Consultancy Special Interest Group
17 April 2015

Tips for Consulting from Consultants

by Florence Chow

In the January ‘Life as a Consultant’ webinar Andrew, David and Martin gave tips and advice for getting into consulting and being an effective consultant. We summarise the key takeaways here…

Credibility

Consultants provide specialist services, experience, perspective and skills set that the clients need. For people with credible expertise and networks, a move into consultancy provides a great alternative to a full-time job. For junior engineers, the advice is to gain specialist skills and experience before joining a consultancy or going freelance.

Demand

As with all businesses, it is important to know your market and see if there is demand for your area of expertise in that region. A lot of the work can be done through the internet, so you can choose to live in a location different from where the work is coming from.

Network

To be a good consultant it is important to make the connections and keep in touch with old clients, as the client-consultant relationship is a two-way street. Networking through forums and other professional gatherings can help you find potential clients and identify collaborators with specialist skills, which may come in use in future projects.

Soft Skills

All clients think that they are the most important people in your world, so managing this relationship can be tricky at times, especially when you are delivering a solution they may not like. So developing these interpersonal soft skills are very important for consultants to keep the clients happy. If you are working within a company, you will interact with internal colleagues as well as external clients. Good news is companies tend to offer various training courses on the core set of soft skills you will need. For junior consultants, it is worthwhile to spend your first few years learning and observing, not just the technical aspects, but also the good and bad habits of consultants in your firm.

Advertising

The best form of advertising for services is personal recommendation, by individuals and companies. If you are using LinkedIn, consider a focused approach to setting up your profile, making clear what value you can add in comparison to someone else.

Workload

Being a consultant requires a fine skill of managing interactions with people as well as your workload. Each job you get is a mini-project which can last from a few weeks to six months, with potential for further extensions, or abrupt termination. If you are working freelance, then you need to assess how much work you need to do in order to make money. Don't forget to factor in the fact that you cannot work flat out all the time - good ideas do take time to generate!

Time Management

When you are working as a consultant, you are juggling different projects, and it is easy to slip into worrying about all of them at the same time. This is not only tiring but also does not help with your productivity. The best way to counteract this is to do the task when they need to be done, and give it 100% of your focus when you are timetabled for that work. A scheduling software 'Omnifocus' could help with this.

See our past webinar on 'Getting Things Done' by David Allen for more recommendations.

Business Development

Consulting is not just about the technical solution, it is also about learning to find new business opportunities and promote these offerings. Bidding for work and setting up contracts can be easier if there is a legal team and review structure in your company.

Technical Specialism

It is essential to keep up to date in your area, through publications, forums and government organisations on the latest developments. It is not necessary to have a PhD to be a consultant, field work experience, good technical skills and the ability to apply these for clients are more desirable.

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