So you want to be a consultant? That’s awesome!
The next question is why?
People give several reasons for entering this field. Freedom, independence, no office drama, big and/or quick money, variety, change, and the list goes on. The good news is most of those options are valid. The not-so-good news is not everyone is suited to be a consultant.
If you are serious about making a career out of consultancy, you need to understand that the competition is fierce. To ensure a measure of sustainable employment, you will want to strive to be in the top 20% of consultants in your local area or in your agency. When we asked for a consultant to help us write this article, she said there had been just a few great consultants that stood out and raised the level of respect for all consultants everywhere. Each of those consultants had traits that any consultant should want to emulate. Traits that would make them a more professional and respected.
In this article, we present five common traits that make the difference between a good consultant and a great consultant. If you want to determine if consultancy is a fit for you, it may be time to self-evaluate yourself against these traits or ask your friends to validate if they observe these qualities in you already. We all have blind spots but it is important to know if you have what it takes in this competitive job market.
This one should be a no-brainer. To be a great communicator you must be a good listener, speaker, and writer. Consultants need to translate business challenges into root causes then create presentations or reports that simplify the complex nature of the challenges or causes while delivering ideas, information, and results to their clients.
The art of communication requires the intuitive ability to accurately read situations and the people involved. Great communicators can appropriately adapt their style and delivery to a customized manner that speaks their client’s language. This allows them to present the ideas, information, or results in not only a concrete and tangible way but in a manner that encourages action from the client.
Your reputation will either make or break your success as a consultant. It takes a long time to build a good reputation and a moment to break it. Great consultants know how to build rapport and create trust quickly with clients by listening first, speaking second, and being dependable. It is critical to work with integrity, follow through on promises, and deliver to the deadlines within your control. Consistently under promising and over delivering helps build a positive reputation. Consultancy, after all, is a service industry – your primary focus is meeting your client’s business needs.
As a consultant, YOU are the product being purchased. Stay curious and embrace life-long learning. At the start of your career, you will have to have a good base of knowledge to be marketable. You must be smart, well-trained, and experienced with the educational credentials to back you up, be it an MBA or specialized training in your specific field of focus.
Throughout your career, you must keep your skills current and on the leading edge. Part of this is ensuring your training is valid and that you remain professional; however, continuous learning will also differentiate you from the “herd” of consultants all bidding on the same contracts. Diversity in your area of expertise is your friend. Embrace curiosity, Invest in yourself. And do so strategically.
Adaptability is critical to your survival and value. Great consultants embrace change and adapt to new projects, work cultures, and colleagues easily. It is the nature of the business. They come in, they figure out how to fit in, and they get the job done. Their soft skills and technical expertise allow them to take on their roles quickly and easily. Think low maintenance and high productivity.
As a consultant, you are an entrepreneur. You need to be strong and confident in your abilities, but also keep your ego in check. It also helps to have courage, energy, vision – and spunk. You must be a leader in the best sense, motivating others and working in a collaborative way to nudge clients to solutions they might not have reached on their own.
If you like variety in work and people, the profession of consultancy is a rewarding, rich, diverse and forever interesting profession – with just enough level of risk to keep you hungry, excited and motivated. Plus, with a bit of extra effort, you could become a great consultant.