Change is daunting. When jumping into a new career, people often begin with excitement that quickly turns into worry.
Becoming a consultant can double this fear. There is no new office, new set of responsibilities or new routine into which you can settle. Each engagement will be different. You will have to confront a rolling wave of new challenges that will change. Being self-employed adds a whole other dimension to this concern.
Ultimately, the secret to happiness as an independent consultant is to look at this constant flux as a positive, not a fear — keeping you on your toes and engaged. Some of this is a mindset shift. But, there are tricks and tips that will help you overcome your initial fear of new challenges and discover your true potential as an independent consultant.
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1. Accept that consulting is a learning process
You accept nothing short of excellence from those you work with, and yourself more than anyone. Yet, while this is commendable, you’re setting up for a fall if you think you’ll be the perfect consultant straight away. Even the best consultants experience a learning curve when they first start out.
Is it a scary prospect? Yes. Should it be embraced? Absolutely!
The learning process will ultimately make you a better consultant. Adapting to the realities of independent consulting will build the skills that make a great consultant. Skills like patience, a strong work ethic, open-mindedness and a passion for learning new things and developing new skills.
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Every client and every consulting role will represent an opportunity to learn more about yourself. They will remind you where your talents lie, while also encouraging you to step outside of your comfort zone and round out your skill set. As you build your network and gain referrals by delighting clients, you’ll organically gain the networking skills that are essential to consultancy.
Invest in skills training
As an independent consultant, part of your role will include investing in skills training. You’ll need to set time aside to consolidate your existing skills even as you develop new ones. This will help you to build value in your personal brand and make yourself more appealing to a diverse range of clients.
Understand that every client will be different
The truth about consulting is that there is no way to be prepared for every eventuality. Each client you have will be different. You need to enter that environment with an open mind. That means embracing flexible thinking and the ability to learn as you go.
Part of the process is facing new challenges head-on and learning from them. As one engagement leads into another, you’ll naturally learn, evolve and grow. It’s one of the things that makes life as a consultant so exciting. If you want to enjoy consulting and deliver the best possible outcomes to clients, you need to learn to enjoy uncertainty and growth.
Something to keep in mind is that your network can provide an excellent sounding board for understanding your own skills. If you solicit feedback from your peers, clients and contacts, you can get well-informed insights that will keep you on the straight and narrow.
2. Develop a schedule and focus
We often surprise ourselves with what we’re capable of when we put our minds to the task at hand. We can overcome virtually any challenge so long as we approach it with complete and total focus. Focus requires perspective. Try to tackle a big challenge all at once and it can seem overwhelmingly daunting. However, break the problem down into its component parts, focus on them day by day, and it doesn’t seem nearly as daunting.
That said, as a self-employed independent consultant, you also need to be able to keep an eye on the big picture. You need to be able to tie the little things into the big things to be able to give your clients a holistic view of the progress you’ve made.
Break big goals into small steps
How do you achieve this tricky balancing act? The trick is to confront the big picture, break it down into smaller discrete tasks and create a schedule that allows you to focus your attention fully on those specific tasks.
Time management is a crucial skill for new consultants and old hands alike. When starting out you’ll need to establish what a standard working week looks like for you. As well as time spent on engagements, you’ll also need to allocate time to building and cultivating your network, researching clients so you can better understand their needs and building your skills.
Be sure to put in the time to do your homework before meeting new clients. You know what they say about first impressions… You only ever get one chance to make them!
What a good schedule looks like
Make sure that you meet 3-6 people every week, even if it’s just for a chat. Spend some time on LinkedIn keeping in regular contact with your network and maintaining wide visibility. LinkedIn’s blogging platform is also an excellent resource for thought leadership. Generating online content like blog posts and tutorials can be a great way to establish your credentials and build value in your brand.
Mastering the art of scheduling can help you to map out your time effectively and ensure that your focus is always on the task at hand. It will allow you to confront one challenge at a time and thus overcome any obstacle… Even those that seem daunting and insurmountable.
3. Build a support structure around your business
A common misconception among new consultants is the assumption that they are on their own. This could not be further from the truth. There is always help available for independent consultants who need assistance overcoming new challenges, expanding their skill sets and laying a strong foundation for sustainable success in the future.
Knowing who to look for to get the right help and support is a skill, and it’s one that all consultants must learn. Try to do too much by yourself and your attention will be pulled in too many different directions to achieve operational excellence. Remember, there’s no such thing as multitasking. There’s just doing several things badly.
Hire an EA
Even something as simple as hiring an Executive Assistant (EA) can work wonders. They can help in scheduling, communicating with your network and deal with admin so that you’re able to focus all of your time and attention on the task at hand to yield outstanding results for your clients.
Join a partnership
For independent consultants, there’s no better form of support than forming partnerships with other consultants. Being able to draw on their knowledge, expertise and contacts can help you feel a lot more confident about the transition to independent consulting.
When it comes to formal organisations designed to help independent consultants, there are two broad types: associate programmes and consulting partnerships. Both are general terms that are not used uniformly across the industry, but describe two different approaches to delivering support.
Associate programmes focus on providing ready-made client opportunities to consultants. This can be great, but comes with costs. You won’t own those client relationships. Work you do through an associate programme won’t directly help you build a self-sustaining business. This can result in missed opportunities if you spend too much time focusing on the programme’s network rather than cultivating your own.
Associate programmes also often set day rates for you and keep upwards of 50% of those fees as compensation for setting up the engagement.
Consulting partnerships are effectively the reverse — they help you nurture your own network and build client relationships that you own. Joining a partnership will provide access to mentorships, training, networking opportunities, administrative assistance, and allow you to increase your reputation through association.
If you are struggling to confront new challenges, the support structure of a consulting partnership is an ideal environment for you to get started as an independent consultant, build your network, and set yourself on a path to sustainable self-employment and job security.
Learn to love learning and create a structure to help regulate change
There is no getting around the fact that your life as an independent consultant will be a constant series of new challenges. Every new client, every new engagement and every new contact will present new challenges. This is a common concern of new consultants. What you need to learn is how to be comfortable with learning as you go.
There is no way to be prepared for every new challenge. You need to deploy the skills you have to think flexibly and rise to the occasion — no matter what that challenge might be. Part of this is mindset, in fact, a huge part of this is mindset. However, you can also create pockets of calm through scheduling and structure that will provide you the resilience needed to confront change where it is inevitable.
Create a schedule, hire administrative support and look to find partners. Consulting partnerships are a hugely valuable asset that will give you access to experienced specialists who can help you to round out your skills. By drawing on their knowledge and experience, you can better serve the needs of your client and deliver the operational excellence upon which you can build a valuable brand.
With the right support, guidance, training and attitude, you can rise to any challenge and overcome any obstacle. You can conquer your fears and rise to each new challenge with grace and ease. Good luck!