5 Things I Wish I Knew About Consulting Before I Started

ConsultingIt was the summer of 1997, I had just graduated high school. All my friends had started working at a business selling a “new technology.” They were making money hand over fist. With each sale, they got a $1,000 commission. So I signed up. The new technology was a vacuum cleaner.

I attempted selling door-to-door as recommended. I sold 2.5 vacuums. One to my parents. One to my parent’s friends. And one to an elderly couple. They were the .5 because I got sick of selling alone so I invited a friend and we split the commission.

I start with this story because this was the “business world” to me. For the longest time, I viewed any and all selling as the tactics I was taught back in ‘97. We’d go into a low income area and show people how they would make money by purchasing a vacuum that cost over $2,000. It didn’t feel right.

Then I started doing business my way. I started a private pay, private practice. I had freedom. I ranked #1 in Google in my town for the term “Traverse City counseling” (the name of the Michigan city I practiced in).

I actually loved learning about selling, the psychology of business, and pushing myself. I learned that much of the marketing that I did in college for my band actually worked in business too!

I started consulting with people that owned or were starting a private practice, which leads me to t-shirts.

 #1 Consultant Tip | The T-Shirt Approach

I was in a band in college. We weren’t great, but we were ok. We’d open for larger acts and did our own tour. It was a few summers of travel, and we each got paid and didn’t go into debt.

The things is, we made two to three times more money on our merchandise that we did at any show. It was like playing the show was just a ticket to sell t-shirts. Few people actually bought CDs; instead they bought our cool t-shirts.

In consulting, the same is true. A “warm lead” is someone already at the concert. Maybe they have bought your e-book, they listen to the podcast, or they bought your paperwork packet when it was on sale.

With t-shirts, it was a huge mark-up and we could lump a number of products together. It became a hook into other products. In consulting, an e-book, start-up tool, or blog post can do the same thing.

 #2 Consultant Tip | Start, Then Change

Early on, I would think to myself, “Who am I to tell other counselors how to run their practices?” Many had more experience, time, and clinical expertise than myself. In fact, many top consultants had two to three times more experience!

In the book, Smartcuts, Shane Snow discusses factors that help individuals grow at exponential rates. Three stand out for becoming a consultant fast:

  • Hacking the Ladders
  • Training with Masters
  • Catching Waves

Snow’s premise is that people that are over-the-top successful tend to follow different rules. They don’t just work harder, they jump into different industries. He calls this “hacking the ladders.” Further, finding mentors in person, podcasts, or through books fast forwards the learning process. Lastly, he talks about how pro surfers study waves and trends. By watching industries, we can speed up our own consulting growth.

I wish I had known these principles early on, which brings me to a chair in the San Francisco airport.

 #3 Consultant Tip | Do Your Best

Although I am an Eagle Scout, this is not a pitch for the Boy Scouts. Early on in my consulting career, I tried to do everything. I spent hours figuring out logos, images, and formatting my website.

Early on, a bootstrap mentality was needed, especially because my consulting was a side-gig to my full-time job. Yet, I was slow to switch.

On the way to the American Counseling Association Conference in 2014, my family had a layover in San Francisco’s airport. My wife, two-year-old daughter and I were scrambling to find a family restroom to change my daughter’s diaper. Despite the airport having yoga rooms, they did not have chaining tables in the family bathroom. On the way there, I noticed a hip chair, that looked like something out of the Jetson’s. I texted it to my new designer, Aaron Carpenter. We had been stumped on creating a new logo for my Practice of the Practice website. Within a day, he had a logo.

I noticed a few things:

  • Aaron worked while I was traveling with a two-year-old
  • His hourly was less than my hourly
  • He did a better job than I could do

By figuring out my best skills and outsourcing the rest, I was setting myself up to succeed. What were the results? Check out these stats:

  • 2012 page views: 13,718,38 visits per day
  • 2013 page views: 28,613,78 visits per day
  • 2014 page views: 78,479,215 visits per day
  • 2015 page views (January-mid March): 28,605,409 visits per day

I did a number of things in 2014 that helped grow the numbers, but bringing on people that were smarter and better at specific tasks helped me grow doing my own best work!

 #4 Consultant Tip | Copying is OK

When I first started consulting, I was really nervous about learning and implementing other consultants’ styles. What I have found is: Most people borrow ideas and then make them their own.

Back to Snow’s book, Smartcuts. Snow talks about the idea of “Platforms.” For example, Apple was not the first MP3 player. There were stronger and overall better players when the iPod was released. Apple didn’t take the time to invent and invest in brand new technology.

Instead, they let the market show viability, then they did it in their own unique way. This happens over and over. McDonald’s may be the first fast burger joint, but new versions come out all the time, making it their own.

As a growing consultant, get inspired!

Read other people’s content. Understand what makes it work. Then do your own versions.

I can do a podcast about private practice and so can you. Just make your own personality and voice come out!

 #5 Consultant Tip | Don’t Wait to Poop

Have you ever said to yourself, “I want a perfect poop”? No one says that, they just go. In nature, animals rarely overthink decisions. They just decide and run with it. It is better to have something that is finished and worth throwing away than to have a perfect unfinished work of art.

Movement forward will help you to do a number of things in your consulting work:

  • You will start looking for new ways to try and fail.
  • You will get over fear of failure and begin to see it as part of the process.
  • You will learn what works, then adjust quickly.
  • You will have stories of failure for future consulting clients.
  • You will become more confident.

As you find your consultant stride, you’ll learn about upgrading like a rockstar with a t-shirt. You will see that inexperience can actually get you moving quicker. You’ll find people to outsource your worst work. As well, you will be inspired by everyone, everywhere, and find your own voice. Lastly, you’ll get moving and begin to fail more often, recover, and implement changes.

Photo courtesy of Martin Abegglen on flickr


5 Things I Wish I Knew About Consulting Before I Started

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC

Joseph Sanok

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC teaches consultants how to become better consultants through his website Joe also helps counselors with growing private practices through his website He also loves sailing and playing with his two daughters.


APA Reference
Sanok, J. (2015). 5 Things I Wish I Knew About Consulting Before I Started. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 3 Apr 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Apr 2015
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