Moving from a paid employee to a professional consultant can be profitable and enjoyable but can also be frustrating with several challenges. Successful consultants know there are many challenges that they have to deal with and they develop the right qualities to make them succeed in consulting.
These qualities are essential if you must succeed as a consultant and as many successful consultants already know, being successful in consulting is never by chance but by developing the right set of qualities which I would be discussing and like the word of one of my favourite authors, Steven R. Covey, if you want to achieve your highest aspirations and overcome your greatest challenges, identify and apply the principle or natural law that governs the results you seek.
Having worked as a consultant for appreciable number of years, I realised clients would typically approach consultants for two reasons, mainly because the client expects the consultant to have more expertise than the organization’s internal resources or simply because the clients do not have sufficient time to solve their own problems or implement their own projects.
This then mean to be successful as a consultant, your level of knowledge is a key success factor. Firstly, your level of research knowledge should be broad enough to find solutions. You also need to remain current by reading professional journals, magazines, informative websites and networking with fellow consultants. More importantly, you should know how to apply theory into practice and be skillful in using appropriate tools and techniques such as softwares and guidance documents to function efficiently in the job.
Secondly, maintaining professionalism at all times will keep you on track and enhance your chance to succeed. It is essential that you keep a professional relationship with your clients and keep in mind that they are paying for the services. They therefore expect you to discharge your work in a professional manner. Consultants sometimes become so familiar with their client that they start exhibiting employee attitude in their role. You need to avoid this as it often leads to negative task result.
In addition, the power of branding and reputation are two qualities that must never be ignored if you must succeed as a consultant. A brand goes further than the simple features of the product to create a unique image. For instance, a black coloured sport shoe is only a black shoe, but by placing a Nike brand on it, buyers have the perception that the black coloured sport shoe is of higher quality. Unique branding helps a product to stand out in a competitive market. So, you have to brand yourself with distinct features from your competitors. The modern day concept of “brand” encompasses not just the qualities of products but how customers feel about those products. So, your personal brand is not the same as the real you, rather it is based on what people think about you and their assessment of your expertise, your work, and character. Your brand is powerful enough to open or close business doors.
We all know how Coca Cola will taste like. So your customers should know what to expect from you at all times. The quality of your service or product should always meet customers’ satisfaction and requirements. Your ability to deliver a consistent quality product or service to a client would strengthen their business relationship with you and help build their confidence in you. Like the popular advert, “if no be Panadol, e no fit be like Panadol”- once you successfully create a distinct brand for yourself, your customers will always be loyal to you and seek your service irrespective of the availability of other consultants in your field.
Furthermore, you must protect your public reputation above every other thing. It is always very difficult to build a damaged reputation, so you don’t want to go through the costly process of repair. This is why to be a successful consultant, integrity, accountability, responsibilities and excellent ethical behaviour should be part of your core values and must be put to practice always. You also have to be selective about the clients for whom you work. In the course of your practice, should you encounter circumstances or contracts where the client require you to discharge your duties in an unethical way, it is better you walk away from such contracts rather than having your reputation damaged.
Understanding the appropriate certifications and professional membership requirements for your area of specialty in your country and ensuring you meet the requirements for both is vital to your success. For instance, a practicing health and safety practitioners in Lagos State may need to register with Lagos State Safety Commission, ISPON, NISE and if servicing clients within the oil and gas sector, it might be necessary to register with OGTAN and get a DPR license. Likewise, it would be beneficial for a practicing health and safety practitioner in the UK to work towards meeting the eligibility criteria for inclusion into the Occupational Safety and Health Consultant Register, OSHCR.
The web-based register aims to assist businesses in finding advice on general health and safety management and being in the register gives you the advantage of visibility to businesses for advisory services. Also, businesses are assured that you have met your professional body’s code of conduct and you are committed to providing sensible and proportionate health and safety advice, hence, increasing your chances of being engaged by businesses for health and safety advice.
Additional advantage of gaining the necessary certifications and professional membership is that it gives you competitive edge during bidding and promotes sustainability. There have been cases where a consultant contracts has been suspended because the necessary registration with the needed institutions has not been done.
Likewise, maintaining your continuous professional development (CPD) and attaining the right level of membership of your professional institution are key to your success. As a consultant, CPD helps keep your knowledge and skills up-to-date. It also ensures that the professional standard of your services are high and maintained. Additionally, it builds your confidence and credibility in the presence of your clients. For example, when you maintain your CPD and attained the Chartered Member of IOSH, you're entitled to use the designation Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner and the designatory letters CMIOSH. This increases your chance of success as a consultant, as employers know that when they work with a Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner, they're dealing with someone who's at the top of their profession.
Businesses and employers are already well used to working with and hiring Chartered professionals. They recognise Chartered status as shorthand for 'best in class' and they know they'll get the highest professional standards from a Chartered individual. So, you would most likely be well positioned for business relationship and opportunities including opportunities to compete with other professionals. You would have the advantage of building positive relationship with your clients and gaining their trust as a consultant.
More also, you need to improve your soft skills if you must succeed as a consultant These skills include social graces, communication abilities, language skills, personal habits, cognitive or emotional empathy, time management, teamwork and leadership traits. . In fact, you will be hard-pressed to find professional skills that matters more than these. Hence, these are skills you need to succeed as a consultant and essential in creating a long lasting relationship with your clients. As a consultant, your technical ability can make you perform a task but will never be sufficient to keep you on the job. Thus, consultants should have excellent oral and written communication skills and should be able to communicate their opinions effectively. You should be able to demonstrate a team player attribute and exhibit good judgement when confronted with a problem and should make decision based on facts without being too quick to jump into decisions when offering solutions. Time management is also key to a consultant success. You should consider adjusting your work style to accommodate your project requirements especially when confronted with pressure to maintain high quality within specific time and budget constraints.
Another critical element to your success is knowing what to charge your clients. As you invest in business equipment and marketing, you must commit time to compute what you will charge your clients. Deciding on a fee rate for your consultancy services requires you to consider factors like arithmetic, competition, expertise and industry so as to avoid some of the mistakes inexperience consultants often make such as setting rates that are too low, thereby making it difficult to raise in the future. There are several guidance documents and article online on how to set consulting fees. You should research on them and set consulting fees that does not put you at disadvantage. Example is the wikiHow article on How to set consulting fees.
In addition to setting the right fee structure for your consulting services, you need to establish a payment policy both for your services and terms for cancellation. You must make it clear before you begin any work as these would help prevent conflicts with your clients because they would have the opportunity of understanding the cost ahead of time. Subsequently, before you start any job, get a signed contract as to what you will do, what the fee will be and when payments will be made.
Finally, self-discipline and setting high standards of excellent performance in area of your consultancy business and continually striving to get better are essential qualities you must possess to succeed in this changing world. Clients are frequently seeking high quality services within tight deadline and limited resources. For you to provide satisfaction, you therefore require self-discipline and extra committed hours of working.
In summary, besides all the qualities discussed above, if you plan to succeed as a consultant, you must be prepared to discipline yourself and put in extra hours of hard work required to meet your clients’ satisfaction.
Written By: Engr. Kayode Fowode, CMIOSH
Kevron Consulting Limited
Kevron Consulting Limited