During my career as a manager and since I myself became a consultant in 1987, I have had many colleagues and acquaintances move into the consultancy profession. Sometimes this move was by choice as a genuine career move. In the late 90s however, the proliferation of consultants was exacerbated by the downsizing of organisations and so, people who had been “cut” and who were unable to find a similar role in another organisation tried the consulting path – often with little success and a great deal of pain.
The following suggestions on becoming a consultant have been developed as a result of my own experience, my advice sessions with colleagues starting out on their consultancy career journey and the lessons I have learned from watching people either succeed or fail to make the grade as a consultant. My belief is that there are at least four things that one must do to develop a successful career as a consultant: Workplace relations commission
Firstly, decide on an area of expertise and “research it to death!”. Become a real “expert” in your chosen field. Organisations are looking for people as consultants to fill a gap in their skill base, knowledge, expertise etc and that’s why they go to a consultant (otherwise they would find the expertise internally).
When starting out as a consultant, it’s tempting to be able to say “Yep, I can do that” when a prospective client asks for help, even though you may not have a great deal of expertise in that area. Sometimes the need to keep an income coming in can be a very tempting reason to take these type of jobs. I have a colleague who eventually became quite successful, but in her early consultancy career took these type of assignments because “There must be a book published on that – I’ll read up on it”. My observations were that she was in fact already an expert in a particular field, but at the time was not aware of it. Her area of expertise? Process management, and so, reading up on a book merely gave her the context for her area of expertise.
However, over the long term for most of us it does no good to take on assignments where we are not the true “expert” as the client will most likely not be entirely happy with the outcome (even though you may learn a lot in the process). In the consultancy business, you are only as good as your last job.
Some suggestions for developing your area of expertise? Write articles on your area of expertise, speak at conferences, seminars etc, and join professional organisations that focus on your area of expertise. If you are that way inclined, join the committees of these organisations. You can always start your own website or blog on your area of expertise as well.