It turns out that, as a consultant, committing certain errors isn’t just acceptable, it’s practically mandatory if you want to build your consulting business.
Before I became a published author, I worked on a book about the top challenges facing CEOs. It never made it to the bookshelves. Neither did my very first book: “My Dads a Dinasore.” The only difference being that the 250-page CEO book took three years to research and draft, whereas the other I wrote when I was three years old with six pieces of construction paper and a crayon.
Working on a book that didn’t get published may have felt like a big mistake, but it wasn’t. It led, in ways I won’t relate now, to many of the success I’ve had since. Most mistakes loom larger in the moment than they turn out to be in the long term.
But this is not an admonishment to take on big challenges, recognizing you’ll have failures along the way. You already know that.
Instead, I want to focus on the other side of the spectrum. The little gaffes you make on everyday activities. Stop preventing and rectifying them.
Perfectionism is a form of procrastination.
You are avoiding mistakes that you shouldn’t be worried about. Not because they aren’t harmful or damaging, but because averting them drains time, attention, energy and passion you could be devoting to huge wins.
The exchange you should be willing to make is: small mistakes for big accomplishments. Or, as Tim Ferris has written, “In order to do the big things, you have to let the small, bad things happen.”
When you understand the value of what you’ll gain you realize it’s not a big deal to commit some errors.
Which blunders should you embrace? Looking around at the consultants I coach and at my own proclivities, I see plenty of opportunities. Here are a few to get you started.
Publish your blog/newsletter with typos and grammatical errors
My blogs are proofread by someone on my team before you see them. If they weren’t, an occasional sentence look like tihs. Every now and again an error slips through. You know what: I don’t care. You should be equally indifferent with your periodic content. Readers are forgiving and both you and your staff can do much better things with your time than review an article a second, third or fourth time.
Let your admin send a “bad” email, handle a call poorly or bungle a minor task
Sure, if you wrote the email it would be better. If you handled the call you’d know exactly what to say. So what? Will it depress the revenue you’ll earn this year or next? Probably not.
Be totally absent or incompetent on social media
If you’re involved in social media, give it a week-long break. In our business, social media isn’t a big deal. Can you attract clients through relationships that begin on LinkedIn? Maybe. Twitter? Not likely. Facebook? No. Social media is less reliable than more traditional, visibility-building approaches and if you let social media go while you’re pursuing higher-potential avenues, little is lost.
“Waste” hundreds of dollars
Buy software that’s under $100 “on a whim” and try it. Rather than reading about it for three hours, just purchase it. If it makes you more efficient, keep it. If not, toss it and move on. Similarly, buy office supplies that meet your needs and are easily found in the local store or online, not slightly better and/or less expensive products you could find through diligent investigation.
A penny saved is not a penny earned.
A penny saved is a valuable hour wasted.
Those are just a few starting points, of course. Ignoring your email for a couple of days could have made the list too. No doubt a few minor tragedies would occur, but you could use that time to tackle a big win on your to-do list.
What small mistakes will you ignore so you can pursue the big wins?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.
I leave a little error in most presentations. It’s for the one in five audience members who can’t wait to trip up the presenter. I acknowledge the error and say thank you. Disarms the offensive audience.
That’s some advanced, consulting jujitsu, Rick. In fact, for the record, any error anyone finds in my writing I now claim to have intentionally left there so that I can gracefully disarm combative readers.
On the serious side, you bring up an important corollary to today’s article: not only must we become comfortable with the little, thorny weeds we leave in our daily gardens while we attend to larger issues, we must learn how to respond well when the occasional one snags us on our way. Thank you for contributing your wisdom, Rick.
Rick, this is a good one. In addition to defusing an eager opponent, somebody pointing to a small error effectively breaks the ice, allows presenter to show their human side and promotes deeper questions.
Sage advice David! I agree, all the things we do, like writing your book that you didn’t publish [I have 2 of those myself!], become part of our experience and body of knowledge that can help make us better consultants and better people. The key is to fail fast…. like your tip about just buying the software instead of reading about it for longer than it would take to buy it and try it!
Exactly right, Jane. Failing fast entails acting quickly and decisively in the first place–which can be brutally difficult if we’re afraid of failing.
When we’re struggling with a decision or poring over something to eliminate errors, it’s vital that we step back and ask how big a problem we’d truly be facing if we doallow an error to slip through. Is it worth the time we’re losing to the QA process? Is it worth the angst we’re suffering while pondering potential mistakes? Usually not. Decide, act, move on. Jane, I appreciate you bringing that concept to the fore today.
Can’t say that I agree with the typos/grammatical errors comment. These days, clients expect to see something that’s almost perfect in the first draft. Inevitably, that one in five who notices the error in a presentation would be a decision maker with a pedantic pet peeve.
We have a “two-sets of eyes rule””; nothing (except some emails) leaves the office without at least two people looking at it. We also include a disclaimer with anything that isn’t final. Even proposals have a red DRAFT stamp on them, to infer that everything is up for discussion.
Does it take extra time? Yes. Do we think it’s worth it? Usually. Can we change our minds? Of course.
Having said all that, my motto is “Don’t sweat the petty stuff, and don’t pet the sweaty stuff.”
Lauren, you’ve highlighted a point I didn’t expand on in the article: there’s difference between what you publish as periodic marketing (articles, blogs, newsletters) and what gets handed to a client. My list didn’t include anything about embracing mistakes in client deliverables because I don’t condone sloppy work for clients. That said, I do believe in “working to a 95” since the trade off between working to a 100 and the incremental value perceived by the client is rarely worthwhile.
Thank you for bringing the client-work vs. marketing distinction to the fore and also for the excellent motto!
David, we often create content for clients, so it’s tough to have different sets of rules.
Fair enough, Lauren, and thank you for underscoring the main point: more of what we worry about is petty than we sometimes allow ourselves to believe.
Excellent piece, David, and your point about perfecticism (just kidding) and procrastination is right on! One of the added values that I receive when I read your posts is that you help each one of your recipients take another step forward.
Tris Coffin, CMC
Thank you for the lovely feedback, Tris. I think we all move forward together–when one of us improves and shares it creates momentum for the rest of us to progress too.