December 08, 2000, 11:34 AM —
If you want to succeed as a consultant, you need the right stuff, in terms of both
skills and personality. Success means more than just having a successful business; it
also means being happy with your job. Many people are not suited for consulting, which
may explain the relatively low number of consultants compared to the number of people
with "real" jobs.
To see if you are potentially one of the lucky ones, first look at your professional
skills. You need a solid set of skills related to the field in which you are working.
Do you have to be the world's greatest expert in the field? No, but you do need to know
at least as much as your potential clients. You can actually develop a lot of your
expertise through client work. The result: your clients will pay you to become an
expert! This will happen quickly, because clients engage consultants not because they
are too busy, but because they have difficult problems. For at least half of my
consulting jobs, I had little idea how to get the job done, but I accepted anyway. And
so I learned quickly, and slowly became a true expert rather than just a self-professed
one. This process requires being very resourceful and creative in problem solving.
Having a large network of contacts also helps, since the answers you'll need will often
be in somebody else's head and rarely be in a textbook.
Your personal skills are as important as your technical skills. Clients ultimately are
people working with other people. People are more likely to hire you if they like you.
It helps if you are a positive, outgoing, cheerful, and likeable person. You must also
be results oriented and be completely dependable, especially if you want repeat
business. Each client must always feel that he or she is your most important client,
and that you put his or her interests ahead of everything else.
As for work habits, consulting jobs are often long and complex, so you need to be able
to pace yourself, schedule realistically, and be able to manage your own time. All
these considerations are readily understandable. What is not as obvious is whether you
will be happy consulting.
Realize that the goal of your first year should be to get your business started and to
survive. Don't expect immediate riches. Have a cash reserve to be able to live without
work for at least six months. This does not mean you won't be working for six months,
but it will give you a psychological edge. Your chances of finding work when you're
desperate will be as low as your chances of getting a date when you're desperate.
Clients hire consultants that appear successful, because a successful consultant
implies a competent consultant.