Episode 049 – Consulting Business Guardrails

Today I want to share with you a mistake that I made in my business back in December.  After working through the emotions of embarrassment and regret from making this mistake, I decided to look at the root cause. 

I discovered that I didn’t have all of my consulting business policies thoroughly defined. So, I revisited my set of operating policies, or guardrails, so that I have a much more thorough and comprehensive version that serves as my go-to way of doing business, and also as my catch net. 

So, that’s what I’m sharing with you today. The background on why you want to set up consulting business operating policies, or guardrails, and how to do it.

These policies will help you

  • Avoid making costly mistakes and
  • Reduce the amount of energy you waste on decision-making and paralysis in your business.

Listen in to learn more about:

  • [05:14] What are business guardrails
  • [09:21] What happens when you don’t have guardrails in place
  • [10:50] What are the benefits of having guardrails
  • [12:16] The eight categories of guardrails that you should have in place for your business and examples
  1. Schedule
    • My vacation policy is:
    • When someone wants to change the schedule within 24-hour’s notice I will
  2. Communication
    • When I’m on vacation, my communication policy is to ___________
    • I will respond to Slack messages within __________
  3. Visibility & Lead Gen
    • My follow-up process for networking conversations is __________________
    • I host an Exec roundtable every _____________
  4. Sales
    • I will recommend to prospective clients to send a proposal within ____________ after the conversation/meeting
    • I will follow-up with prospective clients every _____________
    • I propose a change order when ________________________________
  5. Client Delivery
    • I begin discussions with client about follow-on work when I’m _______%  completed with the current engagement
    • My process for ending an engagement is _______________
  6. Team
    • I touch base with each teaming bench member every  ____________________
    • My engagement process with my support team is:
  7. Financials
    • My process for handling late payments is _________________
    • I update my business investment plan every _____________
  8. Other
    • I send thank you notes for ____________________
  • [21:46] How to set up guardrails for your business and make them doable


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**note: this is an automated transcript, so please ignore spelling errors and grammar mistakes*


Welcome to the Grow Your Independent Consulting Business podcast. I’m Melisa Liberman, a fellow IC and business coach. On this podcast, I teach you to become a consistently booked independent consultant without becoming a pushy salesperson or working 24/7. If I can do it, you can too.


listen on to find out how. Welcome back to the podcast, I’m so happy you are here. And today I had to share with you something that I found out this week, I realized that I had made two very big mistakes running my business. And they were mistakes that I made. These were mistakes I made back around the holidays. So I think the last week of the year and early January, and when I realize these mistakes, I’ll tell you what they are in a minute, when I realized what these mistakes were, I was absolutely horrified, horrified. And so I wanted to share with you what I did, and the fix to the problem so that you can avoid doing this in your business as well. So here it goes. This is a little raw. Usually, I like to share mistakes that I made, you know, five years ago. But today, it’s pretty raw, but we’re gonna do it. So nothing to hide from you here. Really what happened is I received over the holidays to emails from people that I had talked to in the past, and they were asking me for help. They were asking me for help. And I had completely ignored their emails, I didn’t see their emails, because I wasn’t working my full schedule at that time. And I hadn’t responded to them. I was going back through my emails to look for something. And it’s just triple check that I was caught up with everything. So I’m scrolling all the way back, the first thing I see is this email from December that I never responded to. It was felt like a gut punch. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt that I’m sure you have when you just completely dropped the ball on something. And then I’m scrolling through the email, and I find another one, another one. And I had to just sit there, you know, I responded to them very respectfully and apologized. And I just had to sit there and feel the embarrassment and the regret. And what I didn’t do is let myself you know, just berate myself over and over again. There’s nothing good to come of that, right. It’s a mistake. And so after feeling that embarrassment and that regret, which to be honest with you, I still am there’s some hangover going on, I really decided to look at the root cause. And the root cause of me missing those two emails is that, well, there were more emails that I missed than just those two, let’s be honest. But those two that were really time sensitive, the root cause of me missing those time sensitive emails, and you may have the same root cause lurking in your business, as I did didn’t have all of my business guardrails shored up. And so I’ve gone back in and updated those now. And I’m going to tell you today about what that means. What is a business guardrail? Why do you need one need them, not just one, why do you need them, and how to set it up for you and your business so that you can avoid making this embarrassing mistake that I made. So that’s what we’re going to focus on today. And ultimately, what it’s going to do is help you not only avoid making mistakes, like I just shared with you and your business, but it’s also going to help take down the amount of energy you waste. And I know you’re wasting it, because I talked to so many of you, you’re wasting so much energy on second guessing and deciding and re deciding and analysis paralysis in your business. So I’m going to give you some examples about what that means and really give you a good framework for implementing these guardrails in your business. So, what we’re going to focus on today are four things I’m going to give you more examples of what happens when you don’t have all of the guardrails that you need in place like my two missed emails. Then I’m going to talk with you about the benefits of putting these guardrails in place. Then I’m going to share with you the categories of guardrails, you’re going to want to create along with a couple of examples for each one. And then we’ll end up with helping you to understand how to make these guardrails doable. There’s no way you can do all of these things in your business at least once you’ve got all of the guardrails up and running. And so I want to share with you how you can make this easy in your business as well. Very simple. These are all simple things. things, but incredibly important, again to avoid mistakes like I made, and also to help you to avoid this energy drain this mind drain that’s created when you don’t have the guardrails in place. So let’s start off with me giving you some more examples of what I’m talking about. And when I say guardrails, what I’m also referring to another way to say this would be business operating policies, business operating policies, but that’s super boring. That’s super boring, and also a lot of words. So we’re just simplifying it by calling it guardrails. That’s a little less boring anyway. Right. And it’s one word. So we’re going to guardrails. Which are also another way to say it is business operating policy. So we have now my example of letting these two really important emails fall through the cracks. And the reason why is because I didn’t have an out of office reply, I literally when I started thinking about this, I was out of the office, I decided to take the last week of the December off, and I you know, was working sporadically but not in my email, not doing my normal routines, I realized, I haven’t set an out of office in 10 years, the last time I set an out of office reply was when I was in corporate. And I don’t know if you’re in that same boat, because we don’t think of ourselves as in the office and out of the office. A lot of times, as consultants running our own business, we don’t think of ourselves as in the office or out of the office, or even if we’re on vacation, we’re still you know, have the propensity to keep working a little bit. So ask yourself, when are you actually out of the office and go set an out of office reply, that seems so simple to me after the fact. But I’d never honestly never thought about it in 10 years. So that’s an example of not having the proper guardrails in place, or business operating policies, such as setting an out of office reply, the leads to these downstream impacts, you know, when you aren’t in your business fully when you’re on vacation? Another example would be, have you done this before, I bet you have putting off following up with a prospective client, because you feel like oh, now isn’t the right time. Maybe tomorrow is a better time, or maybe earlier in the morning, or maybe later in the evening, I’ll catch them. Literally this negotiation that’s going on, it’s ramped in your brain about you haven’t heard back from this prospective client. And now what should you do, and then so much times ends up passing that you just decide to talk yourself out of it and move on to the next opportunity. Another example of a scenario that is a perfect one for a guardrail rail, is when you’re deciding for yourself, when are you going to talk with a client about late payments, and you’re constantly deferring again, I don’t want to have this conversation. Maybe after I finish this deliverable, then I’ll have the conversation. Maybe after we get this past this really important meeting, then we’ll have the conversation. And then pretty soon, you’ve racked up weeks, and sometimes months. And sometimes I’ve heard this over and over again, we just write it off. That’s a scenario where you’re negotiating with yourself, you don’t have a business operating policy, you’re negotiating on a case-by-case basis. And is the perfect example of why you need a guardrail. The last example I’ll share with you, and there’s so many more. But hopefully these resonate with you is the scenario where you’re putting off a conversation about extending a contract or issuing a change order. Again, the same kind of internal dialogue, well, as soon as X, Y or Z happens. I’ve heard this so many times, as soon as my clients in a better mood. As soon as my client is, you know, we get past this certain thing, then I’m going to talk with them about it. And again that can you keep kicking the can down the road, and pretty soon you end up eating the extra scope. How many times have you done some of these things? So these are the reasons and many more that you need to put these operating policies in place to put these guardrails in place? What do all these things have in common? Really, it’s the decisions about how you’re operating your business, from end to end, all the aspects of your business and how you’re interacting with people with external people in your business, or internal people. If you’ve got, you know, assistants or other support staff working with you or team members, how are you interacting? What are your policies for interacting with your network, for interacting with your potential clients, with their paying clients, with your team members with your potential partners so that you’re not having to make this up every single time you know exactly what your procedure is, it’s based on what you’ve decided as the gold standard for you in your business. And you don’t have to make these decisions over and over again or miss something because you’ve just literally never thought of it like my scenario. So once you set up these guardrails, the business policies it allows you to avoid, it eliminates the need to decide every single time something comes up in your business. It makes things so much simpler, you’re also able to proactively create that customer experience that’s representative of you and your values, and how you want to be showing up as a business owner, and as a consultant for your clients, and your prospective clients and the people who are interacting with your business. So ultimately, the benefits of the guardrails are preventative. So you’re making fewer mistakes, again, like I did, and also, it helps you to set up your business in a way where you’re not deciding everything situationally, you’ve got it in place, you know exactly what to do. And it takes away half the battle, which is knowing what you’re going to do for each scenario. So that you have that policy in place. And then all that’s really left is you managing your mind to do it when you said you would a little-known fact you may know this, but I was just sharing this in a workshop earlier this week. And it surprised a lot of the attendees, which is your brain accounts for 20% of your total energy requirements. So the more you have to decide, the more you have to read aside, the more you have to have that internal dialogue going on and the back and forth, it’s such a drain on your energy, it’s such a drain, your brain takes up so much power, even though it’s so small relative to the rest of your body is taking up so much of your energy, there’s no need to be wasting it on things that you don’t need to decide every single time. So those are the benefits. So hopefully, I’ve convinced you that this business operating policy or the guardrails are really important to have in place for yourself. So now what I want to do is share with you the eight categories that you want to think about for your business and what those business policies would be. So the first is the first category are policies related to your schedule. For example, there’s a lot more than this, but what is your vacation policy? You know, everything from proactively scheduling and what your, you know, your year looks like and what your policy is going to be for time off and sick time. Those kinds of things are emergencies. And then also, how are you going to handle it when people ask you to change the schedule, like your let’s say, the client comes to you and says, we need to meet move this meeting. And they asked you to meet at 7pm. You know, what is your policy, decide this stuff upfront. So, then you’re not having a battle yourself in the moment and quite frankly, cave to people pleasing, which a lot of us are doing the second bucket, the second category of your guardrails would be communication-related. So, I’ll give you a couple of examples here. When you’re on vacation. What is your communication policy? Are you going to set an out of office reply, like I’d neglected to do? Are you going to have someone check your emails? Are you going to check your emails for 30 minutes a day? Do you have a policy of checking your emails every single day? Sometimes when I check them on my phone, they’re grouped together and I miss things? Do you have a policy of checking your emails on your computer once a day? Whatever it is? Or what is your response rate on Slack? If you’re on Slack, or teams, think about these things proactively, what are the guardrails? And we’re going to put these questions in the show notes. So you’ll have all of these examples that I’m sharing with you. And I will also say that for my clients that I’m working with, that I’ve created an entire playbook around this so that you’ve got all of the questions, a whole host of questions that you want to be asking and answering for your business policy for your guardrails. So, if you are a client, you’ll be getting that. And if you’re not, you should check into that schedule a consult with me if you’re interested, or if not, then go check out the show notes. And this gives you a really good starting point. Okay, so with that, the next category is visibility and lead generation. So again, what are your policies around this? For example, what is your policy when you network with someone so many times we network and then we literally never talk to the person again? What is your process? What is your follow up? Do you send them a thank you note? Do you touch base a week later? What does that process look like for you? To cultivate that relationship. Another example for visibility and lead generation is, as policy that you set for yourself. For example, I hosted an executive roundtable every quarter. That’s just my policy. So I know I’ve got to get that into the schedule. The next category is sales. So a great example here is I will recommend to prospective clients that I’ll send a proposal within X days after our meeting. So what’s your standard? My standard is I turn around a proposal and 24 hours, what’s your standard Is it three days, whatever it is, you may have to adjust it based on whatever that client meeting was, but at least you know what the starting point is, you have to ask yourself and go through this whole gyration every time. Another example is I will follow up with prospective clients when I don’t hear back from them every X period of time, maybe it’s once a week, and then once every two weeks, and then once a month, and then after X period, I decided that they’re, you know, quote unquote, dead for now. Not literally, but you know what I mean, a dead lead. So figuring out for yourself, what are those policies? So you don’t have to sit there ruminating about, should I call the person should I text them? Should I, maybe tomorrow, maybe they’re busy, maybe their kids got sick? Like, it’s crazy. We’re all doing this. It’s almost like we’re back in the dating game, or something I’ve updated in 20 years. But I’m imagining it’s like this, right? It’s like, constantly wondering what this other person is thinking. And if you should do X, Y, or Z, the difference here is that you’re just going to decide in advance what your process is. And in some cases, when you might make an exception, under what conditions and that’s that you already know, you don’t have to question and wondering guests and try to predict, you know, what is the person in the hospital and that’s why they’re not responding, like all of that internal chatter can go can start to be minimized. I’m not going to say it’s going to completely go away because you’re a human. But this is such so important to help you reduce that Tatar another example, under sales would be I propose a change order under XYZ condition. So maybe not a change order. But maybe an example would be I proposed a contract extension, something like that. So client delivery, that’s the fifth category. An example here is I begin discussions with the client about follow on work when I’m X percent completed with the current engagement. How many times have you had this, where you know that there’s follow on work, and you’re debating with yourself over and over and over and over again, about when’s the best time to start planning for that, or you don’t even remember, you don’t even kind of realize your heads down. When you come up for air, you realize, wow, we’re way too late. I should have been talking about this follow-on work and getting this teed up months ago because of this internal approval process. And now what’s gonna end up happening is we’re going to have a gap when we finish this phase, they’re going to have to get all these approvals. And now we’re gonna have to wait for a month that just cost you a lot of money, and it cost the client a lot of results. Figure this out in advance, put it in your project plan, put it in your guardrails, another example for client delivery. What is your process? When you end your engagement with a client’s do send a thank you note? Do you ask for a testimonial? Where do you save the final deliverables for the client? Where do you put them for yourself? Do you get sign-off? You know, physical signups? Like what does that actually look like? From a guardrail perspective? The sixth category is team. So from a team perspective, and this really is a couple of different ways you could look at this. Do you have a team like in the sense of support staff like virtual assistants, accountants, lawyers, like those kinds of support people in your business? Do you also have people that are you could consider teaming with? So those are some examples of team even though you don’t have any employees? Potentially, you most likely have some form of an ecosystem of team members. And so, what is your process for keeping in touch with each of those types of team members? What does it look like to keep your potential, you know, partners, someone that might team with you to deliver a project, or someone that might refer work to you? Because they’re, you know, overflowing at the moment, or vice versa? You might be overflowing, and you want to refer to them? What does it look like to maintain and cultivate that relationship? What is the cadence? Another example here would be what’s your engagement process with your support team? How often do you talk to your accountant? How do you get that on the books? How often do you talk to your bookkeeper? How often do you talk to your virtual assistant? For example, the seventh category is financials. So what is your process? What are your guardrails? What are your business? operating policies for handling late payments? For example? What are your policies for looking at and planning for your business investments? For me, for example, I look at my marketing investments, what is my goal for the year from a marketing perspective? Am I going to hire any consultants? Am I going to pay for any kind of marketing like copywriters, stuff like that? What is my business investment plan relative to wherever my focus of the businesses right for you, it might be something different than marketing. So really looking at what is the cadence around looking at setting and refreshing that business investment plan. And then the eighth area is Miscellaneous, right, for example, I send thank you notes for X, Y, and Z. I always do this in my business, these are like those things that might not necessarily fit into a certain category, but you really want to capture them as your guardrails as your operating policies. Hopefully, that gives you some meaty examples of categories that you want to start building out and questions within those categories that you want to be answering. So that you know exactly what you’re doing in your business, you know, what you want the client journey to look like, you know, what you want people to feel like when they’re interacting with you and your business. And you know, you don’t have to continuously make all these decisions every single time and fall into that dating feeling trap, you can have all of this decided in advance. So it cuts down on that weight on your mental energy. So the last thing that I want to share with you today is how to make this doable. My clients are getting this four- or five-page PDF about this, to help them avoid the mistake I made and take the mental burden off of them. And so that can feel very overwhelming, right? Like, how am I gonna define all this? And how am I gonna put it into practice, it feels like a lot to be managing. And so what I’m going to say to you is, pick it off a little by little, there’s eight categories I just shared with you just choose one a week or one, one or two a quarter, and just start taking it off. You don’t have to have all of this perfected at once, not trying to cause another perfection problem for you. But really make a commitment to start putting this in place to make your life easier in the long run. And then the other thing that you can really be thinking about as you’re doing this is to figure out how can you make this process this policy? More automatic? Is there something you can do like prewriting emails? What does it look like every time something happens, like you’re asking for maybe a case study from a client or you’re wrapping up a project and you’re starting to proceed realize these types of things, or you’re following up on late payment, like something like that, where you’re really starting to proceed realize things and you can pull from the work you’ve already done. And you don’t have to recreate the wheel every time. The other thing that you can do to make this much more doable and bite-size to put these business operating policies in place is to figure out who’s going to do it? Is it you? Or is it a virtual assistant of some sort? Or can you automate it in some way? What can you do to make your life easy to make things repeatable, to make them quick and easy things to grab, so that you don’t have to use your brainpower for these types of simple things that are so important. They’re simple, but they’re important because they’re reflections of you and your business, and the way that people engage with you. So, think outside the box in this way, and don’t let overwhelm stand in your way of putting what I’ve shared with you today into practice. So go make your business operating policies go make your guardrails. And if you want help with this book a consultation with me, I would love to talk with you about what’s going on in your business and understand what your goals are where you want your business to be in the next three years. And what’s standing in your way. Let’s figure that out together. You know most of it, but there are blind spots as well. I would love to talk with you about all of that and figure out if coaching together is a good fit or not. If it’s not I’ll give you the recommendations, what I think would work best for you and if it is we can talk in detail about what coaching together would look like so for that you can go to consult Melisa is the URL comm consult Melisa calm, and we’ll put that in the show notes as well. Thanks for tuning in today. Thanks for hearing and listening to my big mistake that I am shoring up Because I am putting these guardrails in place in my business while I’ve had them in my business, but I’m definitely revisiting them and making a much more thorough version in order to avoid making these mistakes and to really take that mental load off of me when it’s just these constant decisions that have to be made over and over again, just relegate them to a guardrail, and then you can free up your energy for so many other important things. So that is my plan. And I wanted to share that with you today so that you could put it in place as well. I will see you again next week. And I think next week, we’re going to be on episode 57 That crazy. Alright, I will see you then.


Thanks for joining me this week on the Grow Your Independent Consulting Business podcast. If you like today’s episode, I have three quick next steps for you. First, click Subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to make sure you don’t miss future episodes. Next, leave me a review in your podcast app so other independent consultants can find it benefit to and finally to put the ideas from today’s episode into action. Head over to Melisaliberman.com for the show notes and more resources to help you grow your consulting practice from your first few projects into a full-fledged business. See you next week.

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