A blog by Joel Barolsky of Barolsky Advisors

Five lessons from five years going solo

In Articles, Commentary on 1 June 2016 at 6:03 am

On 31 May 2011, I left Beaton Research & Consulting and a day later Barolsky Advisors Pty Ltd started trading. The next day I flew to Newcastle to facilitate a strategy workshop for a consulting engineering client. Business has been brisk ever since.

So what have I learned from five years going solo?

Lesson #1: Leave well

coffee beansI started working with George Beaton in 1990 when I first joined the Melbourne Business School as a case study writer. After five years as a part-time contractor, I became a full-time Beaton employee based in George’s home-office in Armadale.

George was a fantastic mentor and coach. I learned the craft of consulting primarily from him and for that I’m eternally grateful.

Leaving Beaton on good terms meant I could get a running start in my own business. Clients felt comfortable and I could start marketing my practice with a clean conscience.

Lesson #2: Growth can take many forms

“So, when are you hiring?”, is one of the questions I get asked frequently. I made a decision early on not to grow in size, but to grow in stature. I’m well aware that one can make a lot more money though leverage, but the stress of managing people and constantly feeding a hungry team was something I preferred to live without.  Partnering with specialist consultants and contracting super smart Melbourne Uni students fills most gaps.

Building a consulting business independent of personal brands is extremely difficult. Barolsky Advisors will cease trading when I decide to do something different. There will be no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Lesson #3: A touch of chutzpah never hurts

Chutzpah is when a man kills both his parents and begs the court for mercy because he’s an orphan. It has both positive (i.e. confidence/nerve) and negative (i.e. cocky/arrogant) connotations, but as a freelance consultant you need a bit of it.

Last year I approached Sue-Ella Prodonovich to assess her interest in co-presenting a public seminar focused on practical BD for lawyers. Sue-Ella in some ways is a direct competitor. She works as a strategy and BD advisor to professional service firms and we share many clients and contacts.

In March 2016, we ran Practice Reboot in Melbourne and Sydney, and based on its success we will be doing it again in September and extending the locations to Brisbane and Auckland. Approaching her took a bit of cheek, but hey, nothing ventured nothing gained.

Lesson #4: Abundance trumps scarcity  

Most of my social media connections know that I curate content daily and blog my own material monthly*. Since starting, I have had over 22,000 views of my blog posts, and thousands more of curated material.

The major benefits of blogging and curating are:

  • Staying top-of-mind amongst clients and prospects,
  • Facilitating sales prospecting and conversion,
  • Developing fresh ideas and refining my thinking through feedback, and
  • Keeping abreast of current trends and research.

There is little doubt that having an abundance mindset has paid off handsomely. The true value of content is in its application and execution.

Lesson #5: Transform fear into fire

In 2012, a very large consulting assignment with Leighton Contractors ended unexpectedly when my main client contact left to become a CEO of another organisation. This left a huge void and a very thin pipeline. The risk of business failure was high at the time but, with the support of my wife Tonia, I was able to transform this fear into positive thinking and energy. Three months later I was back on my feet.

Only around 5% of my business is annuity work. I have to prospect and sell roughly 95% of my annual target. Part of selling is recognising that you win some and lose some. My fear and loathing for losing is a powerful motivator. I use it every day to light the fire in my belly.

In conclusion

The fifth anniversary of Barolsky Advisors will pass without a huge staff party. I felt the need to commemorate this milestone in an manner consistent with other significant experiences – write a blog post about it!

A huge thank you to all my clients, contacts and friends for your support and endless encouragement over the past five years. Apologies to all those victims of my chutzpah. I promise not to kill you and then claim on by business continuity insurance.

* I blog on Relationship Capital and mirror the posts on LinkedIn’s Pulse.


To coincide with Barolsky Advisors’ fifth birthday, we’re proud to announce the launch of a new public seminar called, MBA IN A DAY. The seminar has been designed for mid-career lawyers to learn more about business and deepen their understanding of clients. Click here for more information.

Note: Barolsky Advisors is now located at Suite 6, Level 3, 350 Collins Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia. Other contact details remain the same: mobile +61 417 305 880 and email joel.barolsky@barolskyadvisors.com

Butcher butcher’s paper

In Articles, Commentary on 27 May 2016 at 9:29 am

One of my most popular posts covered my top 20 workshop facilitation tips and secrets. I have Tip #21 and thought you might find it of interest.

During strategy and planning workshops it is quite common to organise breakout groups and assign them a specific problem or opportunity to explore. The convention is to ask a nominated group spokesperson to write up key points on butchers paper and report back to the wider group.

If you forget to pick up the meat on the way to the workshop, Google Docs provides a great alternative, and it works like this…

Level 1

Wireless Icon Coffee Bean on Old Paper

Create a Google doc or slide and send the link to the group’s nominated (tablet or laptop with wifi) scribe. As the discussion progresses the notes are automatically saved and displayed on the facilitator’s computer. As a facilitator you can keep track of each group’s progress and focus your attention on those groups that are struggling or off-topic. When it comes time to report back, the only thing needed is to project the document. It’s really easy to add additional comments and suggestions from the wider group to the live document. At the end, all the discussion is documented and there’s no need for post-workshop write-up. And no butcher’s paper.

Level 2

An extension of this technique is to give two or three breakout groups the same topic with the same link. In this instance they’re all working independently but collaboratively on the same thing. With the ground rule of no deletions of others’ content, competitive instincts over take over and the outcome is a snowball of good ideas that become great ideas.

One could do this exercise with a very large group as well. Say you have 120 participants in 15 tables of 8 people. One could allocate three topics to clusters of 5 tables. The report back would just involve three relatively short presentations on the collaborative documents.

Level 3

In some instances it is logistically too expensive to get all the key people you need in the same room at the same time. One can run a similar Google doc workshop with teams in multiple locations and linked via video. It requires a bit of set-up and you need a skilled facilitator, but in my experience, the benefits far outweigh the costs of the alternatives.

In conclusion

Google docs is virtually free and offers a myriad of ways to transform strategy and planning workshops. Start experimenting today and let me know how you go.


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