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10 Rules to be Happier as a Consulting Firm Leader

You don’t have to run a consulting firm, you know. You could return to a corporate role or enter an entirely different profession like law, accounting or dairy farming.

If you’re going to lead a consulting practice, consulting should make you happy. Just sayin’.

Most consultants I encounter seem to enjoy the profession. After all, it’s easy enough to leave if you don’t like it.

With a couple of small tweaks, running your consulting firm could provide daily doses of good cheer and could enable an (even more) fulfilling life.

I’m not saying every day will be unicorns, rainbows and cheese that magically lowers your cholesterol; but, an overall preponderance of smiles is a reasonable daily goal. Let’s go for that.

10 Rules to be Happier as a Consulting Firm Leader

1. Create Long-Term Congruence

Align your consulting firm with your broader, long-term, personal goals.

2. Calibrate the Work to Your Preferences

Consider how work-related factors affect your happiness (e.g., amount of interaction, types of tasks, level of stability vs. growth, financial needs), then tune your workday to maximize those factors.

3. Embrace Growth

Instead of bemoaning the parts of the job you don’t like, embrace them as an opportunity to stretch yourself and grow.

4. Start and End Happy

Consulting is more likely to support your good cheer if you’re already in high spirits.

Create habits that help you start and end each day, week, quarter and year happy, like keeping a gratitude journal or reflecting on your progress.

5. Put Basic Engines in Place

Reduce the stress of attracting clients and producing outputs.

When you invest in your delivery and business development engines, the payback is a more lucrative practice and a boost to your daily joy.

6. Share the Burden

Create a cadre of cheerleaders who will give you an energy jolt if your juice is low.

Also tap into an outside advisor, mentor or coach who can guide you and give you perspective on difficult or discouraging situations based on experience.

7. Choose Great Clients and Colleagues

Why work hand in hand with people who are rude, surly, unappreciative, or don’t like ice cream?

It’s your firm. You get to accept or decline prospective clients and colleagues.

8. Give What You Want to Receive

You get an endorphin kick when you’re the beneficiary of upbeat, kind, generous behavior.

Model those traits for the people you work with throughout your workday, and you’ll enjoy more in return. *

9. Stay Right-Side Up

If your focus is primarily on yourself, your firm and your solutions, you’ll eventually find your practice unfulfilling and a grind.

Be more enthralled by the problem you solve and the people you serve than by your solution or your consulting firm. That way you’ll constantly making your clients’ lives better and yourself happier.

10. What Else?

What makes you happy and/or what rule should we add to the list?


15 Comments
  1. Gwen A.
    November 16, 2022 at 7:12 am Reply

    I’ll just add one more: When I was first starting my business, I asked a mentor how she managed the insecurity and inconsistency of earning money as a consultant. She said that she had a full year of money set aside, so that she was actually earning money for the next year, not the current year. It’s essentially a mental accounting trick for the cash savings, but I find it really makes me happy to think I’m earning money for 2023, not 2022 because 2022 is already taken care of. It means I’m always ahead of the game, and have the freedom to take the rest of the year off at any time if I feel like it, and don’t have to worry if things slow down for a while.

    • David A. Fields
      November 16, 2022 at 8:12 am Reply

      That’s a darn good happiness hack, Gwen! On an individual basis, everyone whose consulting practice has hit a reasonable pace can build a one-year cash cushion.

      At the firm level, you can apply the same idea, though on a shorter time scale because of accounting rules. If you’re charging for value rather than time, you have some flexibility to determine when value (and, therefore, income) is created during a project. My firm uses that to stay a fiscal quarter ahead. It’s a very similar principal to what you suggested, Gwen, and allows us to hit our happiness-creating “MVP” financial goal early in the year.

      Thank you for that clever contribution, Gwen. I’m sure a lot of readers are going to follow your lead.

    • Joe Gregory
      November 16, 2022 at 3:46 pm Reply

      I love this reframe, Gwen. I’ve called mine a reserve.

  2. Lisa Feldman
    November 16, 2022 at 11:35 am Reply

    Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings! What a great article to start the day with. I would add that we should always seek ways to take advantage of our own individual strengths — and find partners with different strengths to help us through our challenges. Don’t struggle alone — there is always someone who finds the stuff you find horrible to be super fun for them.

    • David A. Fields
      November 16, 2022 at 12:02 pm Reply

      Woo hoo on starting the day with inspiring thoughts and uplifting metaphors, Lisa! You’re absolutely right that playing to our own strengths is key, as is realizing that you’re never alone. Your point is even more powerful: when you share your struggles with someone else, you’re giving them the gift of being able to use their strengths.

      Truly lovely additions to the article, Lisa. Thank you!

  3. Jerry Fletcher
    November 16, 2022 at 12:33 pm Reply

    David, I always advise new consultants, particularly solopreneurs to, “Put a door on your office. Close it each day at the same time so you can be present for your family each evening. Agree with yourself not to open it again until the next work day.”

    • Michael Goold
      November 16, 2022 at 1:17 pm Reply

      Love that practice Jerry. I’ve made a practice of leaving my laptop in my home office and not taking it out into the rest of the house after hours.

      • David A. Fields
        November 16, 2022 at 1:25 pm Reply

        Some of us dinosaurs use desktops–that makes it impossible to take the work computer out of the home office!

        Smart addition to the conversation, Michael! I appreciate you chiming in with your practice.

    • David A. Fields
      November 16, 2022 at 1:24 pm Reply

      That’s darn good advice, Jerry! Consulting firm owners–like any entrepreneurs–can become too wrapped up in their business. It’s worth remembering that you’re building a firm to serve you, not the other way around.

      Closing the door on the business every day is a great, happiness-building habit. I’m glad you contributed that, Jerry.

  4. Joe Gregory
    November 16, 2022 at 3:49 pm Reply

    What makes me happy is basing my business on my key word/value for life: impact. My prayer: “Holy Spirit, today use me for impact in ways You see fit.” Having impact with my clients is so fun and rewarding.

    • David A. Fields
      November 16, 2022 at 4:22 pm Reply

      We consultants are in a service business. Our mission is to help others and most folks who start a consulting firm have that helping mentality. When you organize your business so that you can spend more time helping and less time worrying, you end up a happier consultant.

      Thanks for sharing your daily intention, Joe!

  5. Lauren T
    November 17, 2022 at 9:36 am Reply

    What an inspiring post! My “rule” would be about the workspace environment and making sure it makes you smile, or at least not frown, when you walk in. I recently got a new desk that goes up or down at the push of a button, so I can stand when I get tired of sitting. I bought a second, small L shaped glass top desk for another corner so I have extra space to spread out. And two desk size small lamps from Amazon that have a touch-dimmer feature that lights low, medium, and high. They were only about $30 for two and add so much ambience. To summarize, make sure your space is functional and aesthetically pleasing to you.

    • David A. Fields
      November 17, 2022 at 11:36 am Reply

      That’s a pro tip, Lauren! The space around you absolutely influences your mood. In my experience, if your desk faces a wall of windows through which you can view the wildlife (“A bear… eeek!”) and kinetic sculptures, you’re always looking at reasons to be cheerful.

      Thank you for the excellent addition to the list, Lauren.

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