Getting More Referrals and Creating Relationships That Lead to Greater Success with Liz Kislik: Podcast #18

When you insist on hard work and high standards, you will see your consulting luck transform into substantial consulting success.


If your consulting business has more than one employee, chances are you have run into conflict with your partners or coworkers. On this episode of the Consulting Success Podcast, I’m joined by Liz Kislik, the owner of Liz Kislik Associates, with nearly 30 years of nationally acclaimed consulting management experience. Liz is an expert on conflict management, handling everything from operating issues to communication problems and inter-departmental conflicts.

Liz started out as a college student looking for a summer job. She landed her first job as a salesperson for TV Guide, where she learned the entire business and eventually was promoted to executive vice president before leaving the company. Within a week of quitting, Liz was being contacted by companies looking for a consultant, and she has been working hard at her successful consulting business ever since.

When they are presented to you, take advantage of writing or speaking engagements. These opportunities will help you to gain a reputation as an expert in your field.

On this episode, we dive into the difference between luck and hard work. Every consultant hopes to get lucky, but there are many ways that you can actually affect your luck. Liz shares several tactics that have resulted in her luck improving, and it is all because of the hard work she has been willing to put into her business. From expanding her referral pool to fine-tuning her branding, she shares solid tips for the hard work that will increase your luck, and your consulting success. You won’t want to miss out on her wisdom and expertise on this episode of The Consulting Success Podcast with Liz Kislik.

Luck or Hard Work — Which One Equals Success?

Too many consultants are looking for luck — whether it be some new technology or a big breakthrough that will catapult their business into an unbelievable success. Liz starts out by explaining that that kind of luck, while possible, is unlikely to be sustainable for an extended period of time. She calls it “lottery luck,” and warns that it can lead to trouble. Finding yourself lucky in your business without the preparation that needs to take place to sustain long-term success is not really lucky at all. Real success comes with 20 years of preparation. There is no quick and easy substitute for real preparation and hard work, and Liz explains why.

It is essential that you know what you are talking about in your consulting business. There is no substitute for really knowing the ins and outs of the work you are hired to do. Lucky breaks will never make that happen. Understanding the work and doing what it takes to make it successful, not only gives you increased knowledge, it also gives you more credibility in your field. Hard work will give you the edge you need when potential clients are considering hiring you to get their jobs done, and that’s when you will see your luck start to grow.

The Relationships that Lead to Success

When Liz started out in her consulting business, she didn’t have a business plan in place, although she wishes she would have had one. In its place, she had to work to find other ways to find clients and projects. I talk often on The Consulting Success Podcast about the importance of a solid network, and Liz’s story is further proof that your network is the number one key to gaining the success that you are seeking.

When building out your network, you need to foster and maintain referral relationships. These relationships include the people who think highly of you and the work that you are capable of doing. When they hear of an opportunity, they think of you and are willing to recommend your name as someone who can get the job done. Liz calls these relationships the lucky ones. For her, these relationships have created many quality opportunities for her to expand both her business and her credibility. She recognizes that it takes hard work to make and keep these types of relationships, but that the work produces exceptional rewards.

There are several ways that you can establish referral relationships, and Liz shares the details of one highly effective method. By actively serving in volunteer positions on nonprofit boards, you can spend a lot of time with a lot of different types of people who see you at work without your demanding anything from them. In this light, people can see your abilities to work, collaborate, and act as a good colleague. In a volunteer position, you can build a sense of trust and confidence in your abilities, as well as a confidence that you will bring value to any project that you are involved in.

It is definitely a long sales cycle, but it’s one that yields high returns in the long run. You’ll want to listen to the opportunities that have presented themselves for Liz because she was willing to put in the hard work of nurturing referral relationships — some of them 20 years in the making.

Keep the Referrals Coming by Doing These Two Things

In addition to volunteering, Liz worked hard to increase her luck in two other areas early in her consulting career. By dedicating time to becoming a writer and a speaker, she increased both her visibility and her credibility. When they are presented to you, take advantage of writing or speaking engagements. These opportunities will help you to gain a reputation as an expert in your field.

To help in her efforts, Liz continues to maintain her lengthy list of contacts. A weekly blog post and a monthly emailed newsletter allow Liz to reach out to her readers and to connect with them regularly. She also has started writing for Harvard Business Review. She proves that by regularly putting yourself out there as an expert in your field, you are increasing your credibility for people who don’t know much about you or the work you do.

However, you have to recognize that the impact of writing and speaking may not be instantaneous. The effect that these efforts can have on your business is a long-term one. In her experience, Liz found that it was often years later that she was approached by a client that was finally ready to make the kind of changes and improvements that she implements in companies. Consulting work, and especially conflict management, can be long and hard work with a major commitment to change required on the part of the business. A company may not be ready to make changes as soon as you meet them, but by maintaining consistent and helpful contact with them, they will remember you and come to you when they are ready.

Speeding Up The Sales Cycle Won’t Increase Your Luck

If you’re looking for ways to quickly speed up the sales cycle, you may not be able to take advice from Liz. She shares the story of a recent encounter she had with a company in which she quickly realized that she would not be able to help them because their beliefs and morals were inherently different. She doesn’t believe in quick fixes to solve company problems, she believes in doing the work necessary to effect change over the long view. You’ll want to listen to our conversation to hear her explain why the hard work of real change is worth more than the lucky break of a quick fix.

Every client may not be the ideal one, but your business success and revenue will benefit more greatly in the long run if you are willing to hold out for the best fit for you.

However, if you are insistent on finding ways to speed up your sales pipeline, Liz’s number one tip is to read Stand Out, by Dorie Clark. Dorie was a previous guest of mine on The Consulting Success Podcast and you can hear more about her story and success on Episode 11. In Dorie’s book, she shares a three-pronged approach to setting yourself apart in your field. Liz has found success by following two of Dorie’s ideas. First, create a public presence and demonstrate social proof. This is done by proving you have good content to share and by exhibiting your expertise. And second, building your network so that there are people who are willing to refer you more frequently.

Finding the Confidence to Be Selective About Your Clients

Every successful consultant wants to grow their business to the point that they can turn away potential clients. But if you are trying to generate more business, you may be tempted to compromise who you are willing to work with. Don’t do it! Early in her career, Liz was not as discerning as she could have been and found herself occasionally taking on clients that weren’t the best fit. She tells of an experience in which she resigned from a project as early as legitimately possible, simply because the project was not a good fit for her. That kind of project is the kind that you probably shouldn’t take on in the first place.

It does require a level of confidence to be selective about the work you take on, but it’s worth it to make sure that you are only taking on the work that will best suit you and your area of greatest expertise. Every client may not be the ideal one, but your business success and revenue will benefit more greatly in the long run if you are willing to hold out for the best fit for you. You will be happier and you will be more creative when you are working on a project that fits with your morals. Chances are you became an independent consultant so that you can call the shots and enjoy the freedom of making your own choices. Don’t settle for working with people who don’t respect you or that you don’t have respect for. As you draw the lines of what kind of work you are willing to take on, you will gain the confidence that is necessary for turning work away.

High-Quality Branding And Just-Right Sizing Will Increase Your Luck

Liz has made a very conscious decision to focus on her branding. When you visit her website you immediately get a sense of the kind and quality of work that she does. She has deliberately designed her website to show that she has concepts about how things ought to be and a track record to show that she knows how to get those concepts realized. She also recognizes that being a “coach” is a dime-a-dozen position in today’s marketplace, and has made a concerted effort to show that her focus is on building and serving the business of each client she takes on. Too many coaches that are brought in to serve an individual fail to recognize the overall importance of affecting long-lasting change within an organization. By honing in on her high-quality branding, Liz has proven that she’s out to accomplish something bigger and better than simply coaching, from the start.

Scaling back or growing the business to just the right size, for Liz, has always been secondary to ensuring that she is doing the right kind of work. The perfect business size is a struggle that every consultant faces, and Liz has continued to work to find the right size business for her so that she is not overwhelmed but is also able to affect the best change she possibly can with the companies she consults.

With nearly 30 years of experience, Liz has seen plenty of mistakes that consultants over the years, and it all leads back to luck. As we discussed at the beginning of our conversation, Liz truly doesn’t believe that lucky breaks will create the lasting success that you are seeking with your consulting business. Instead, you have to commit to finding the best fit, ideal clients that share the same ideals as you, and from there, hard work and helping to affect long-term change are the only way that you can get the results that you want, and that your clients need. You’ll want to hear the experiences she shares of various mistakes that other consultants made that she had to clean up, and the lessons she learned from it. You may also be interested in the resources available on her website, including a field guide and checklist about dealing with conflict at work. You can learn all about it, as well as all the details on how to change your consulting luck for good, on this episode of The Consulting Success Podcast with Liz Kislik.

Key Takeaways:

[:10] Liz Kislik on the path that led to 30 years of consulting success.

[4:20] Should you aim for good luck or hard work?

[5:43] Referral relationships help increase business opportunities.

[8:19] The benefits of writing and speaking regularly.

[12:12] A quick fix project isn’t really a fix at all.

[16:18] Have the confidence to choose the best-fit projects.

[21:02] The role branding plays in Liz’s success.

[26:25] Finding the right-size business for you.

[29:20] Common mistakes in the consulting world.

[33:28] Connecting with Liz Kislik.

Mentioned in This Episode:

Liz Kislik
Stand Out — How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It, by Dorie Clark


“Putting yourself out there … increases your credibility for people who don’t know you.” — Liz Kislik


“The work I do is not quick-fix kind of work.” — Liz Kislik


“My intention is to be building and serving a business.” — Liz Kislik


“Understanding the client is the most important thing.” — Liz Kislik



Develop a predictable
pipeline of clients.

Please Share This Article If You Enjoyed It: