MBR Consulting started like many consulting firms. After a career working in sales training for the telecom industry, Michael Reding hung out his shingle offering advice to those he'd already impressed while regularly employed. Though he avoided direct competition with his old office, Reding reached out to contacts he'd made over the years.
Reding pitched soft skills like communication, stress management and conflict resolution—he has a master's degree in psychology and is interested in human behavior. He even went so far as to pitch his mental health services to Portland's then-new WNBA team. Almost every time, however, his potential clients would counter with requests for sales training. They'd seen him do it, and knew he excelled in that area.
Reding was under no illusions, saying MBR would likely have failed had he remained attached to his original vision for the company. Instead, he made bids on what people wanted to buy. He spent the next years conducting sales training sessions for non-sales staff, including technicians and department managers. As trends changed, his services morphed to include marketing training and marketing plans.
Lesson 1: Stay True to What Made You a Success
Reding got some chances to deliver the soft skills training he loved, but his income and business relied on the marketing training methods he'd developed throughout his career.
In fact, he learned to expand even more in that marketing direction based on what his customers wanted. "If somebody asks you to do something, and you can do it—or if you think you can learn how to do it before they need it done—say yes," Reding advises. When the general manager of a local telephone cooperative asked him for a marketing plan, Reding had never written one. But he had conducted training sessions at which he taught others their basic structure and theory. When he delivered that first marketing plan, the client was so impressed, they hired him for several hours a month of consulting.
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Lesson 2: Go With the Flow
Reding compares MBR's path to the course of a river. When he runs into a boulder, he flows around it and follows what was available instead of beating himself against the rocks.
That came in handy when, because of his high-quality work, the local telephone cooperative that hired him for consulting offered to take him on full time. They'd been a client for nine years, and Reding respected both the company's policies and the people who ran it. After negotiating a flexible, part-time schedule with full-time benefits and checking with his other clients to make sure they were okay with the arrangement, Reding accepted the offer. Today, Reding says he spends about 75 percent of his time "working for the man" and 25 percent working with MBR's clients.
Lesson 3: Be Flexible
"Had I stayed focused on what I thought I wanted, I would have missed so many opportunities to get exactly what I needed," Reding says. "I never planned to be where I am, but I'm very happy to be here." In circumstances where many businesses fail, MBR survives through a willingness to follow the work, accept opportunity and change to meet reality on reality's terms.
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