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Are You Running a Business or a Practice?

There’s a big difference between running a business and running a practice. A practice is dependent on you as the author or thought leader to deliver all the solutions that generate revenue. These might be things like writing books or articles, keynote speeches, workshops or consulting engagements. If you’re truly running a business you have all of those options as well as training solutions (either licensed to clients or delivered by others), assessment tools, consulting engagements that you aren’t personally delivering, e-learning, coaching and more.

A business is an asset that can ultimately be sold, that generates cash flow and recurring revenue. It also requires a much broader range of skills and resources to run and to grow effectively. While a practice may appear to be simpler or easy to run or manage I actually find the opposite to be true. Being the “head cook and bottle washer”, even with the help of an assistant, is incredibly difficult and lonely.

You’ve got to create content, sell your service, deliver those services, travel constantly and make decisions (often times) in isolation. Sure it has its benefits (freedom, independence, not having to manage employees, etc.) but I think the real issue that too few authors and thought leaders think about is if they’ve made a conscience, deliberate decision to have a practice or a business. Too often serendipitous circumstances, luck and being able to spot an opportunity is how they start off. Rarely do they make a strategic decision to transition from a practice to a business.

There are a lot of reasons why that’s the case – they’re making a decent leaving, they love what they’re doing, they’re incredibly busy and they get to spend their time as they choose doing what they are passionate about. That all makes sense (or at least it does for a while), but there comes a point where you need to step back and understand your personal strengths and weaknesses as well as what opportunities might exist in your current market or in markets that you don’t serve. What other modalities might people consume your content in if they were available? Are you keeping up with the latest thinking in adult learning and organizational development?

You may very well have the right message for the right audience but if you don’t have that content available in as many modalities as your market demands then you’re leaving money on the table and lowering significant barriers to entry.

Many authors and thought leaders totally get this on an intellectual level yet don’t change the way they operate. It may be out of fear, lack of resources, not having specific skills (product development, marketing, sales, management etc.) or it could be that they aren’t in enough pain to realize they need to change. I’ve seen dozens of authors that used to have a steady stream of income from keynote speaking and healthy book advances realize that the old model is gone and their income is a fraction of what it used to be. There aren’t a lot of listing for “Keynote Speakers” on HotJobs the last time I checked…

I’ve also met and worked with several folks that have a practice out of deliberate choice. They realize it may not be the best or smartest way to operate but it’s a lifestyle choice. They don’t care all that much about building a business, they love being on stage and traveling and not having a board of directors or employees and they understand the opportunity costs. I commend each and every one of them – it’s the right choice for them and it isn’t anyone’s place to judge them.

That being said, what I see far more frequently are really smart people working incredibly hard at their practice. They haven’t made a conscience decisions to not transition to a business, it’s just that they either haven’t spent the time and energy to strategize, plan and get the resources they need to help take them on that journey. While money may be the primary driver for many to build a business for others it really isn’t about the money. A business enables them to get their content and message out to more people and in more formats than they could ever possibly reach.

Whether it is about the money, the movement or lifestyle choices, every author and thought leader needs to take the time to make the decision to manage a practice or build a business. There are more ways than ever before to leverage your content as well as grow a business.


Peter Winick has deep expertise in helping those with deep expertise. He is the CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Peter on Twitter!

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Really good thinking in here Peter. I’ve consulted with many thought leaders and found that most of them lack the focus and discipline to run a business in addition to running the practice that is their personal brand. I typically feel that valuable talent of this ilk need a more conservative business partner or COO from day one. They are excellent at being consistently on brand, but the many details and distractions of day-to-day business operations is at odds with their core. I like your area of focus.

  2. Peter,
    You hit on an interesting dichotomy and trend.

    The 21st century communication channels make it easier than ever to promote your personal brand and have a successful practice but you are limited in your growth because it all depends on you.

    The flip side is you hint at a trend for people to begin to connect personal brands with complementary brands — a CEO “idea” type with a COO “operations” type — to create a whole greater than the sum of it’s parts.

    We are seeing the industrial revolution employment model break down/evolve to a new, post-industrial employment model. Looking forward to see how it works out.

    Alan Berkson
    Intelligist Group

  3. This article talks to me Peter. Your article illuminates my challenges as an entrepreneur with two businesses, one a practice and one a business. Taking the time out too think and plan is indeed a small business owners (or leader’s) biggest challenge. Thank you for the definitions, I will be dumping them into my think tank.

  4. Peter – Very interesting and thought provoking article. The transition from practice to business involves creating repeatable process / tool / template that can be handed over to someone without sacrificing the quality of the output. This is the same difference as running an independent business and creating a franchise that can be operated by others.

    This is the only way you will be able to scale your business without you being involved in every aspect of running it.

  5. Echo comments here. It takes both. Unlike previous comment, I don’t think it’s as easy as replicating repeatable processes that can be handed over. Because once it’s replicable we all know it becomes commodity and loses value. As someone who has managed through past 13 years trying to be both, it’s tiring. Welcome ways forward or the how behind getting from practice to business.

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