When the work comes, you need to quickly scale to deliver, while simultaneously keeping a close eye on quality and making time to continue to develop your pipeline. A slow period for delivery can be challenging mentally for those of us who enjoy focusing on a project or a complex problem, but these are the obvious opportunities to sit back and consider the horizon. To think about the wider issues facing your clients and how you might help address them.

I’ve found it useful to diarise my time for marketing, business development, customer delivery, and other key activities. This way I can step back, review, and make sure I’m not neglecting to maintain a balanced approach.

4. “Discovery” to understand your customers.

It’s tempting to jump to solution mode when you see a clear pathway to solve a problem. But taking a bit of time upfront to get to understand the business problem is critical to ensure the solution design is fit for purpose. Interviews, surveys, and observations all provide valuable insights about your customers.

5. People are incredibly generous in offering help and advice.

I’ve been absolutely blown away by the amount of support my family, friends and colleagues have offered. From website design and business coaching to making introductions and connections, I have felt supported the whole way through. Other people have remarked on how lonely of a journey it must be founding a business, but I have found the opposite to be true.   

I am enormously grateful for everyone that has provided advice, guidance and opportunities. Thank you.

6. Failure is an opportunity to succeed later.

I reflect back on one proposal that didn’t make the cut, and I can clearly see why. It’s like looking back over an old resume (yikes!). While I’m still learning, I’ve been able to improve on a number of fronts. Taking a realistic look back to find opportunities to learn has been very helpful. On that note, I’m grateful to everyone who has provided feedback along the way. It takes courage to give constructive feedback, and it’s so incredibly helpful.  

For others out there who have started a business – what have you learned? Or on the other side, for anyone thinking about starting up a business, what would you like to know?