Advice for prospective consultants -7 tips

on Tuesday, 01 January 2013. Posted in Blog

Currently times are very good for consultants, Consulting is a diverse industry, I think as we move forward not all will benefit equally.

I've been a consultant of one form or another since 1994 when I started my own company, with a friend from university, I have been asked often about the consulting business, so I decided to write this up.  

Please note that I am providing observations from my own personal experiences.  


1-What does it take? The single biggest asset is how you provide value to your customer; the customer must understand your value proposition. Consultant’s biggest asset is their technical skills (Knowledge). Those skills are required, of course, and often help get you in, but the long-term customer relationships on which a consultant depends are built on one thing only. Your customer certainly has to believe you can do the job, your consulting practice is never more stable than when your customers trust you can take care of him.


2- I still have my first customer from 1994, plus several others since before 2000, I've been asked to do work and I was clearly not the best for that specific project, simply because my customer liked doing business with me and I always based all my projects on making sure the project results were a win-win with tangible facts and data. (Not a PowerPoint or a good speech)


3-One important skill for a consultant you must be a self starter, require very little supervision, and the ability to keep on task without a boss looking over your shoulder.


4-Consultants do not have job security -even good consultants — are often considered a necessary evil by customers who use them, and it's exceptionally easy to stop using one. It doesn't require firing or confrontation; just "we don't need you any more".This is not personal to you by your customer — it's just business.

The best way to approach job security this is to diversify — if you have only one ongoing project, you can find yourself out of work with no more notice than the time it takes the phone to ring.  Establish a network, write a blog, white paper ( I still get calls on a whitepaper I wrote in 1998). For a good consultant, your voice is comforting to the customer. Be very easy to find. My approach I have used my blog to connect with customers, Built a win-win with large corporations like Oracle to share knowledge, and you must establish the reflex that the customer knows you're going to be on the case, he can stop worrying and attend to what's in front of him. In my entire career, I have never dodged a page or screened a call even though I was tempted more than once.

 5-If you conduct yourself properly, you will accumulate a list of customers who will speak well about you: in many cases these will be your best source of new business, and in any case they have a name: your references. No matter how renowned you are for your technical skills, it is hard to overemphasize just how important your references are to a successful consulting practice.Think what you would ask if you were checking up on somebody you were about to hire: you'll ask about his skills, of course, but that's not all:

  • How was he to work with?
  • How much supervision did he require?
  • Did he show up when he said he would?
  • Did he deliver what he said he would?
  • How were his invoices?
  • Would you recommend him to others?

Your references are your reputation in the consulting world. If you're doing a good job taking care of your customers, they are usually more than happy to say good things about you to others.This doesn't always materialize, of course: from time to time there will be that relationship that simply doesn't work. A personality conflict, internal politics that you get caught up in, or a non-work life crisis can all conspire to create an engagement that you don't care to talk about. 

6- This is the single most common question that prospective consultants ask 'How much should I bill my client', and one of the hardest to answer. The short answer is a mix of "whatever the market will bear" and "how busy you wish to be".One point on rates , if you are booked solid for months or years that means your billing rate is too low  

7- I purposely put the technical part last, to reinforce the notion that "customer service", not only knowledge skills are the biggest factors in a successful consulting practice. But it's foolish to think that knowledge skills don't matter: you don't have a business unless you can offer a service that a customer is willing to buy. Though for employment, certifications (university degrees, market certifications, etc.) tend to matter a lot, they are much less important for consultants.

Your references and your experience are far more important than your certifications in consulting.

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