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Five Emotions that Stall Your Consulting Firm’s Business Development Efforts

Consulting is an emotion-driven purchase. If you don’t understand your consulting prospects’ desires and fears, their sources of happiness and anxiety, your business development efforts will hit hard ceilings. But what about your emotions? Could they be undermining your success?

Dolls. Miniature people that kids play with. You may know a lot about dolls, or your experience (like mine) might not extend past popping the heads off your sister’s toys. Either way, it’s worth understanding the emotional dolls that are sitting on your mental shelf, murmuring in your ear and, in some cases, hampering your efforts to win business.

Virtually every consultant plays with these unhelpful, emotional dolls at some point. Silencing their whispers is how you make breakthroughs in your consulting firm’s revenue.

Chucky Doll (a.k.a., Fear)

Chucky is pretty darn terrifying. He’s also the most well-known emotional doll and the one that’s talked about most often.

Chucky represents the fear of rejection. He haunts your outreach efforts, scaring you away from picking up the phone to contact prospects for your consulting firm. Unless you’re the rare duck that loves contacting people who aren’t expecting your call, you’ve probably seen this side of Chucky.

Ironically, Chucky also can haunt you with the fear of success—knowing that if you do win the business, you’ll have to deliver on your promises to your client.

Remedy: As with all fears, regularly confronting Chucky will disempower him. Make your business development efforts routine and regular. Fix them on your calendar every week.

Teddy Bear (a.k.a., Comfort or Satisfaction)

Okay, Teddy Bears aren’t really dolls, but they still laze on your mental shelf, sipping fuzzy cocktails and high fiving you for how well you’re already doing.

If you’re severely dissatisfied with your finances, you’ll put your business development efforts into high gear. However, once you’re feeling warm, well-fed and comfortable, Teddy Bear pops up. There’s nothing wrong with being content with where you are. Just understand that while Teddy is perched prominently on your mental shelf, you’re unlikely to make much progress.

Remedy: If you want to quiet your Teddy Bear, give him a hug each night then put him away until the next evening.

In other words, happily embrace where you are today, but don’t be content to occupy the same place tomorrow.

Russian Nesting Dolls (a.k.a., Overwhelm)

You thought one, unassuming doll was wobbling on your mental shelf then, in a blink, out pops another doll, and another and another. Suddenly you’re frazzled and feeling like there’s no time to look for new consulting business.

Besides, if you did win another consulting project, there’s no time to get the work done with high quality.

Russian nesting dolls fill up your mental shelf when you’ve underinvested in systemization and staff for your consulting firm.

Remedy: To brush that mess of dolls off your mental shelf, you have to: 1) line up additional resources, 2) ensure you’ve equipped them to succeed, and 3) transfer the work to them. All three of those steps are hard and scary. (Yikes, there’s Chucky again!)

Raggedy Ann (a.k.a. Nostalgia)

You know what makes it hard to move forward to with your consulting firm? Your past.

Raggedy Ann embodies all those years of experience and effort that have made you the success you are today. She loves you, you love her, and setting her aside is brutally difficult.

Yet, your consulting firm is stalling (or will stall at some point) in your business development efforts because you’re hanging onto what you used to do; what your clients bought five years ago; what won you praise previously.

Remedy: You must meet the market where it is now, not where you wish it would be or where you had success in days of yore.

In my experience, Raggedy Ann’s a tough doll to knock off the shelf. Redefining yourself, your consulting firm, and your offering requires a conscious decision and plenty of fortitude.


Mystery Doll (Your Other Dolls)

You’ve probably encountered other emotions that occasionally hindered your business development efforts, or the efforts of others in your consulting firm.

I had a few more dolls lurking about, but decided I’d leave a spot for you to talk about the emotional dolls you’ve seen consultants face.

What emotional dolls have you (or other consultants you know) had to put away to succeed in consulting?


  1. Marlene Chism
    August 29, 2018 at 6:07 am Reply

    What about Barbie? She loves compliments and trying on new clothes ( ideas) but she keeps getting distracted by just trying to look good versus doing the heavy lifting.

    • David A. Fields
      August 29, 2018 at 7:53 am Reply

      That is excellent! Barbie was on my list too, but I didn’t have her down for Distraction. Your idea is much better.

      And, of course, you’re right. Consulting firms that flit from idea to idea never become known at being great at anything, and that limits their business development opportunities.

      Thanks for putting Barbie in the dollhouse, Marlene.

    • Elaine
      August 29, 2018 at 10:49 am Reply

      Hi Marlene, I get your point about flitting about and looking good doesn’t get much done. But Barbie gets stuff done! She has been an astronaut, NASCAR driver, paleontologist, traveled the world, a police officer, UNICEF ambassador. The list goes on:
      And she looks impossibly good doing it! I admire Barbie. For many years, I actually had her on my shelf in my office as inspiration! 🙂 Then my dog ate her.
      I liked this post the best so far David.

      • Marlene Chism
        August 29, 2018 at 11:30 am Reply

        So true Elaine! I was just using the stereotype and thinking of my own experience of having way too many ideas. (Let’s face it no one could realistically be all that Barbie portrays even if they wanted to.) LOL!

        At one time a mentor told me that I loved the “head fake.” What she meant was that when I got a compliment it distracted me from the task at hand and I lost focus.

      • David A. Fields
        August 29, 2018 at 11:32 am Reply

        Your dog ate Barbie! I’m sure there’s some metaphorical import we can assign to that.

        And, while you’re right about Barbie’s success, remember that there are about three trillion clones of her running around and doing all those things. What does that tell you about scaling your business? In fact, that’s a darn good point you’ve highlighted with your Barbie comment.

  2. Mary Ann Dekker
    August 29, 2018 at 8:17 am Reply

    Well this took twice the 3 minute time you indicated it would to read, when you take into consideration the time spent knee-slapping and falling off my chair laughing at the truths you’ve pointed out with every doll. Time to clear my doll-collection-shelves!! Thank you, David, for your wonderful weekly insights.

    • David A. Fields
      August 29, 2018 at 8:53 am Reply

      Note to readers: This week’s article reading time will depend on the number of dolls you have at your tea party and whether you’re waiting for one of them to pour the tea.

      Every consultant has a relationship with these dolls, so they’re very recognizable to all of us. Good for you for putting those dolls away, and thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Mark Vieno
    August 29, 2018 at 9:21 am Reply

    Raggedy Ann is the doll that is hardest for me to knock off the shelf. I have repeat clients from 5 or more years ago, including my very first clients, but as a firm we’ve outgrown them. These smaller clients were easier to manage back then. Now, I just don’t have the time to supervise a lot of small projects. How do I move on without hurting their feelings, and earning a bad reputation?

    • David A. Fields
      August 29, 2018 at 9:59 am Reply

      Great question, Mark! If those clients’ projects are still inside the realm of what you do, then ideally you keep them and adjust how you price and how you service them. Perhaps it’s time to add someone to your team who can supervise small projects.

      Alternatively, you can let those clients know that the type of work your firm is focused on has shifted to larger scale projects and, while you’d love to continue the relationship, since your focus has changed, continuing to work with them would be doing them a disservice.

      There are a number of ways to handle this situation gracefully. The key here is to think about how to use the situation to help everyone–you and your clients.

    • hungryconsultant
      August 30, 2018 at 2:07 pm Reply

      I’m just getting started and would love and welcome small projects! Another way to handle this situation would be to reach out to a network of consultants where we can refer work to one another or subcontract for a win/win/win.

      • David A. Fields
        August 30, 2018 at 5:55 pm Reply

        Lookit that… volunteers to take projects off of Mark’s hands!

        Reaching out to a network of consultants adds an element of risk but fits with the general idea of finding new ways to service small clients. Though it takes up-front work, it can be quite lucrative to push work to subcontractors you trust as long as you have a project manager to ensure quality is high.

  4. Gayle Carson
    August 29, 2018 at 10:12 am Reply

    I thought this a very creative way of stating what we all face. Kudos for making it so humorous that we could all see ourselves in them.

    • David A. Fields
      August 29, 2018 at 11:30 am Reply

      The article was a good excuse to reminisce about days spent pulling the hair out of my sisters’ dolls. Dolls look better bald, don’t they? Always good to hear from you, Gayle–thanks for validating that you see the dolls (occasionally) too.

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