I received a question from an HR pro via the SHRM Connect site. They are considering going out on their own and wanted to know about the biggest mistakes consultants make.
Some days, it’s hard to believe I’ve been consulting for almost 13 years. One of the things I did before going out on my own was talk to other consultants. I bought them breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, etc. and asked them about their successes and mistakes. I learned that consulting mistakes can fall into three categories: the consultant, the money and the lifestyle.
Mistakes Consultants Make #1 – The Consultant
It’s important to realize that declaring yourself a consultant can present its own set of challenges. First off, some people will view your transition to consultant as temporary – “until you get a real job”. After enough time has passed, they will realize that consulting is your real job. Be patient.
As a consultant, your credibility and integrity are everything. Consultants need to be true to their own point of view. If a client wants you to deliver a message on behalf of the organization, you have to make sure you genuinely agree with the message. In addition, if a client asks you to solve a specific problem, make sure you concur that it’s a problem (and not a symptom). Otherwise, your solution will not work and your credibility gets dinged. Clients have been known to misdiagnose their problems – not intentionally, but sometimes they are too close to the issue. That’s why you’re there.
Not only is managing your credibility essential, but the quality of your results must be outstanding. Consultants need to be prepared, follow-up and meet deadlines. Clients pay a lot of money for your service, and they expect nothing short of perfection.
Speaking of clients, consultants must remember not to get too dependent upon one client. As tempting as it might be to get a sweet gig that’s 30-40 hours per week with a great rate, it’s easy to get deeply entrenched with one project and not worry about networking to build some additional clients. Then that day comes along and the “sweet gig” comes to an end – often abruptly.
It’s equally important for consultants to make investments in themselves. Take time to attend conferences, classes, etc. even if it means leaving some billable time on the table. Clients want to know they are hiring the best. Developing yourself and building new skills gives clients confidence in your ability to develop relevant solutions.
So, becoming a consultant requires credibility, integrity, timely and perfect results. While we have a lot of responsibility, we can never get lulled into thinking that we’re smarter than our clients. We do, however, need to be skilled at operating within a client’s corporate culture and value working relationships and office politics when engaged on a project.
Mistakes Consultants Make #2 – The Money
I’ve always said consulting is not about the money. Well, let me make one caveat – consultants have to learn how to properly price their services. That is about the money. If you don’t learn how to charge correctly, your consulting career will be short-lived.
On the expense side, it might not look like it but it takes a tremendous amount of money to run a consulting business, even when it’s out of your home: liability insurances, accounting / attorney fees, computer equipment and software, salaries, health insurance, etc. It’s true you will realize a savings in some areas, but increases in others.
Money management can potentially be a challenge because you don’t have the steady income a regular paycheck provides. One minute your checking account has $15K and the next it has $1K. It’s easy to develop poor spending habits because the money is so erratic. Consultants have to learn how to budget and plan.
Mistakes Consultants Make #3 – The Lifestyle
Most people enter consulting to get flexibility in their lives. And it’s true, there’s a lot of flexibility. But it takes a lot of energy to maintain balance. Because you have so much flexibility, it’s tempting to work all day, every day.
And the reality is, consulting can be a lonely occupation. You don’t spend every day all day with people. That’s not to say you won’t be busy. You will have clients who expect you to be on call 24/7/365. No kidding – I know a consultant who said his business partner was once called out of the shower to answer a question.
You can also consume a lot of time traveling. Some people love travel. Others hate it, especially if you have kids or family obligations that prevent you from spending time at home.
Bottom line: Consulting can be a fabulous occupation. In my consulting work, I have terrific clients and work on interesting projects. I couldn’t ask for better. But consulting requires a disciplined balance of marketing, administration, finance, project management AND client service. All of which must be executed perfectly in less time than required.
When I started consulting, I expected to get pushback from my friends who were already consultants. They said, “Welcome to the club. There’s room in the sandbox for everyone.” Over the years, I’ve learned that a good consultant will tell you the upsides to consulting; a great consultant will tell you the pitfalls as well.
For my consulting colleagues, what do you think? What are the biggest mistakes consultants make? Share your expertise in the comments.
Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby0