Regardless of the economy, many people will consider going into consulting at some point in their career. I recently received a letter from a student in France who is considering consulting after graduation and asked the Bartender a few questions:
1. How do you become a consultant? 2. What are the pros/cons to consulting? 3. What are the most important skills to be a consultant? And 4. Any advice for someone trying to break into the consulting field?
1. IMHO, becoming a consultant takes years of preparation…and before you reject my opinion on this one…let me explain. Lots of people have the education, experience and skills to become a consultant. But you also need to establish your marketing base. I’ve found that, in consulting, people are buying the consultant. They want to work with someone they know and trust.
It takes a significant amount of time to build a network. You can’t just quit your job, say you’re going to be a consultant and think the phone will automatically start ringing. It just doesn’t work like that. You have to build relationships.
I learned the importance of networking and relationship building in my very first HR job. Spent over 15 years building a marketing infrastructure before I became a consultant.
2. The number one benefit to consulting is time. You have the freedom to work when you wish. I’d also say it can be a drawback as well. Sometimes people think when you are a consultant that you have all the free time in the world.
3. Some important skills for consultants include (a) marketing, (b) agility, (c) time management and (d) quest for knowledge.
- The number one statement I hear from consultants is that they hate marketing. Honestly, I’m not sure why anyone would go into business for themselves if they hate marketing. As a business owner, you have to market. Even if you hire a marketing person…you still have to do some marketing. Nuf said.
- Many times, my clients are seeking a consultant to do a project quickly. They have the expertise to do it in-house but it would take months to complete. Hiring a consultant allows them to get the same quality and the deliverable faster. So being able to respond quickly to client needs is key.
- As a consultant, it’s my responsibility to manage multiple projects and meet deadlines. Yes, I have a tremendous amount of flexibility but I’m still accountable for delivering on time. Having good time management skills allows me to meet my clients’ needs.
- And, I’ve included quest for knowledge as a skill because I see many consultants who don’t do any kind of professional development. They don’t attend conferences or try new things. My personal belief is, if you don’t continuously learn, you will be left behind.
4. My advice for people trying to enter the consulting field is to do exactly what this student did…find consultants to interview. Take in all the advice they are willing to offer and then make up your own mind.
Consulting is a wonderful career. It’s not an easy career nor is it glamorous. But I have terrific clients and work on great projects. Definitely worth considering when the time is right.0