ANYONE can be a Consultant
Consulting is completely unregulated; anyone can buy some business cards put their name on it and call themselves a consultant. There are many reasons people go into consulting. They may have specific functional expertise, a broad business background, an education in business – fresh out of business school, or a senior executive that has turned to consulting to avoid job search or doing consulting until they land a real job.
Equally there are many ways someone can start a consulting practice; there are Organizations that sell consulting franchises – coaching, executive mentoring, president’s workshops, board groups are all focussed fields – they sell a defined territory, usually geographic, and offer as little as a three to six day training seminar as part of the purchase price and then the consultant is off and running. There are organizations that sell training on how to be a consultant focusing on pre-packaged methodologies in a cookie cutter format. There are organizations that sell memberships into associations that have like-minded individuals who pay a fee and then are allowed to claim membership as a credential. Often, the only criteria for becoming a member or franchisee of these consulting groups can be the ability to write the cheque; very little; if any, due diligence is done to ensure the individual is capable of doing consulting assignments. These consultants, for the most part sole –proprietors are given some training in how to secure clients then set loose to develop their practice as best as they can.
Some Consulting Organizations have a sophisticated selling approach and closing techniques to land clients. A vast number of them focus all their attention on securing consulting clients, developing strong closers who use a compelling methodology to secure the client – never to be seen by the client again. The company then sends in a team of young recent graduates to do the analysis with complete disregard for the day to day needs of operating the company. They hand over a report and leave – the cheque was given up-front to the closer!
Some would say that any business needs to focus on developing their business and consulting is no different and to a point that is true. However, the marketing can become so much of a priority that when they actually get a project the consultant will not have a clear course of action or diagnostic methodology to ensure their client receives maximum value for their investment. Never has the phrase caveat emptor been more applicable!
Again this does not mean you should not engage consultants; just be careful who you engage, what are their credentials, references and track record?
BIG Consulting Firms
Now, consulting is a multi – billion dollar industry and many companies have received good value for their investment in outside expertise. But business owners do need to validate a prospective consultant to ensure they can deliver the right expertise and provide input that will move their company forward positively. Many, not knowing how to qualify consultants that might be suitable default to using the large consulting firms; in their mind they are at least getting a firm that is proven in the industry. However, if the business owner is uncomfortable in qualifying a consultant they probably also are not fully comfortable in setting the parameters of the assignment or defining the scope of the project.
Many clients again are vulnerable to having the consulting firm dictate or influence greatly scope, methodology, and outcomes. Then the clients get a full team arriving to do the analysis. Each member of the consulting firm has varying levels of experience and background (probably limited hands on experience in many of the key business disciplines) and probably very little track record of hands on success. What this team will come with is; large firm overheads and in many cases cookie cutter methodologies, templates and diagnostics that the firm teaches their members. The tool kits, methodologies, templates and diagnostics are sometimes very good, sometimes not always applicable to the unique needs of the client; definitely what the client always receives is a comprehensive report with recommendations and a large bill.
The owner is then left to his/her own devices to implement the recommendations. Often, they will start full of enthusiasm only to get bogged down with employees who are not willing to embrace change or fearful of the agenda as it might affect their unique role. Then the daily grind of the inevitable day to day matters of running the business will start to eat the owner’s time and the recommended changes go to the back burner to be ignored or revisited when the time is more appropriate –i.e. they never get revisited!
So, often the large firms are expensive and owners start to resent consultants because they have paid a big bill, gotten a report, but, owners left on their own are not effective in actually implementing the proposed change! This is a unique skill set on its own!
So what is the solution for those who know they need an outside perspective but have no idea how to evaluate whether the person sitting across their desk can actually deliver? More importantly how will they actually get full value from their investment in consulting? More about that is the next installment.