NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Eavesdropping is not intentional, but some days you just can’t help but overhear a conversation in a restaurant. I recently had one of those days. As I was sitting on the terrace of one of my favorite restaurants, carving out some time for uninterrupted writing, two women were discussing consulting. One woman was advising the other to become a consultant.

“It’s easy,” she said. “All you have to do is generate leads and contacts by networking. That’s all it takes.”

(Ha! So simple she made it seem.)

The next statement was perhaps the most disturbing: “I’m able to do that all the time. It is so easy.” She then paused — a long pause –“But I haven’t gotten anyone to pay me yet. But I have been able to get lots of leads this past year.”

If you’re in business, you know that while leads are good, paying clients are the goal. Somewhere in this woman’s thought process the connection just did not seem to be made. You want (and need) paying customers! Fortunately, I think the second woman understood what her friend didn’t. “If I am going to be in business as a consultant, I need to know how to take a lead and convert it to a paying, profitable customer,” she said.

As a consultant, you understand you have to find paying clients, however the missing link in the chain that turns a lead into a customer isn’t always easy to find. Mistakenly, consultants often focus on what activities they are going to do to generate leads, without a plan for converting them to profit. Consultants must shift from “activity focused” work to “outcome focused” work.

The activity focus doesn’t give us a direction or a meaningful measurement to know if what we are doing is working. Are we doing enough, or too little? The outcome focus enables us to know what our measurable metrics are, what the deadline is and where we are going to put our efforts. When we know what we will be measuring and how much we need to accomplish, we know what to work toward. Then we figure out what activities are needed to achieve the outcome we’ve targeted.

So if we go back to the discussion of leads, a key question to ask yourself is “Are you setting your goal to get lots of leads, or lots of customers?” Check your top and bottom-line and you will have the answer.

If your main goal is profitable sales, then obtaining leads — and by “leads” I mean qualified leads who will actually make good customers who are willing and able to buy from you at a profit — is a subgoal (I call it a “focus target”) for generating sales. You must focus on getting good leads, while knowing that the bigger picture is converting each lead into a client.

Keeping your eye on the target means you do more with less time, money and effort. Every dollar and action counts, so you must be productive, not just busy. If you do not take time to set goals, you are on a journey without a destination. If you do not take time to plan, you may get to a destination, but it will usually take longer and be more costly.

You can run around performing random tasks and be busy without the results you desire … or you can set a goal, make a plan, take action that moves you to the goal and moves the plan ahead. You can do only what feels good or, you can make time to move forward and develop behaviors that build success. It is your choice: Go for the lead or, get the customer. Which one sounds more profitable to you?

–By Lea Strickland

Lea Strickland, M.B.A., is the founder of Technovation Entrepreneur , a program that helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses. Strickland is the author of “Out of the Cubicle and Into Business” and “One Great Idea!” She has more than 20 years of experience in operational leadership in Fortune 500 and Global 100 companies, including Ford, Solectron and Newell.

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