There are a variety of reasons people become a consultant. Flexibility, networking, and the excitement of always doing something different are just a few reasons. But along with these benefits comes the risk of not having work for periods of time. To minimize that risk, it is important to make sure that you are a preferred consultant. Here are the 10 commandments of a great consultant, to maximize your potential:
1. Thou shalt be flexible.
Flexibility extends beyond your day-to-day schedule. In order to be a great consultant who constantly has work, you need to be willing to adapt to new projects, cultures, and work constraints. The same thing that worked for one job won’t necessarily work for all jobs. It’s crucial for a great consultant to be flexible by listening to its customer, thinking outside the box and developing new solutions to problems. Likewise, your schedule should be flexible enough to allow for working odd hours, and meeting your clients out of working hours such as nights and weekends at times. Ultimately, isn’t this flexibility and control over your agenda what is really great about being a consultant?
2. Thou shalt adapt to new colleagues.
It’s important to be able to work with many different types of personalities if you want to succeed as a consultant. While one of the benefits of consulting is the excitement of working in new environments, it can also be one of the greatest challenges, since every new environment comes with a new group of colleagues. You will meet people who are combative, passive, easy going, and everything in between. You will even have to forge good working relationships with people who are not colleagues, but who have in-between positions, and you must be able to work with them efficiently. You have the ear of the boss, but you have to be able to work well on the ground, too. Being able to successfully navigate different personalities will enhance your abilities as a consultant.
3. Thou shalt be disciplined.
Working a flexible schedule can be great, but it can also pose the very real challenge of discipline. In order to be an effective consultant, you must be able to work diligently on projects by creating a schedule that will allow you the time and resources that you need to complete a project on time. Your main task as a consultant is to solve problems quickly and efficiently. Knowing how to get in, lend your expertise and advice on a project, and get out quickly is crucial to your success.
4. Thou shalt collaborate.
You need to be collaborative as a consultant, even if you prefer to work mainly on your own or as a leader. Listening to problems and working to develop a solution that will solve those problems means you need to collaborate. Great consultants are team players. So don’t hesitate to share your knowledge. Part of good collaboration is speaking up, as well as listening. It can only have a positive impact on your work and your reputation. Companies will return again and again to consultants who took the time to listen to the company’s problems, who showed initiative, and who worked with key company players to develop a solution.
5. Thou shalt be confident.
Companies generally turn to consultants when they’re faced with a challenge that they just can’t overcome. They’ll feel encouraged when a consultant enters who expresses confidence that she can fix the problem. Do not hesitate to ask questions to get to the bottom of the problem but rely on your experience and knowledge to get through a new challenge, and remind yourself that you’re qualified for the task at hand.
6. Thou shalt admit your own limitations.
As a consultant, it can seem contradictory to fall short on knowing everything related to your projects. However, skirting around a decision because of your lack of knowledge can backfire big time for you and for your client. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something, but be sure to follow up with someone who does. As a consultant, you have a different network and are more likely to find a reliable source who does know the answer to the problem. What matters is to solve your clients problem not to be the one solving it.
7. Thou shalt keep learning.
Your work as a consultant doesn’t end when a project is finished. Great consultants are experts in their fields, which means they are always on top of the latest research and studies. Subscribe to journals, attend conferences, and find other ways to keep current within your chosen field. Remember, you are filling in the gaps for companies, and that includes a detailed knowledge of recent developments in your discipline.
8. Thou shalt listen first and speak second.
Great consultants understand that their main job is to solve a problem for a company, but the only way to really understand the problem is to listen. Take the time to listen during meetings, and ask questions to ensure that you truly understand what the company wants from you. By listening and being observant, you will better understand the balance of powers, and you can identify allies. In the end, companies trust consultants who spend a little extra time getting to know the company and the specific issue before diving in with a solution.
9. Thou shalt clarify expectations.
Every company has a different relationship with consultants. Some companies expect a consultant to jump in and take over, while others micromanage. Be upfront with the company about expectations, and be honest about what you can deliver before starting a job. This will save many headaches for you and the company, and will ensure that you can be as effective as possible during the project.
10. Thou shalt know when to walk away.
You can only do so much as a consultant. When a client decides to ignore all of your advice and ends up not implementing anything you have suggested, then it’s time to walk away. Understand that you are a consultant and not a member of the company, and that your advice and suggestions are merely that. The company is under no obligation to actually implement your ideas. Also, if you think that your experience simply cannot bring the company more value, it’s best to prepare for the transition and just go. Sometimes, the right move is to walk away from a project and look ahead to a new one.
Each client for whom you work is a new opportunity to network, to better your communication methods, to learn new skills and to hone old ones. At the end of the day, what really matters is the value that you bring to your clients and the strength of the relationship you will build with them. The first, will give you the satisfaction of a job well done but the second beyond the immediate impact on your bottom line will help you reputation and establish recurring revenue streams.