“You’re my last client. After this, I’m no longer a consultant.”
These words escaped my mouth last week at the beginning of an otherwise routine consulting session. They weren’t easy to say; I was a bit numb in the moment. In something like an out-of-body experience, a removed part of me watched me say the words as though they weren’t mine. I’ve been a consultant for 13 years. A large part of my identity is wrapped up in that word, consultant.
“What do you do?” people ask.
“I don’t do anything,” is my standard reply. “I’m a consultant.”
Not anymore. I’m done. I know this is the right decision because I am equal parts terrified and exhilarated.
I’m not retiring. Not today. Possibly not ever. When I was 25 I identified strongly with the concept of retirement, and even planned for it. Today, just past my 48th birthday, I can’t possibly conceive of it. I no longer see an end to my work, I just see the nature and volume of it changing as I get older. There is no line on the horizon after which I don’t see myself working, just a decline in effort and a shedding of inefficiencies and anything I don’t enjoy.
Neither am I abandoning my mission of changing the way creative services are bought and sold the world over. I’m just evacuating the messy world of customized services that is consulting engagements. I’m proud of the contribution I’ve made to the creative professions in helping to inspire, teach and sometimes cajole professionals to a higher level of confidence and performance, but doing this through the medium of one-at-a-time consulting engagements has been a plodding journey of mixed results.
“How many firms have you worked with?” my last client asked shortly after I told them the news. The truth is I don’t know. I’ve never counted, but it has to be less than 200 consulting engagements. It may be only slightly more than 100. That’s a paltry number for someone so bent on achieving big change across so many people in so many corners of the world. The truth is any scale I’ve achieved has come from writing (almost 10k copies of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto sold in various formats, 10k monthly readers of these articles), speaking (between 1k and 2k people per year), live and recorded webcasts (300 views per month) and most recently from the remote training programs I’ve been running the last couple of years (16-32 firms per year). The truth is consulting keeps me from all these other more highly scaled models that allow me to reach more people and have a greater impact.
Scale wasn’t important to me when I was younger but as I approach 50 I find it is becoming increasingly important. Perhaps I’m recognizing that I only have so much time to make a difference. I also find myself on a ruthless search for efficiency in an attempt to expand and improve my life outside of work. I’m now keenly aware of what I’m good at and what I love to do and I’m working hard to extricate myself from things that can and should be done by other people. I believe I am meant to think, write, develop curriculum, inspire, evolve, grow & change. I still want to work, I just cannot consult.
Instead, as of today, Win Without Pitching is a training and coaching company. I and my expanding group of co-workers have re-oriented the entire business to work with multiple firms at once, in structured programs over minimum time commitments of one year, while freeing me up to focus on my strengths and make the biggest impact I possibly can.
I am the head trainer and coach. I develop the curriculum, and for now I deliver it. I’ve already reached out to some of my best clients about helping me in the coming years. In my work I’ve encountered some extraordinary people that very quickly became much better than me at some of the material I was teaching them. They took it to the trenches and made it work. My Win Without Pitching stories over the years have really been theirs. For years I could never envision letting someone else deliver “my material.” Now I see it would be negligent to not enlist the most exceptional of these people to help, if they will agree to do so.
In Search of a New Label (Who Am I?)
I’ve been using the term recovering consultant for about two years now as I fumbled my way from consulting toward something different. That was a transitional label and now it’s time for a new one. I know what this new label is but I’ve never said it before. I’ve never felt comfortable with or worthy of the word, until now.
Hello, my name is Blair Enns. I’m an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs create economic and personal or subjective value in the world, and most importantly to me, they do so by building teams and infrastructures that outlast them. Independent consultants are lone wolves whose work is done when they are. The best CEOs, those who sit atop great teams, are ruthless at shedding tasks and responsibilities that can be done by others. That’s where I am today, building a team and shedding tasks. Pursuing scale and legacy.
My mission hasn’t changed. I’m still focused on changing the way creative services are bought and sold the world over. Only now it’s not one firm at a time and the mission is not just mine. Now that I am freed to write more, think deeper, create better tools and bring to you the gifts of others including those who have been able to Win Without Pitching for themselves, the impact we will have together far exceeds what I could ever accomplish alone. Watch us, and behold the speed, scale and grace with which we pursue our mission. Better still, join us.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunities to help improve the performance of your firm, and most meaningfully to me, the chance to help you improve your own personal sense of mastery. Long may it continue, in a form that works even better for both of us.