How My Business Consulting Career Began
by Howard Freedman
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Howard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The plane has reached cruising altitude and as I try to feel more relaxed before my first consulting job begins. I was wired and knew that when businesses open their wallets they expect expertise and effectiveness, and they want it right now! So there I was sweating bullets, sick from stale air, the taste of salt and peanut oil lingering on my tongue when I had to ask myself, "Why have I sacrificed the comfort of my office for this?"
Fortunately, I can look back on that flight and say the answer was easy: consulting is an adventure. There is never a dull moment because, with each new client, you face different opportunities and apply your experience in unlimited ways. All of which means you can't ever get too comfortable as this is the time to take notes, review reference materials, and occasionally glance at the tranquility of the billowy clouds covering a swiftly moving world below,
Money isn't everything . . . really.
Consulting can be financially rewarding, but not until a consultant's credibility has been earned and the clients are happy. One way to establish credibility is to be a good listener and focus on what the client expects.
Don't get greedy.
Clients may offer to pay but ask for the impossible. You may have to ask yourself, "Is it worth it?" Try to look past the money because you probably won't succeed. Confronted with a no-win situation, offer to help the client create more realistic goals. This will get the job done as quickly as possible to foster a good relationship that pays off in the future.
Time is money.
It's also important to keep the client's budget restrictions in mind. You will work with companies that have limited budgets. if you can't produce on their schedule, make sure everyone agrees to a revised and more realistic project plan with specified deliverables.
They know what they're doing.
Certainly, it is the clients' responsibility to define their needs and establish ownership of the project. Don't overlook your clients' experts on the subjects at hand or those responsible for the work that's been done already. As a consultant, it is your responsibility to guide the clients to the solutions they need.
Getting your specs on.
When it comes time to get the job started, writing functional specifications should be a priority. Functional specs serve as blueprints and tangible documentation for future reference; avoiding specs will likely result in an inferior product. Functional specs should be clear and concise, with a separate section included for technical requirements. Make sure they are client-approved.
Use help if necessary.
Although many think they do, I have yet to meet a consultant who actually knew everything. So take advantage of what your colleagues know — network with other consultants and leverage their expertise with your own.
Don't skimp on the testing.
Testing should begin with clients defining their business cases. The consultant then builds the framework for testing around the information supplied by the client. At the very least, testing should include unit testing, system testing, and parallel testing. Thorough testing should also include controls to monitor each cycle, document results, and resolve any problems.
Put it in writing.
Consultants often do a great job but fail to leave an audit trail or documentation of what they did. I try to document in writing as much as possible so that the client can continue to work independently on the system once my job is done. You can include documentation as part of a weekly status report to management.
And remember . . .
Every consulting engagement is an investment in your future success. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn and gain experience, because the more you learn on one job, the better your chances of success on the next.
My plane is descending now. I've had my peanuts, pretzels and soft drinks to fill my belly and make a positive first impression. I feel more relaxed and eager to be an empathetic listener, objective observer and build positive relationships to give each client value-added service.
Tucked away in my portfolio are many kind notes and letters of recommendation from clients that serve as motivators that hard work and building solid working relationships can be rewarding in so many other ways..