How to excel in a tough market
Many moons ago, when I was still working as an in-house Quality Manager, consultants were everywhere.
Not only were there lots of them, most were obnoxious and ineffective.
Typically, they’d enter the building like head prefects doing a spot-check of third former’s uniforms. They would sashay in, take a look around and charge large fees to fix the problem. At times, it seemed like it was almost mandatory to hire them with Directors practically queuing up to have these self-proclaimed experts swan about in their business.
It truly was The Golden Age of Consultants!
Empty suits and broken promises
The problem back then was that just about any person with a decent suit and an embossed business card could set themselves up as a Consultant. And of course there was no social media to help differentiate the good from the bad.
Many of the consultants I dealt with seemed to excel at two things - and two things only. First, they were good at judging and shaming staff; and second, they could knock up a decent PowerPoint presentation full of platitudes.
I reckon I had contact with at least 12 consultants during my time as a Quality Manager and only 3 actually added any value to the business - so a hit rate of around 25% (admittedly on a relatively small sample).
Better days are here - but they’re not easy
Thankfully things have calmed down somewhat since those heady days. I guess it was only a matter of time before the ineffective ones got found out and the powers that be realised what was (or more accurately, wasn’t) going on.
There's also less money sloshing around now and news of a poor reputation travels quickly in these connected times (so too does news of outstanding work by the way).
Now don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of getting professional help when needed. Getting an outsider’s view of your business can be a game-changer. When we work deep in the detail, it is easy to become blind to what is holding us back or causing us problems. Skilled outsiders often have a happy knack of asking us questions that get us back to first principles. There’s no doubt in my mind that in certain situations organisations need skilled consultants. It’s also obvious that, now more than ever, our industry needs consultants who delight their clients by adding tangible value.
All of this got me thinking – how can new and/or ambitious consultants get better and rise to the top?
Top tips for compliance consultants
Here are some simple ideas to get you thinking along the right lines:
Think hard about whether you are temperamentally suited to the lifestyle of a consultant. If you want to be good at it – and earn a good living - you have to be prepared to go where the work is and put in some long hours. The worry of where the next client will come from can be a wonderful motivator for some, but can result in anxious paralysis for others.
Love your clients – even if they’re not spending a lot of money with you at present. If you keep showing interest in them and offering value, chances are they’ll remain loyal. Also explore whether a small monthly retainer is the best approach with ‘quiet’ clients. Having a few clients on retainer means you’re not starting from scratch at the start of each billing month.
Build and maintain a sales funnel of contacts and leads. Even simple tools like spreadsheets will help you record all the people you talk to and connect with. Nurture this funnel – along with your existing clients it is your lifeblood.
Continue to invest in your professional development. Always keep one step ahead of your customers with regard to changes to legislation, regulations and standards - even case studies. It is all this research and development that will continually allow you to refresh your offer and find niche propositions.
Create a unique sales proposition (USP). This is your competitive advantage above the rest. Read my previous blog here for how compliance consultancies establish a competitive advantage.
Be prepared to give before you receive - for example, by offering free assessments. Such an approach opens otherwise closed doors and leads to follow-up billable work.
Be a problem-solver. Be clear about what problem you are trying to solve by taking the time to nail it down. Then, relentlessly focus on solving the problem and demonstrating to your client that you're not all talk.
Create a good suite of documented procedures. This is the bread and butter for a consultant. The easiest way to show value is to sell customers documents. Create a series of structured management system manuals and add and edit procedures when required. Create a series of forms and checklists that you can pull out of your bag as and when required.
Get networking. You need to find the locations (both virtual and physical) where your customers congregate, whether that’s on LinkedIn, at industry association meetings or, preferably, in the local pub. Be there and be there often - especially if it's in the pub!