7. Avoid practical ideas
As a consultant, your clients consider you a managerial David Copperfield, pulling rabbits out of a hat just when they think they've exhausted all their options.
They expect nothing less than great magic from you - that is, game-changing recommendations that will allow them to improve customer service, increase revenue or cut costs. Don't feel you have to come up with realistic suggestions. They're paying you to think outside the box, so let your creativity run wild. Your role is to suggest the best option, and that's not always the most realistic one.
One of my clients was planning to implement a web-based solution to improve real-time communication among sales people. The solution required sales people to log on to the Internet to pull information about their accounts, such as the status of customers' orders, so that they could incorporate that information into their sales calls.
The problem was that the sales people resisted using the system. I challenged the client to think about alternative delivery mechanisms that would make it easier for sales people to access information about customer order status, customer complaints and new products.
The client's initial reaction to my suggestion was negative. They didn't want to consider other delivery mechanisms because they had made a significant investment in this web-based solution. Ultimately, they decided to use different technology to push information to sales people in real time because it was a better communications mechanism for the sales force.
8. Brand yourself
Talk is cheap in the consulting world. You have to start building a brand. You are the knowledge worker who has to sell your services and demonstrate how you can add value. You have to be perceived as an expert with a specific skill set that is not available in your client's organisation. Branding will help you create a unique identity that distinguishes you from the legions of other independent consultants.
You can build your brand by:
- Writing articles in your area of expertise
- Taking up speaking engagements, which will help you build your network and exposure
- Writing a book to give you instant credibility
- Creating and regularly maintaining a blog
- Developing professional networks on the topics in which you specialise
- Doing the best at every engagement (reputation is very important).
Don't focus these efforts too much on making money. The purpose of these activities is to get you exposure. The money will then follow.
While I've enjoyed the consulting engagements I've taken on thus far, I'm not sure it's the best thing for me. I do miss the feeling of belonging that comes with being a full-time employee. You don't get that as a consultant because everyone knows your work is short-lived. Believe me, they will forget you once you leave. In the meantime, I've learned a lot about marketing myself, influencing people and exploring different industries that will be invaluable in all my future endeavours.
Kamala Puram is the president of Chrysalis International, a management consulting company. She has over 25 years of IT management experience in various industries. Her company specialises in creating technology vision and strategy, IT organisational alignment, large global ERP system implementations and IT integration (mergers and acquisitions). Puram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.