Where did 2016 go? I know it’s not over yet—but the school term is whipping by, holiday decorations are popping up all over the place, end of year functions have been scheduled, and Christmas wish lists have been written (by my children—they waste no time).

The reality that we have less than seven weeks until we roll over into 2017 is daunting (I’m in temporary denial)! The year has whipped by, and I know it’s not just me that’s feeling it—the swiftly approaching end of year, and the reflection that comes with it, is a common theme in the many conversations I’m having with consultants.

In my conversations, I am fortunate to get insight into the different environments consultants are working in, what they love doing, the success of programs and projects they have created and delivered, and the various challenges and frustrations they deal with on a regular basis to keep the wheels of their business spinning.

We all know that the business landscape is shifting constantly, and uncertainty is now a permanent fixture of operations. Consultants feel the need to keep evolving and be able to deliver real time solutions to client needs. It can be an all or nothing environment, cracking along at breakneck speed delivering on projects, or sending out pitch after pitch getting nothing but radio silence.

While the focus is often on marketing, attracting new clients, increasing revenue, and maintaining relevance in the marketplace, a sentiment that is often felt (and comes up in later in conversations, when candor has been established), is the sense of professional isolation. While consultants are in the business of working with people (clients), for many, the reality is that they are alone in how they operate. They lack colleagues to collaborate with. Maybe this is your experience too.

As the new year approaches, the topic of professional isolation comes up more frequently. As consultants reflect on their business, make plans for the year ahead, and fill their calendars with year-end events, it is a natural time to consider issues and devise solutions.

The idea of building quality commercial relationships with like-minded business people—who are generous with their time and help expand your thinking—is an attractive proposition.

The term collaboration gets thrown around like so many other buzzwords—agility, innovation, visionary, etc., to name a few. But in this fast-paced world, collaboration, or more specifically, establishing successful commercial relationships, is a becoming a necessity. We need to be agile, well-informed, and not simply stuck in the bubble of our day-to-day activities.

Allow me to be blunt: collaboration shouldn’t be hard work. We’ve all met or worked with enough people who are a little too far up their own backsides to invest our precious time and energy (in Australia we screen these people using what we refer to as the ‘no jerks’ policy). There are also those groups where the agenda seems to be holding hands, singing kumbaya, and feeling warm and fuzzy about the power of “community.” Great if that’s your thing, but neither scenario is my cup of tea.

Speaking for both myself, and the consultants I work with on a daily basis, what people are missing in their attempts to collaborate is the feeling of a partnership. Connecting with people who are genuine, generous, and caring (with a healthy dose of humor thrown in) is gold. Transparency, valuing each other’s time, and a desire to achieve commercial success, makes for a great collaborative exchange. When a partnership is built on a foundation of respect and mutual benefit, it can’t get much better.

What I love about being a consultant is managing the balance between pushing myself, and drawing on my colleagues to push me further—especially those who have found the line of pushing without pissing me off (too much or too often), and who allow me do the same for them. I have been able to establish partnerships that equally benefit all involved, and don’t hinge on placating someone’s ego, or holding hands.

As you pause momentarily, in your sprint towards the end of year, consider your network. Do you prefer to go it alone? Or would you rather have people in your corner that hold you accountable to your goals, nudge you in the direction you need to take your business, and ask you the questions you haven’t yet asked yourself?

These questions remind me of an old proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to far, go together.”

So as you get into your end of year activities, think about how far you want to go in your business in 2017 and beyond. What do you want to consolidate, do differently, and produce? And who are the people that you want to collaborate with to help get you there? 

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