Last week, a student asked for my thoughts about someone going into consulting after college. A huge thanks to all the folks who weighed in with their advice. During the great discussion, Trish asked a follow-up question about the pitfalls of consulting.
So the Bartender went straight to the experts for some more wisdom. And OMG, did I get it! In compiling their responses, consulting pitfalls fell into three categories: the consultant, the money or the lifestyle.
Pitfall #1 – the consultant
It’s important to realize that declaring yourself a consultant can be a pitfall in itself. As Personal Brand Coach Margaret Murphy explains, “As a consultant, your integrity is everything. You need to have a point of view. If the client wants you to be the messenger for the organization or his/her agenda, be sure you genuinely agree with the point of view.”
Not only is controlling your credibility key, but the quality of your results must be superior. Frank Roche, partner at the organizational communications consulting firm iFractal, offered this advice, “Not being prepared or missing deadlines is a sure-fire way to not get asked back. Sloppy work is never tolerated. Clients pay a lot of money, and they expect nothing short of perfection.”
Murphy adds to be sure “the problem your client wants you to solve is the actual problem. Otherwise, your solution will not work. Clients often misdiagnose their symptoms.”
Consultant and Educator Steve Boese encourages consultants not to get too dependent upon one client. He told me his story of the really sweet deal with a big client. It was a one year gig, 30-40 hours per week, and at a great rate. He got deeply entrenched at the client and didn’t worry about networking to build some additional clients and prepare for the day when the ‘big gig’ would end. Then the client suddenly had some bad financial results and was forced to let all of their consultants go (including him.)
Boese also suggests “taking some time to attend conferences, classes, etc. even if it means leaving some billable hours on the table. In the long run, these will be good investments.” Author and Columnist Penelope Trunk agrees that, if you’re not developing yourself, consulting is a “dead end.” She adds that you need to “challenge yourself to build new skill sets as much as you’re challenging other people to build new skills. You’re controlling your environment.”
So, becoming a consultant requires credibility, integrity, and timely and perfect results. While consultants have a lot of responsibility, leadership expert Wally Bock cautions us not to adopt the attitude “that we’re smarter or wiser than the client.” We do, however, need to be masters of operating within a client’s corporate culture. Bock reminds us not to “undervalue relationships, office politics and implementation” when working on a project.
Pitfall #2 – the money
I’ve always said consulting is not about the money. Roche points out that it costs “an astonishing amount of money to run a consulting firm: E&O and liability insurance, attorney fees, Master Services Agreements, office lease, salaries, benefits, etc.”
Even if you’re a single person office, money can be a challenge because you don’t have the steady income a regular paycheck provides. Trunk confessed, “I developed my worst spending habits when I was consulting. I was making tons of money — $15K for two hours. But my spending became totally wild because the income was so erratic. People need to train themselves to be very careful spenders for the huge dry spells. This, of course, is more common than huge influxes of cash. The dry spells and the flush times threw my spending off equally as much. It was dizzying.”
But it’s not just about keeping your spending under control. Roche is spot-on when he says, “If you don’t know how to charge for your services you’ll be out of business in a year.”
Pitfall #3 – the lifestyle
Most people enter consulting to get flexibility in their lives. But as Mark Stelzner, founder of Inflexion Advisors, points out, “If you’re used to roaming the halls, hitting the cafeteria and camping at the water cooler, prepare yourself for a new reality.” Consulting can be a lonely occupation.
That’s not to say you won’t be busy. Clients expect you to be on call 24/7/365. No kidding. Roche said his business partner was once called out of the shower to answer a question.
You can also consume a lot of time traveling. As Trunk puts it, “the travel sucks. Constant travel – like, once a week — can drive you insane with the lack of control over your life, especially in the winter (with weather delays). You have little control over what happens and the risk of delays means every trip is a little longer because you have to make sure you get there early, in case of delays. This sort of life drains a person very quickly. And, if you have kids, this life becomes downright depressing.”
So, as Stelzner explains, “the temptation to work all day, every day will begin to creep into your life. There is no clock to punch and often no office to walk away from, so finding a balance can be tricky at best.” When it comes to work, you have to figure out how to balance the need for precision versus deadlines.
Ann Bares, Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group, summed up the secret to consulting success nicely. “Successful, profitable consulting requires more than just advising clients. It requires a disciplined balance of marketing, administration, finance, project mgmt AND client service. All of which must be executed perfectly in less time than required.”
Sounds kinda scary, huh? Well, don’t let all this talk about pitfalls quell your enthusiasm for entering into consulting. I heard most of these before becoming a consultant and fell head-first into several of them. The important thing, of course, is to learn from those experiences.
Needless to say, if you aren’t following these folks on Twitter…you should be. A good consultant will tell you the upsides to consulting; a great consultant will tell you the pitfalls as well. My thanks to everyone for contributing to this post. Cheers!0