AI and U: Bye, Bye Billables

The trouble hasn’t trickled down to us middle grade Freelance consultants or small boutique consulting companies yet,  mostly because we are not servicing Fortune 500 C-Suite clients, but apparently, the Artificial Intelligence phenomenon is being positioned to impact in particular the high-end management consultants and not for the better.  Eventually, our comparatively modest stratum will be touched as well, depending on the services that your consultancy provides.  I’ve got no love for the consulting giants Bain and McKinsey, but I’m worried by this trend.

AI is already at work, automating routine tasks such as maintaining calendars, but it is now poised to support decision-making functions in HR, marketing, finance (budgeting) and resource allocation.  It seems safe to say that AI will in the near future be used as a strategic planning tool.

According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. businesses spent $58.7 billion on management consulting services in 2016, a 7.1% increase over 2015, and the bulk of the business was generated by the financial services industry.  The primary expertise of high-end management consultants is data analysis and presentation and facilitating long-range strategic planning.  It is becoming obvious that AI can execute many functions as well as an elite consultant, and can perform more accurately, faster and at a fraction of the cost of a consultant’s billable rate.

Do you have an iPad or iPhone? Then you are part of the AI revolution yourself whenever you ask voice-activated Siri to give you directions or show you the lunch menu at a new restaurant.  Alexa, the AI voice-activated digital personal assistant app for your tablet or smart phone developed by Amazon, will already allow you to control your smart home features such as lighting, heating/ air conditioning and keyless entry for your doors.  Presently, Alexa has the capability to answer economic questions for clients of the Swiss global financial services giant UBS Group AG.  The Wall Street Journal reported that Alexa will answer UBS client queries by using information provided by its chief investment office.  Alexa is expected to soon begin analyzing markets and may also be used to buy and sell stocks.

Meanwhile Boston-based Blackrock, the financial planning and investment management outfit, which happens to be the world’s largest asset management firm, used by institutions and individuals, is rolling out computer-driven algorithms and models in a move toward management by smart machines, that is, employing passive management rather than active management of their funds.  In other words, a machine will become the asset manager of Blackrock’s funds and not human, salary, bonus and benefits receiving employees.

Like the 1992 candidate for president Ross Perot predicted, that sucking sound you hear is your job going out the window.  The middle class is about to shrink some more.  Happy Labor Day.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph of Lost in Space, the CBS-TV series 1965 – 1968                                                          Jonathan Harris (as Dr. Smith) and the robot

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Building Your B2B Consulting Practice

Regular visitors to this blog will notice that over the past few weeks, I’ve devoted special emphasis to tactics and strategies that will help Freelancers keep our consulting practices alive and well.  Competition in the field is intensifying and clients are aware that they can be very exacting in their hiring requirements, since there is no shortage of available talent, especially in mid-size and large cities.  According to Statista, the number of management consultants has grown every year since 2012 and as of 2016, there area 637,000 management consultants working (or trying to!) in the U.S.

As we all know, ever since the late 1980s, when the concept of “downsizing” gained popularity in corporate offices and the ways to separate citizens from full-time, long-term employment became numerous, many workers who either found ourselves highly skilled but nevertheless unemployable, or who eventually tired of endless cycles of  hirings and firings (a common occurrence in the IT industry), decided to strike out on our own and exert some measure of control over our professional and economic destiny. What did we have to lose? We were already in trouble.  Manage the risk before the risk manages you.

When you’ve worked in the Knowledge Economy and find yourself contemplating whether to launch your own venture, by design or default, a solo consultancy that offers B2B services that you already know seems a simple and obvious choice.

Start-up costs are minimal—there’s nothing much to invest in for the launch, except for business cards and a website.  There’s no need to rent an office and no need to hire employees.  You already own a smart phone and some sort of computer.  At most, you might invite a couple of your unemployed coworker buddies to come in with you.  In no time, you’ll be ready to see clients and charge a pretty penny for the advice that you give. Easy, right?

Well, not exactly.  Unless you’ve worked for a consulting company that provides you with a stable of clients that know you and value your expertise and there’s no non-compete hagreement that prevents you from, ahem, stealing a few clients from your former employer and bringing them to you roster—-a time-honored and usually successful practice, BTW—you may find yourself floundering when it comes to obtaining clients.  If you’ve got a well-placed pal or two who is able and willing to divert a contract to you, you could be twiddling your thumbs for quite some time, despite the furious networking that you do and your growing social media presence.  The truth of consulting is, no one gets a client unless that client knows you and the value of your work.

The “catch 22” is that you can’t get a client without experience and you can’t get experience until you get a client.  A business plan that is in reality an extended marketing plan that encourages you to think strategically, rationally and in detail about the following items should be written. Bear in mind that your services are valuable only insofar as there is client demand.  There may be no market at all for several of your strongest competencies, alas.

  • Services for which there is demand and you have the expertise and credibility to deliver those services and prospective clients who will pay you to do so
  • How to price your services
  • How to make clients perceive that you are worth your asking price
  • Your access to clients with the motive and money to hire you
  • The need for a partner (or two) and how that person can help launch and sustain the venture

Without a pre-existing reputation in the industry, you’ll find the early days of consulting to be quite difficult. Lining up part-time employment will help your cash-flow. Teaching at the college level is always a good option because it enhances your credibility and pays well for a part-time gig.  Whenever possible, find work that not only gives you money, but also demonstrates your expertise to potential clients.

If you can become at least an occasional contributing writer to a noteworthy publication, or get articles included in a local business publication, you will enhance the perception of your expertise, as will college-level teaching of a subject related to your B2B services.  Joining a not-for-profit board that brings you into contact with potential clients and referrers who can watch you take on committee work that demonstrates your bona fides will be helpful. Becoming a mentor at a respected new venture start-up center will likewise enhance your credibility.

If you can participate in a webinar, YouTube video, or podcast, where you can elaborate on the application of your expertise and the results that you deliver, you will be able to post the link on your website and social media accounts, so that prospective clients can see you in action and hear what you know.

Those who do not have a ready stable of potential clients must work very hard and very smart to make up for that deficit, but it will not impossible to build a consulting practice that will support you financially and of which you can be proud. There are many paths that lead to a profitable B2B consulting practice and with a dose of god luck, you will find your path, too.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Consulting: This Is How We Do It

There are millions of Freelance consultants in the U.S. and our numbers continue to climb on a steep upward slope, fueled both by the reluctance of employers to offer stable full-time, benefits-paying jobs and the desire of workers to have more flexible schedules, whether single and childless or married with children.  There are different levels of Freelance consulting, from the one-off hourly paid short-term project to ongoing client relationships that may endure for several years.

Some Freelance consulting projects are very limited in scope: you are hired to design a brochure, build a website, facilitate a meeting, provide special event PR, or redecorate a living room. Other projects might start with a change management process that would benefit from the perspective and expertise of an external  professional and segues into implementation and training for impacted staff.

It is useful to break down the components of the consulting function because it will encourage us, its practitioners, to think about the sum total of what we do— the value that each component brings will remind us that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Further, when we speak with clients or generate our content marketing information or traditional advertising copy, having the components of our work and good sound-bites at the ready will keep marketing messages and elevator pitches fresh and relevant and help us to communicate to clients that we understand their needs and priorities and we would make a good hire for their mission critical project.  Below is a list  of a consultant’s core duties.

  1. Provide information.
  2. Diagnose (and maybe redefine) the client’s problem.
  3. Provide recommendations for the short and long-term based on the diagnosis.
  4. Propose one or more effective solutions that will resolve the client’s problem.
  5. Assist with the implementation of the chosen solution to the problem.
  6. Suggest how the client can encourage and sustain internal support for the solution.
  7. Facilitate training or learning, to allow impacted staff to resolve similar problems in the future.

When we Freelance consultants are called in to discuss a possible assignment with a client, we may want to ask a few questions of the project team or leader, to allow us to gain insight and context; to help reveal one or more potentially useful solutions; and to make it more likely that the client will accept and approve your recommendations:

  1. What solutions have been implemented or proposed in the past and what was the outcome?
  2. Which untried steps toward a solution does the client have in mind?
  3. Which, if any, related aspects of the client’s business operation are not going well?
  4. When a reasonable solution is recommended, how and when will it be implemented?
  5. What steps can be taken to encourage buy-in for the solution, to assist its successful implementation?

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Freelancers: We Are the Future

Presented for your perusal are relevant statistics and observations gleaned from the third annual “Freelancing in America” survey, conducted by the Freelancer’s Union.  According to the organization, “Freelancing in America” is the largest and most comprehensive measure of independent workers conducted in the U.S.

Who we are

In 2015 55 million of our fellow citizens, representing 35% of the nation’s workforce,  participated in the Freelance economy to greater or lesser degree and we earned $1 trillion.  The survey found that 63 % of us were Freelancers by choice, rather than by necessity, and we enjoy this way of working.  Freelancers reported feeling positive about our work and 79 % preferred Freelancing to traditional employment.  We’re much more likely than our traditionally employed counterparts to feel respected, empowered and engaged in our working environment.  The survey assigned categories to different types Freelancing:

  1. Independent contractors (35 %, 19.1 million) — Full-time Freelance Consultants whose only income is derived from client work.
  2. Diversified workers (28 %, 15.2 million)– Freelance Consultants who regularly do client work, but provide themselves a guaranteed income floor by working part-time (maybe as an adjunct professor at a local college or maybe as a bartender and possibly both!).
  3. Moonlighters (25 %, 13.5 million)– those who take occasional side projects along with their traditional employment.
  4. Freelance business owners (7 %, 3.6 million)– Full-time Freelance Consultants who put together a more-or-less permanent team to form a consultancy, so that more complex and lucrative client work can be taken on.
  5. Temporary workers (7 %, 3.6 million)

What we like

Flexibility is a huge perceived benefit for the majority of Freelance Consultants and 60 % felt that a Freelance Consulting career is a respectable choice.  Further, more than 50 % of workers who left full-time employment to join the Freelance economy were able to earn more money within the first year of Freelancing.  46 % of us raised our project fees/hourly rates in 2015 and 54 % said they planned to do so in 2016.

Serious challenges

Money is an issue for Freelancers.  Survey respondents reported that adequate billable hours, negotiating fair project fees or hourly rates and receiving timely payment of invoices (or receiving full payment of accounts receivable) could be problematic.  On average, full-time Freelance Consultants obtain 36 billable hours/week. When the billable hourly rate or project fee is considered inadequate,  cash-flow is impacted and there can be a struggle to meet financial obligations.  As a result, the survey also found that debt is a real concern for us Freelancers.

Access to health insurance and retirement benefits remain major concerns.  Full-time Freelance Consultants rank medical and dental insurance as a primary concern; 20 % of us have no health insurance.  Of those who had health insurance, 54 % faced increased premium rates or deductibles in 2015 as compared to 2014.

Surprisingly, the matter of retirement funding was not addressed by the survey.  Freelance Consultants, unless we are moonlighters who have full-time traditional employment or we’re married to a spouse who receives that important benefit, must completely self-fund our retirement and many millions of us do not have the income to build a worthwhile retirement account. Please see my recent post on retirement planning for Freelancers Exit Strategy: The Retirement Plan

Shaping the future

As traditional full-time, middle class paying employment continues to disappear, the ranks of Freelance Consultants can only increase, making us a fast-growing segment of the American workforce.  Sadly, politicians have paid no attention whatsoever to either our special challenges or our voting-bloc potential.

85 % of survey respondents said that they planned to vote in the 2016 election cycle.  If that statistic can be applied to the entirety of Freelance Consultants in this country (and I feel it is unrealistically optimistic) it would represent nearly 47 million voters, more than enough to influence a presidential election.  70 % of survey respondents would appreciate candidates and political representatives addressing Freelancer needs, because no matter how lovely things may be for the chosen few who command lucrative project fees, Freelance Consultants (and most part-time workers) are vulnerable.

The holiday season approaches and that means drastically fewer billable hours will be available to the vast majority of us, as many clients limit work from about December 15 to January 2.  We will not receive holiday pay for Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Day.  How do we fund our retirement accounts and buy health insurance when it may be all we can do to cover basic living expenses? We need political representation, advocates and activism.  The Freelancer’s Union is what we have now.  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/business/freelancers-union-tackles-concerns-of-independent-workers.html

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Achieving Objectives: Obstacles to Overcome

Whether you are building an architecture, accounting or law firm, financial services, or business consulting practice, going it alone as a Freelance consultant is fraught with challenges for all but the most well-connected. Let’s take a look at a few of the biggest obstacles that trip up those of us who’ve founded our own consulting shop.

Obstacle #1: You don’t own a business, you own your job

Eight out of ten consulting businesses never expand beyond the core services provided by the founder/principal. There may be administrative support staff, there may be occasional contract project-specific helpers, but these businesses are limited to the personal sales and production capacity of the founder/principal only. Typically, the founder is convinced that s/he cannot or should not bring in other talent to join in delivering the personally designed, boutique services to clients, a process that would make the operation scalable and capable of generating additional revenue.

Instead, if the founder/principal isn’t working, there are no billable hours, no accounts receivable and no revenue generated. Vacations are difficult to take, because they are financially risky. The founder pays twice: once for the vacation itself and a second time through lost revenue.  When the founder wants to retire, there will be no more money derived from the business. There’ll be no residual income harvested from decades of work done to research the market, decide the most marketable services to offer, identify the most logical clients to pursue, launch the venture, build a client list and develop a good reputation and brand. The doors will close and that is all.

Obstacle #2: Managing cash flow 

Let’s be brutally honest: many Freelance consultants do not have a truly dependable cash-cow revenue generator, regardless of the services provided. More often than any of us want to admit, we can drop a stitch when it comes to invoicing clients and that depresses our cash-flow. Too many accounts receivable may become past due and some will be difficult to collect. As a result, accounts payable may be late and interest charges may be incurred. Building up a capital reserve fund that can be used to help the business grow is therefore difficult.

Obstacle #3: Finding and keeping clients

Most Freelance consultants become founding principals of their own venture because we are respected experts of our core services, but many dislike sales and marketing. Others are too overwhelmed to keep up with the marketing plans they’ve designed.

As noted in Obstacle #1, if the founder/principal isn’t generating business and that means not only working on the in-house projects, but also networking to search for new business; identifying, if not creating, additional revenue streams; working in said revenue streams whenever possible; and trying to maintain good relationships with current clients, then none of it gets done. When new business is not created, slowdowns are likely to occur, along with gaps in income and cash-flow problems.

So what is the solution? Really, searching for a business partner who will join you would be most desirable, but that’s easier said than done. Partnerships are tricky to sustain. Hiring someone outright means that you have to make payroll every week. Is your consultancy generating that kind of reliable revenue?

There is no one answer because every consultancy is different. Founding principals of architecture, accounting, financial services and law firms may have an easier time than some other service providers — interior design or business consulting — because the former services are more “standardized” and less boutique- personal.

The latter typically guard clients jealously, because there are usually fewer of them. Sill, some cautious experimentation may be possible. The next time I hear about a project that is too big for me alone, I will think about who can help me and if I win the contract, evaluate that person for a partnership. Maybe the stars will align?

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Avoiding Exploitation: How Much Free Advice?

You’ve seen this movie before.  You are excited by an invitation to visit the office of a promising prospect.  There is a great discussion about the business and where your services would fit.  Serious questions are asked and,  anxious to demonstrate your understanding of the your  (almost)  clients’ needs,   you supply straightforward and practical answers.  The prospect seems impressed with your business acumen;  the energy in the room feels good;  you can visualize your first day on the job.  At the meeting’s end,  there is talk of bringing you in to specify the details of a working relationship.

A week slips by and then two.  Your email or phone call is either unanswered,  or the answer you receive is that your prospect is unable to move forward at this time.  Can you call back next month? Ten days into the new month you call and realize,  with much regret,  that the trail has gone cold.  Who you thought would become a new client was just an imposter,  who robbed the stagecoach of your expertise and disappeared.

That scenario is repeated more than one would think at for-profit and not-for-profit institutions alike.  The fact is,  unless a consulting professional works at Bain,  McKinsey,  or some other big consulting group,   rip-off artists may conspire to defraud you of actionable business information without paying you a dime.  I’ve been invited to two or three interviews where in hindsight I came to realize that the  “prospect”  was merely fishing for free ideas that would resolve a dilemma that would be handled in-house.

Certain salaried predators find it very clever to pretend that there is a nice project available,  call in a few Freelance consultants and pepper us with questions that we answer because we neither eat nor pay the rent or mortgage unless we obtain clients.   The schemers take copious notes and laugh as we walk out of the door,  filled with false hope and visions of paid-off credit cards.

The business press occasionally takes this subject on and presents an article that provides strategies that Freelancers might use to protect ourselves,  but I have little faith in the proposed remedies.  Reading them,  I’ve seen almost nothing that I would expect to work in real-time.  The prospective client asks questions about a project.  How do you avoid providing answers and demonstrating your ability to do the job? Giving a wonderful sales presentation only means there will be better quality information to steal from you.  Recommendations to find out who will be in the meeting and searching for common ground that will allow you to connect on a personal level with at least one person on the team  (oh, you grow roses, too?)  means nothing to someone whose agenda is to exploit.  Knowing when to try to close the deal means nothing because there is nothing to close,  except the door in your face.

There are few effective solutions for this troubling occurrence.  To date,  the best I’ve read was contributed by Grant Cardone,  sales guru and best-selling author of Sell to Survive  (2008)  and Sell or Be Sold  (2012): “I would like to work with you on this issue and I have a few ideas on how we might proceed,  but at this time I don’t know your company well enough to give you answers that either of us could trust to be correct”.

The beauty of this response is that it’s true and it can most likely stop the ” client ” from continuing to press for free consulting advice.  Brazen types may threaten to snatch the  “opportunity”  away from you but if that does occur,  take it as a clear sign that there never was an intention to hire you or anyone else.  Graciously and immediately end the meeting.  If by some miracle the client is real,  your statement will be respected and taken as a sign of integrity.  Your candor might even win you the contract.

Good luck and Happy Easter,

Kim

Niche Market Opps for Freelancers

Developing new markets is essential for all Freelance consultants and business owners.  That means it’s necessary to be aware of major trends and even significant fads,  for there is money to be made over the long or short-term.   How does one learn about the existence of niche markets that may be promising for you?  Stay abreast of current events by reading good newspapers,  business articles,  blogs and magazines.   Talk to your friends,  family and colleagues.   Do volunteer work,   go to the gym,  out for a bike ride,  or drinking with your pals.   In other words,  be fully engaged in life and the information that you seek will either come to you or will be unearthed by you.   If you read the March 20 post on making your own luck,   you’ll know what to do.

Career Transition consultants

How to identify a second career and segue from one’s current line of work and  into what will be more personally and/or financially rewarding is on the must-do list of many professionals,  employed and unemployed.   Some folks are preparing for a possible lay-off,  some for retirement and still others want to make a career change while they’re still young enough to enjoy it.   Discovering the industry and job specs of work that resonates with you and formulating an effective career change recipe that leverages skills,   relationships and whatever additional training that will open the right doors drives the business of career transition coaches.   Also, companies that are in the midst of a major staff reduction often hire career transition consultants to soften the landing of employees who’ve been let go.

Generation Y Marketing consultants

Many businesses and large cultural institutions,   notably ballet,  opera and regional theater companies,   symphonies and museums,  are determined to add under 35 members to their aging family of donors and subscribers.   Generation Y is integral to an organization’s survival and to that end marketing and development departments have been offering discount subscriptions,   innovative social events designed with younger audiences in mind and other targeted marketing initiatives that might attact the Gen Y crowd.   Institutions cannot afford to slack off on these campaigns and consultants who specialize in marketing to the under 35 cohort are being hired to keep the audience-building strategies flowing.

Home Security consultants

Listen to your local television news report tonight and you’re guaranteed to be inundated with the horrific details of lurid crimes committed in both middle class and low-income neighborhoods.  Home invasions,  car jackings,  bullying,  identity theft and shoot-outs in Wal-Mart parking lots occur with shocking regularity these days.   As a result,  fear for one’s personal safety is on the rise and home security consultants have seen a significant uptick in billable hours as many individuals seek to protect their physical and online security.   Police officers and detectives are qualified to give advice on how to secure doors and windows and where to improve lighting,   as well as give useful advice regarding mail and newspaper deliveries when one will be out-of-town and pointing out the perils of announcing your vacation plans on your Facebook page  (why tip-off thieves?).   Electricians are qualified to install sophisticated home alarm systems and IT specialists will set up protocols for your computer.

Home Organizing consultants

When you decide it’s finally time to get your office,  closets,  basement and whatever else organized so that you can live and work at peak efficiency,   home organizing consultants will come to your rescue and help you purge the clutter and effectively organize,   store abnd label what you will keep.  The best will have training in Feng Shui.   Additionally,   most also give pointers on useful organizing accessories,  office furniture and other tips to make your home environment pleasant and conducive to attracting good energy.

Image consultants

We all want to look our best,   but many of us can use some pointers.   There is a critical mass of shoppers  (and not just the very affluent)  who are willing to pay a professional shopper or stylist to help them identify flattering styles and colors and devise a mode of attire that reflects their personality and fits with their professional and social lives.    Since the early 1990s,   high-end department stores have offered personal shoppers to work with customers and increase sales and loyalty to the store.   The notoriety of Hollywood stylists who dress the stars for award shows and other high-profile personal appearances has caused that service to trickle down to the middle class masses.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Top Niche Markets for Freelancers

Every business is in search of promising niche markets that will bring additional dollars to the bottom line.   Some Freelance consultants successfully operate totally within a narrow yet lucrative niche,   but most of us choose to expand our focus to include a particular niche market.   Depending on your specialty,   it could make sense for you to weigh the possibility of entering one of these growing markets.   To position yourself  for successful entry,   it might be necessary to get some training and perhaps a certification.   No doubt you’ll also need to establish a couple of key new relationships to help you get a foot in the door.   But if your research and your gut tell you that there’s reason to believe you have a shot of picking up a client or two,  then by all means get the ball rolling and do what you have to do.

 Environmental sustainability consultants

Opportunities to incorporate environmentally smart and friendly measures into homes and offices continue to grow.   The sustainability / green movement has a tremendous amount of feel-good attached,  as people strive to become better stewards of our environment.   Businesses and individuals are jumping onto the green bandwagon.   Tax incentives to persuade businesses to go green  are in place.   At home,   investments in energy efficiency translate into lower utility bills.   If you have the qualifications to hang out a shingle and address eco-friendly sustainability,   clean-tech or other green business issues,   then green will also mean dollars earned.  MBAs with a sub-specialty in sustainability,  architects,  engineers,  urban planners,   building contractors and electricians are who I see reaping the benefits. 

Home office design consultants

If you were born with an eye for arranging furniture,  understand and can communicate the benefits of ergonomic furniture and are up-to-date on bleeding edge IT products and can help people sort out their business technology needs,  then becoming a home office consultant may be the niche for you.   Knowledge of Feng Shui is another big plus.   Many more people work from home either entirely or occasionally as compared to the 1990s and the ranks of the self-employed and telecommuters continue to grow.   Even the federal government is promoting telecommuting and funding requirements to support the process have been established.   Presumably,   government contracts to hire home office design consultants for federal employees who are able to telecommute are available.

Gardening consultants

Americans are spending more time at home and as a result citizens are investing more money there,   indoors and out.   Those with green thumb or brown are hiring consultants to show them gardening possibilities and present a menu of suitable plants that will help them identify and express their preferred gardening styles.  The consultants will also interface with landscapers to design the customized outdoor space.   Gardening consultants style window boxes for city folk and Christmas greenery in town and country,  too.  There are even vegetable garden consultants.

 Color consultants

A required course for my undergraduate degree in Psychology was called   “Physiological Bases of Behavior”  and in that course we examined the psychological perception of color.   Hospitals have for decades used certain colors in surgical suites and recovery rooms to promote a calming vibe for patients and surgeons.  Scientific research over the decades since I graduated from college has further defined the power of color to influence buying habits and stimulate appetite,  which has made big-budget retail establishments and restaurant chains important clients for the color specialists.

I’ll have more niche markets for you to ponder next week.  Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Remix: How to Win the Consulting Game

The greatest truth about Freelance consulting is that it is a marketing business.  If we expect to be successful,  then we must  artfully package ourselves and our services and promote to those with the money and motive to award us high-paying projects.  The ability to view yourself as your ultimate product,  creating and executing self-marketing strategies,  requires a good amount of self-esteem and a dollop of fearlessness.  Not everyone has what it takes.  To be successful in this business,  it is necessary to model yourself as a consulting company of one and learn to swim like the big fish do.

Let’s first get our self-esteem on track.  Learn to fully own and value your skill set and communicate your self-worth to one and all  (in a healthy way).  You’ve acquired an impressive array of competencies over the years.  That knowledge base is your calling card,  your brand,  your intellectual property.  Never position yourself as subordinate to the client.   The Freelance consultant is a peer.  We have a particular expertise that the client does not possess.   That is why we’re needed.

Second,  let your business practices reflect your self-worth and stop billing hourly for your work.  Alan Weiss,  author of  “The Consulting Bible” (2011),  recommends that Freelance consultants bill on a project basis only and avoid billing hourly.  In fact,  Weiss advises that you not work with a prospective client who insists upon an hourly rate,  because the amount of time it takes to produce the deliverable is not the issue.  The impact of that deliverable on the organization is the issue and the two must not be confused.

So when you’re in your next prospective client meeting and you’re talking turkey,  reach a mutual understanding with the client regarding the project’s objectives and clarify how your success will be measured.  Ask your prospect to explain the impact that meeting those objectives will have on the organization.  Let the answer determine your project fee.

Weiss also says that if your intellectual property,  i.e. your work,  will help an organization save a significant amount of money or measurably improve its marketing position and/or sales,  then the Freelance consultant should receive 10%  of the value of the gain.  In other words,  billing on value = billing on outcomes + impact,  hours be damned.  If your client is too obsessed with hourly rates,  nickling and diming on costs,  then find another client.

Third,  let’s take a look at marketing and promotional strategies.  Revisit my May 10 post and get inspired to write a book,  whether you create your own book deal and self-publish,  or manage to finagle a traditional publishing agreement  (Weiss did the latter).  Weiss insists that a book deal does wonders for your credibility and gives your consulting career a major boost.

He also claims that it doesn’t matter how many copies you sell,  just get your book into print.  I’m afraid that I must respectfully disagree on that last point,  however.  Being on The New York Times best-seller list has got to make a huge difference in more ways than one!

Additionally,  Weiss points out that speaking at a trade association meeting is yet another consulting career-booster,  as are teaching,  blogging and writing a newsletter (as I’ve mentioned countless times).  All of those strategies give a competitive advantage,  leading clients to view the published Freelancer as a thought leader and a cut above.  Clients will consider you an expert and they’ll be more likely to seek you out to discuss upcoming projects.  The axiom  “publish or perish”  is no longer limited to academia.

Finally,  do not be shy about approaching friends,  family and former co-workers to discuss new business opportunities.  Spell out to folks what it is you do,  the clients you usually work with and the projects you like to take on.  Always keep in touch with your network and remember to help them out,  too,  because it’s good karma.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

What Consulting Companies Know

There are certain similarities between consulting companies and Freelancers.  The firms work on a project basis, as we do. They submit proposals and compete for clients, as we do.  Like us, the firm’s consultant comes to the client’s organization as a hired gun, takes on the assignment, produces the deliverables and gets paid.  The similarities seem to end there, however.

The fact is,  consulting companies get a lot more respect and a lot more money than Freelancers.  The consulting company’s value-added is perceived as more valuable than the Freelancer’s value-added.  Most clients have a great deal of trust and confidence in consulting companies (well, at least the person who hired them does).  As a result,  consulting companies are awarded the most lucrative projects.  Their calls and emails are always returned.

Likewise,  Freelancers who have worked for consulting companies are held in higher regard by clients and prospects.  Anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that they receive more lucrative contracts,  billing more hours and commanding a higher rate. Freelancers with a consulting company background appear to know a secret code,  know all the right moves.  I came to realize my knowledge gap through a series of casual meetings with an acquaintance of mine named Erika.

Erika once worked for a mid-size consulting company,  first in their LA office,  then in NYC.  Like me,  she facilitates strategy meetings in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors,  but we cannot call each other competitors.  Erika stands head and shoulders above me in terms of consulting savoir-faire and client list.  Next to her,  I am the country cousin!  Erika is a very cool girl and over time she took pity on my poor, untutored self and shared a few consulting company secrets.

Primarily,  the advantage gained from consulting company experience is that one learns how to build value into all client interactions.  The perception of adding value starts with the very first client meeting.  A consultant’s job is to deliver comprehensive,  data driven analysis,  insights and answers that produce the desired results. Those analyses,  answers and insights form the basis of the strategies that the client will be advised to implement,  so that key goals and objectives will be reached.

Erika lets it be known that she will deliver the goods.  In the client meeting,  she asks questions that reveal what the client wants and help her discover what the client needs–that information forms the essence of Erika’s value-added.  Next,  she confirms with the client that she’s accurately grasped the project scope and understands all priorities and timetables.  She follows up in writing and in fact boasts that she does not so much submit proposals as send confirmation letters.

Erika isn’t awarded every assignment she’s invited to discuss,  but her track record is very good.  Before she starts work on a project,  she also takes a few important actions to keep her value-added rolling:

I.  Recognize,  and if possible meet,  the organization’s senior management team: the CEO, ED and other key staff.  Their names and sometimes also photos are probably listed on the company website.

II.  Learn the thought process that led to the project’s initiation and approval.  If possible,  read the project proposal and review any preliminary work that may have been done.  Find out who supports the project and who opposes it if you are able, to learn who your friends and detractors will be.

III. Know the organizations’ basic financial data.  Read the most recent annual report and examine the P & L to learn the annual operating budget,  total annual revenue,  gross profits,  profit margin and operating margin.

IV.  Know your client’s top five competitors: key products and services,  annual operating budget,  total annual revenue and gross profits.  Know what differentiates each main competitor from your client and know each main competitor’s strengths and weaknesses.

V.   For nonprofit organization clients, know which agencies within a 10-20 mile radius deliver similar services or compete for a similar constituency.  Know where and how those agencies offer services that complement or compete with your client’s mission.

VI.   Cultivate good relationships with your project sponsor and other key project supporters.  Identify a couple of good restaurants near your client’s geography and invite your sponsor and/or those with whom you work most closely out for coffee or lunch,  as applicable.

VII.  Become a resource for useful information to your client.  Sign up for Google Alerts and stay current with industry news and competitor’s activities.  If an item looks particularly intriguing or urgent,  send the link to the right people.  This practice can continue after project completion,  as can the above strategy, to extend relationship building and value-added.  Your objective is to entice the client to engage you for repeat business and to refer you to others.

Thanks for reading,
Kim