Telling people I was a teacher was easy. They understood I was qualified and had an understanding of what I did. After all we’ve all been to school. Calling myself ‘a consultant’ was more problematic. Particularly after someone told me the word is made up of ‘con’ and ‘insult’. Mmmhhh. Anyone can call themself a consultant. It covers fields as diverse as beauty advice and brain surgery. Being referred to as a consultant makes me feel uncomfortable and I change my job title to achieve greater trust and credibility. To my bank, accountant and officialdom I’m ‘managing director’. To retail clients I’m ‘a training supplier’. To others I’m ‘a trainer’. In the world of education I’m a still ‘a teacher’. That’s my preferred job title.
Being a consultant assumes an area of technical expertise. That’s my technical skill. It embraces personal qualities and interpersonal skills. After all someone has to seek advice and trust the person who provides it. I’ve learned to become a professional consultant by doing the job, observing how others operate and doing the opposite and always learning, practising what I preach.
Here are some tips for would-be consultants under any name:
- Be authentic. Be ‘yourself on a good day’.
- Hone your skills. It’s a huge market. Be as good as you can be.
- Pass over your skills and never allow a person or organisation to become dependent upon you.
- Work hard to get feedback. Know yourself and ask specific questions to help you make improvements.
- Make your primary motivation to do a good job; secondary to be liked. If not the second will compromise the first.
- Make integrity your byword. If you can’t do a job then say so. Or find a woman or man that can (note the order!).
- Value your expertise and know your market value. It’s not just the time a job takes you that matters. Expertise and experience make you faster. Should that make you cheaper?
- Know your markets. It may not be that you are too expensive for some but that these people are not your market.
- Read two invaluable books: The consultant’s calling by Geoffrey Bellman and Flawless consulting by Peter Block.
- Get a young mentor. Invaluable for IT and design skills and prices.
- Question the ways that organisations work. This applies to your own company and your client’s. Just because it’s always been like that doesn’t mean it has to carry on like that.
- Make speed matter. Nobody wants to wait for anything. Despite what they may say.
- Ask a lot of questions. Why should you know anything better than the employees?
- Avoid pretending to be a magician. If the organisation has struggled with an issue how can you pull it out of a hat?
- Work for companies of whom you are a customer, industries in which you are interested and products for which you are passionate.
- Be the consummate professional. And enhance the status of ‘consultant’.
- Remember that most customers will ask themselves: Do I like you? Do I trust you? Can I work with you?
- The usual objection to using you is cost; this is rarely the real or only reason.
- Work out the value of your time. For things you hate to do or can be donecheaper – find someone else to do it.
- Be careful with whom you choose to form alliances.