Primer for those who want to become consultants
Enough good material here to interest those embarking on this career path
The consultant’s handbook
At the level of the individual, consulting is a growth business, presenting opportunities for those with relevant skills to earn a good living with a portfolio of different clients while enjoying the benefits of working for themselves.
This book is a primer for those considering embarking on this career path and contains a good dose of practical advice. While some of the more general points made about consulting will be relevant to those working in large practices, in essence this book is for professionals, either individuals or small teams, many who may not have worked for themselves or together before.
Establishing credibility is vital when first being engaged as a consultant. Clients decide whether to accept advice based on two factors: the basis and quality of the advice itself and credibility of the organisation presenting the advice.
Credibility influences the relationships that we are able to build with clients, the level of co-operation we are able to secure and the way we are able perceived relative to other consulting providers. Introductions should therefore be objective, tangible, relevant and concise, avoiding vague terms and statements.
Having secured a contract, initial meetings with clients are vital. Meetings should have clear objectives, describing what is to be achieved, the composition of a team that will meet those objectives and the formulation of a team plan that includes clear definition of roles and an approach for handling questions.
Advance meeting plans should be developed, starting with the initial phase which creates context and check points to ensure that expectations are aligned on both sides. After the main body of the meeting which discusses the detail of the work to be done, a closure phase is important to articulate a clear summary and agenda for action. The middle section of the book contains three detailed case studies, one exploring a new consulting opportunity, another presenting a solution approach with the final one scoping out a study.
Some of the most useful material in the book related to how to structure a proposal. According to the author, clients that he has talked to report a notable variation in the quality of the proposals that they receive from different consulting firms. Some demonstrate a better understanding of their business than others, some consider the needs of all stakeholders concerned while some do not, there are huge variations in conciseness and some proposals include reference material of little relevance.
A compelling executive summary at the start of a proposal is vital as it is the only part of a document that some senior executives may read or it may be used as a deciding factor in whether the rest of the document will be read. The points included should link the client’s ambitions with the proposed areas to be addressed, the obstacles to be overcome and the capabilities of the consulting company.
Another good piece of advice is to outline the solution approach that will be proposed, explaining why this approach is optimal. If deemed appropriate, this can be contrasted with other approaches that could have been pursued, presenting their relative pros and cons. Depending on the nature of the assignment, supporting designs or solution description may be required in the main body of the documents, together with an overview of the methodology that will be employed during the project.
The author notes that consultants’ proposals tend to hold back on detail when it comes to the real meat in a project. The fear here is that the client will simply view the proposal as an instruction manual and will carry out the work themselves. Acknowledging that this is an understandable concern, he advises that an approach that is too thin on detail may fail to convey sufficient confidence resulting in a proposal being rejected.
A balance can be achieved by outlining a sequence of activities – without going into detail on each one – and this is generally sufficient to inspire client confidence without surrendering too much intellectual property.
While some of the advice contained in the book could be consider self-evident, there is enough interesting and relevant material here to interest those embarking on career journey in consulting.