I've been in business for 17 1/2 years and I've been a successful Facilitator for over 19 years. I thought that I'd share some of what I have learned and seen over the past 19 years. I also thought that I'd share this now because of the increase in the use of Facilitators - many who remain in companies and many who venture out on their own. My business has been very successful. Much of our success is because of three factors:
Internal versus External
One question that I get when I teach is, "Is there a difference between being an internal facilitator versus an external facilitator?" (The answer is, "Very little difference.") Often it is followed up by the statement that, "It's easier for you since you are external." Well, there is a difference, but not in the way you may think. Being an external facilitator is riskier. It is easier to be fired and you risk your own money and time. In terms of staying successful, I'd treat both cases as if being a facilitator were your job your business. That attitude change helps both internal and external facilitators - you assume more responsibility for yourself.
What is Success?
Perhaps the first question is, "What is success?" I see two different measures of success (both measures are important and often relate):
o Your quality of work - i.e., how good are you as a facilitator
o Your continued tenure in business - i.e., staying in business or working as a facilitator
The first measure defines whether you are a good facilitator. Do clients ask for you to return? Are the clients satisfied with your work? Did the workshops succeed? These are the questions that define your quality of work. If the answers are "yes", then you are doing a job that the clients view as quality. Also ask yourself, "Am I satisfied with my work?" This helps define quality from both your client's eyes as well as yours.
The second measure - your continued tenure in business - is a little different. I have seen good facilitators fail in business and poor facilitators succeed - because facilitation skills and business skills are not the same. Quality work, alone, does not keep you in business. Staying in business requires that clients - internal or external - hire you. That requires a plan.
"How to" Succeed
To maintain a quality of work, you need to learn, grow, get feedback, and be honest with yourself (I'll talk about maintaining quality in another article).
I want to focus on staying successful by continuing in business. To succeed in that way, you need a plan. A plan is not a static document, it is a process whereby you continuously look at who you are, where you are going, and how you'll get there. You need to know and plan where you are going and how you'll get there - both personally and professionally - or you go wherever someone else dictates. Developing a plan for yourself forces you to think through:
o who you are
o what you're good at
o to whom you want to sell
o how you'll attract your customers.
This plan needs to be done for yourself and for your role as a facilitator - in other words "As a person, my mission is to…." and "As a facilitator, my mission is to…." As a facilitator, look at:
o What niche do I fill? Business? IT? Both? Process focus or relationship focus?
o Who are my target customers? Corporate? Government? Non-Profit?
o How do I reach my customers? Advertising? Seminars? Telephone? Internet?
o What do I want to provide? Consulting? Facilitating? Project Management?
o What do I want to get in return? Do I want to grow a business? How much do I want to make? How long do I want to do this?
The critical elements of the plan are:
Your Mission - who you are
Your Vision - where you are going
Your Values - what you believe in and how you'll behave
Your Objectives - targets to achieve
Your Strategies - what you'll do to reach your targets/objectives
From these elements, you can plan tactical work - projects, advertising, seminars, education, etc. - to implement the strategies. These tactical efforts define your annual budget. These tactical efforts also feed back to your plan to help you decide if it's working or if you need to change it.
Review the plan with colleagues, friends, and family. Get their input, but make the plan right for you. Publish the plan - it isn't a trade secret. The plan, though, keeps you in focus. Do you want to grow the business? If yes, then you need to include that. If not, then you avoid efforts that distract you from what you want to accomplish. I have seen many businesses who directed efforts towards accomplishing something that wasn't in their plan - and they failed as a result. I've also seen businesses miss doing work that would help them achieve their plan because they were distracted from their overall vision. A plan helps keep you focused.
One thing that many people forget is how to stay successful and how to stop. Staying successful requires that you refresh your skills - the "same old story" doesn't sell well. Business and your clients change - and you need to with them. Business issues and trends (or fads) require you to keep up with what's going on. Once you know what you're doing as a facilitator, remember that there is more to learn that you already know. Keep learning and growing your skills. Attend seminars, classes, and talk to people in business - whether they are perceived clients or not. The biggest pitfall I have seen is for the facilitator to become complacent - think that they have the answers. Continuously learning helps maintain an interested attitude. Your clients know when you don't care anymore - it comes through loud and clear.
Also know when it's time to quit. Sometimes, the best course is to do something new and different. Many people are afraid to change jobs - it's scary. In this day and age, change is constant. If you no longer have a passion for what you are doing, find out what you do have a passion for and develop a plan to get there.
I have used my plans for many years. I developed a plan for my business and have largely achieved it. Plans have changed over time - and will continue to change as life, the economy, and other factors dictate. Change is ever-present. The plan is not static. Review it periodically. Don't be afraid to revise it to keep it alive and current.
Remember, if you fail to plan, plan to fail.