A management consultant dispenses advice and assistance to clients about business management and workplace problems. The client is a business or organization seeking the consultant’s expertise on a variety of topics such as strategic planning, business development, workplace stress, employee morale, customer service, workplace conflict, ethical issues, cultural diversity, and employee training. A consultant can work either as an independent (solo) contractor, or on the staff of a consultancy. He or she may specialize in specific business issues (say, employee training), or in a specific business sector (manufacturing, for example).
Consultants must possess professional knowledge of business and management, an understanding of the client’s industry, as well as skills, knowledge, and competencies in: Analyzing problems and finding practical solutions Applying best practices Marketing Communication, listening, and relationship building Understanding client values and corporate culture Ethics and reliability Time management
Consultants work with well-defined objectives, and clarity about what the client wants. Harris gives advice on how to gather adequate information about the client’s business, issues, and expectations. She also advises that consultants work only with a written contract that includes, among other things, prompt payment. Her discussion on ethics is truly worthwhile reading.
Is consulting right for you? Harris includes a self-assessment questionnaire to help you decide. For independent consultants, the benefits include autonomy, a variety of work, and even a home-based office; the risks are loneliness, uncertainty of income, and work pressures. Salaried work in a large consulting practice offers more resources, career advancement, teamwork, and mentoring; the downside is conformity and competition among colleagues.
Getting Started in the Business
If you want to become a consultant, it is important to define what you have to offer in terms of knowledge, skills, aptitudes, and experience. With this information you can create your market niche and plan how to promote yourself.
Harris provides much good information on setting up your own consulting business, including strategic considerations such as your business plan, financing, marketing, insurance, and fee structuring. Networking is a good way to develop business contacts, along with participation in professional organizations. Consultant wannabes can obtain business training through universities, training organizations, consortiums, conferences and Internet discussion groups. You can expand your offerings and sphere of influence through collaboration with other solo consultants in a joint effort to bid on complex assignments.
For those who are faint-hearted about setting up their own businesses, Harris gives advice on employment with consulting agencies. She offers comments on salaries, what employers look for (MBAs and relevant master’s degrees are in demand), how to find openings, and how to apply for a position.
For the solo consultant, keys to success are a compelling vision, a mission statement, and a strategy. Harris leads her readers through these processes and discusses goals, tactics, and planning, as well as ways to organize people, the office, equipment, information, and tasks. Financing is a major consideration and should be addressed in all planning. You’ll want to identify sources of funding, set up financial records and accounts, hire a financial advisor, and establish a fee structure, as well as policies for payment collection. Your marketing strategies could include networking and cultivating referral sources. You can publicize your services by giving talks, writing books and articles, advertising, having a web site, producing a newsletter, and registering with marketing agencies.
As a consultant you also become a project manager, in managing your own business, and in working on assignments for your clients. You must know the basics of how to carry out a project from beginning to end. You will manage people, time, information, and a budget. Project management requires many skills, such as shifting your focus between the “big picture” and the details, as well as the ability to monitor progress and results. Be prepared to work with a wide variety of people from differing cultures, with differing ethics, values and social practices. Whenever you take an assignment with a client, do your homework to learn about the corporate culture.
The Consultant’s Work
What do consultants do on an assignment? They gather information and analyze it, in order to diagnose and solve problems. They help businesses make decisions. They access creativity with processes and tools such as brainstorming, mind-mapping, meta-planning, Venn diagrams, storyboards, quality circles, and focus groups. They track and analyze data and processes with flow charts, decision trees, critical paths, PERT charts, TOTE diagrams, cause-effect chains, Gantt charts, force-field analysis, and scenarios. They study people with psychometric tests, questionnaires, and surveys.
A consultant is a change-agent. Self-confidence is essential, as are self-motivation, emotional control, and positive thinking. Harris teaches how to acquire and maintain these traits, as well as how to judge other’s perceptions and feedback. She gives methods for memory enhancement and time management. She bestows timesaving tips and tells her readers that avoiding stress and staying healthy are central to effectiveness.
NLP practitioners will find familiar territory in Harris’ discussion on building effective business relationships. All professionals can benefit from her guidance on projecting a professional image, cultivating one’s speaking and communication skills, establishing and maintaining rapport, and developing charisma. Her chapter on positive influence is equally useful, covering topics such as sensory-based language patterns, metaphor, and meta-programs.
Harris takes her readers through the essentials of interviews, presentations, negotiations and conducting meetings. You can learn about how consultants foster other’s development by facilitating, coaching, and mentoring. Her powerful chapter on business writing covers business documents, such as letters, memos, faxes and emails; publicity materials such as brochures, newsletters, books, and articles; and client documents such as proposals, reports, handbooks, and presentation materials.
Carol Harris is a Certified Management Consultant and a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultancy and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. She is a Member of the British Association of Communicators in Business. She established her independent consulting practice, Management Magic, in 1986, offering expertise in human resource management, organizational development, change management, teambuilding, training, and employment communications. Management Magic specializes in the application of NLP to business. Ms. Harris has been Chair of the Association for NLP in UK for four years and Editor of the association’s international magazine, Rapport, for ten years. She has authored The Elements of NLP, NLP---New Perspectives, Think Yourself Slim, and Networking for Success and has produced the Success in Mind audiotape series. She is also editor and publisher of Effective Consulting, an international magazine for independent management consultants.