5 unexpected learnings from becoming a consultant

Having spent almost 4 fantastic years at Workshare, I felt it was time to try my hand at something new.  In the back of my mind, like many peers, I’ve been mulling over the opportunity to become a customer experience consultant, so I decided to give it a try. So far, it’s been amazing fun, but for those of you considering such a career change, here five early lessons I’ve learned.  As always, they may seem obvious, but worth bearing in mind when you take the plunge.

Finding clients: I thought it might be quite challenging, but if you’re good at what you do, your reputation precedes you.  Confidence in your knowledge and skills is key, and you will need to remind yourself that people will pay you to share what you assume is obvious, logical or rather simple. What is really important is to be able to articulate what you offer in a clear and simple way – apply my old rule of thumb, “would my grandmother understand it?”  Stripping back jargon that seems comfortable to us (NPS, FTR, CES, AHT, etc.) is really important.  A potential client who meets you knows you know your stuff, so don’t try to impress with technical lingo – keep it simple, and explain the outcomes you can help them achieve.

Defining scope: It’s extremely flattering when you get your first raft of offers and requests. “Wow, people really DO rate my knowledge!” But this is a point at which you need to pause, and focus.  Knowing what you can and can’t offer, how much time and effort it will take and managing the expectations of a client from the get go is really important.  Scope creep is inevitable, especially for newly fledged consultants, but don’t underestimate just how much time and effort you’ll expend even on the scoping exercise to agree what you’ll be delivering.  Whether you factor it into your proposal, or simply build in time in your schedule to accommodate this task, defining the scope of work properly avoids disagreement with the client further down the track.

Your role within the client’s business: If, like me, you’ve been a manager and leader within a business, the habit of taking on responsibility for people and decisions is well established.  As a consultant, you need to be disciplined – you’re there to deliver a series of tasks, achieving certain outcomes.  The client owns the decisions about their business, your role is to advise and support them in making the decisions.  Likewise with the people, it’s fine to coach and mentor teams to help you in delivering your tasks, but unless your remit is to specifically manage a team, don’t become distracted by stepping in to fill in people management gaps.

Tracking progress: I was somewhat surprised that in my first couple of assignments, clients really trust my judgement, recommendations and suggestions.  If, like me, you are fortunate enough to be given autonomy to work on your deliverables, it’s a very liberating experience.  Making sure that you keep your client sponsor informed on progress with a weekly progress report / action plan will help maintain that openness. It’s also a good way of tracking re-prioritised tasks and accommodating additional tasks, so that you can deliver successfully without drowning in scope creep.  Building in time in your plan to add in work is a good idea.  As you deliver to the client, see it as a positive when others within the business seek you out.  As long as your work is visible and tracked, you’ll keep your sponsor happy.

Staying connected: Finally, the most surprising element relating to becoming a consultant is the amount of time you need to set aside for networking.  I assumed a few hours each weekend for paperwork & book keeping, but  as you consider your next assignment, you need time to drum up business.  Your network of contacts is the richest source, so budget time (as much as a couple of days a month) to meet with peers, see what they are up to, and swap opportunities.  It’s also fun to share learning and experiences on life as a consultant, as well as keeping up to date on the latest trends and thinking.

So life as a consultant can be great fun, very demanding and extremely rewarding, but organisation, discipline and a good dose of charm is required to keep the plate spinning as you unicycle your way round the client’s requirements.  To anyone thinking about taking the plunge, good luck!!

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