GETTING YOUR FIRST ASSIGNMENT Unless you are able to connect your knowledge and experience to the needs of a contact you currently have, it may be awhile before you get your first assignment. I was fortunate to have an in-depth knowledge of computers used for real-time applications. As a result, I landed my first assignment for conducting a competitive analysis study for a computer corporation within 33 days of starting my business. You can do this too.
FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTY There’s something about a corporate paycheck that can be addicting. Perhaps this is no big deal to you, but if you’re supporting a family they can get really nervous when that paycheck disappears. The only way to solve this issue is to continually hustle for business. You must be confident of the value of what you have to offer, and possess the materials and skills to help you put your best foot forward. This book will show you how to do that.
GAPS BETWEEN ASSIGNMENTS The biggest trap consultants get into (and that includes me) is that we get comfortable with the work and income flow from our existing client base. But they can dry up in a hurry. All it takes is a change in top management, financial belt-tightening–even the successful completion of a long-term project–and that income flow disappears. But we haven’t taken the time to find and sell new opportunities because we’re too busy. We often get so caught up in the tasks at hand, we drop the ball that is our future.
If we haven’t done our homework, when a major project is over, it’s like starting the business up all over again until we get a new contract. There’s no need for this to occur. Once you learn this lesson (hopefully with this book) it won’t happen again. It’s no fun in the ‘tween times.
TIMING AND CONTROL In a consulting practice, timing and control are quite different from what we learned to expect in corporate life. There, everything was relatively simple. It was a cause-effect environment. We issued a directive and things got done, sometimes on schedule. There was a predictability and rhythm to the culture of the company. Our actions as corporate manager or executive made things happen. Running a consulting business will give you a whole new perspective on timing and control.
First, any time-related issues are those of your client. Wait a minute, you say. I’ve got an unbeatable selling proposition, my promotional materials are excellent, and I’ve got great references. I can really help this company, and they just are not responding right now. What’s up?
You may have a great story to tell to a prospective client, but they may not be ready for your services yet. It’s not time–other issues are more important. In corporate life you were part of the mainstream, but here you’re an outsider. That’s why a successful consulting business is a relationship business. When it’s time to use the services you can provide, you want to make sure they’ll call you instead of someone else.
Second, let’s talk about control. In corporate life, you may have believed that through the application of appropriate management techniques you were able to control the actions of the people who worked for you. In a consulting practice, you only influence, you don’t control. One of the temptations to overcome is attempting to take control of a situation where you are contracted to be an advisor. I once blew a consulting contract with a major workstation supplier by attempting to run a project that was going south instead of acting as a advisor.
NEW SKILLS SETS ARE REQUIRED Remember when you used to be to able dictate a letter or send an outline to the marketing department to create some visual aids? With a consulting practice, those days are gone, unless you want to spend a lot of money using outside service firms. Some of the new skill sets you’ll need to develop are:
Computer literacy–this means learning word processing, spreadsheets, presentation graphics, database manager (for direct mail campaigns), and desktop publishing
Positioning your services–becoming a streetwise marketing guru
Sales skills–even if you’ve been a VP of Sales, it’s back to square one. Most likely, you’re like I was and will have to relearn the basics.
Writing winning proposals–it’s all up to you
Handling money–why is it so easy to spend?
Time management and discipline–this means being at your desk on time and putting in a full day–every day
DEVELOPING RESOURCE BASES FOR PROJECT ASSIGNMENTS By now you’ve figured out that you can’t do everything supremely well. Other people are more gifted than you are in some areas. Don’t hesitate to use them if they’ll add to the success of a project. Outsourcing some of the fees you receive may be one of the best investments you’ll ever make. One client contracted me to develop a new-hire training course from scratch. I immediately sought out the best I know in the business and achieved an unbelievably high 4.75 out of 5.0 rating for a pilot training course.
Here are some of the areas where you may need to have outside resources that help you:
Graphics design for preparation of marketing and promotional material
Technical, marketing, or financial functions
Dictating and typing
Any other services you may need that you do not have the skills to provide
DEVELOPING STRATEGIC ALLIANCES Yes, there are others out there in the consulting world–the ‘no man is an island’ truism applies here in spades. Developing mutually beneficial business relationships with your peers in the consulting world can help you to:
Add value to an assignment where others may require your services
Provide referrals where and when they can’t handle an assignment
Offer reciprocity with finder fees to provide financial incentive
DEVELOPING RELATIONSHIPS THAT LEAD TO BUSINESS SUCCESS You probably realize that your success in corporate life was not solely because of your knowledge and skills–much of it had to do with the relationships you had with your superiors, peers, and subordinates within the company or companies. Now that you’ve left the corporate scene, those relationships are gone (unless you get your initial consulting contract from your existing employer).