I firmly believe that every growing business will need specialist support at different intervals. Specialist training for leaders and managers, specialist consultancy for introducing new technologies, specialist facilitation to plan strategy, specialist advice on marketing the brand, specialist coaching to improve personal and business performance, and the list goes on. When support services are done well it can be a relatively low cost intervention to accelerate achieving company goals. Done badly and the whole service sector takes a battering.
As consultants we could make life much easier for people that would benefit from our support by avoiding these common pitfalls:
1. You don’t work for yourself – I here this one a lot, people setting up as a consultant saying “I work for myself”. No you don’t. You may have set up your own business but you still work for someone… the customer. If you’re thinking of setting up as a consultant so you can do your own thing, think again. You will always be driven by the needs of the customer (if you want to be successful that is).
2. What problems can you solve – Customers want to know how you can help them solve their problems. Be clear on the problems you can help your customers solve. Most people running businesses are aware of their problems and will recruit external support by finding a solutions provider.
3. You’re not a decision maker anymore – Here’s something to think about. When do you perform at your best? When you’re making decisions or when you’re coaching someone else through a problem? Moving from a senior position in a business to a consultancy role is not a decision making role. It’s not your business. You’re probably just going to annoy people if you’re pushing them out of the way and making decisions for them. It won’t be sustainable anyway even if you get away with it.
4. You can’t just turn up – When you have a job and you’re full time employed, you usually just turn up work and do your thing. Not the same with consultancy. Customers need regular communication on what you intend to do, why you are doing it, who you are doing it with, where this will happen and when. Preparation and communication are absolutely fundamental to providing a good consultancy service.
5. Shut up and listen – Two ears and one mouth as a consultant. You should be doing twice as much listening as you are talking as a rule of thumb. You won’t solve problems with people if you’re not listening.
6. You’re not the best at everything – Be clear about your strengths and what you’re best at from day one. You will gain more business and it will be doing what you really enjoy. You can’t be good at everything. If you try to be, it will be the customer that suffers and you will not retain the business. If you don’t know your strengths, don’t become a consultant. Find out what you’re good at first.
7. Say no – It’s hard but say no if you are not aligned with the work being discussed. It may be you don’t like the customer. It could be the work is not something you enjoy. Maybe it just doesn’t feel right. Say no. If you’re not enjoying it, you will probably under deliver. Not good for your reputation or the customer.
8. Build your own network – Get out there and meet people. Grow your network. Lose the illusion of competition. You have no competitors. As a consultant you offer much more to your clients if you are willing to play to your strengths. Do what you’re best at and let someone else deliver if they could do a better job.
Hope these ramblings help. I appreciate it can be tough finding your place as a consultant and for some people maybe you’re just not cut out for this line of work. For others it may just be a few tweaks and you’ll be delivering an awesome service.
It would be good to hear your comments on consultancy. What advice would you provide someone who is looking to make the leap of faith?