You need to be multi-skilled to be a successful independent consultant. In addition to being skilled in your area of expertise, and knowing how to manage your business, you also need some essential general consulting skills.
If you want to be an effective consultant and really deliver value to your clients, you need to have at least some proficiency in a range of consulting skills.
To be specific, the following skills are particularly useful to have in your toolbelt:
– Project management
– Observation and assessment
– Creative thinking, problem solving
– Organisation and time management
– People skills
Let’s go through each one in turn.
I covered this in detail in a recent blog post, here.
Observation and assessment
Observation is a fundamental skill required by consultants. In fact, you’ll often be hired specifically to provide an outsider’s point of view.
You need to observe how a company currently does things, how the people involved communicate, interact and execute their tasks, where things could be improved or need to be questioned, and so on.
I suggest that you take (lots of) good notes, and always keep one eye on the big picture.
You can then distil what you’ve observed, analyse everything, and provide feedback and recommendations. You do all of this so that the client can make informed decisions.
Creative thinking and problem solving
Creative thinking and problem solving are key components of consulting. Generally speaking, you’re called upon to solve a problem, or to work out how to implement the solution to a problem. Both usually need some element of creative thinking and/or problem solving.
At the end of the day, that’s really what your clients are paying you for.
The only real way to get better at this is to practice. To tackle and solve real problems.
There are also courses you can take, books you can read, and systems/frameworks you can use to help structure your problem solving approach, and encourage you to tackle problems from various angles, and incorporating different views and data.
As a consultant you will engage in a lot of oral and written communication with prospects and clients, as well as putting together and presenting reports (e.g. analysis and recommendations).
And remember, communicating also includes listening, which is just as important as writing and speaking. Especially for consultants.
Outside of the actual client work you do, your communication skills will also be called upon for things like your website copy, and your marketing and sales materials. This aspect can be outsourced, however.
If you’re not a good communicator, or you could do with improving in a particular area, it’s worth investing in. To improve your presentation skills, I recommend joining your local chapter of Toastmasters.
How you communicate can have a huge influence on how you’re perceived by potential and existing clients. You could be technically brilliant, but if you can’t communicate, it can hold you back.
Organisation and time management
As an independent consultant, you’ll play many roles – especially in the early days of your consulting career. You are the whole business.
Your days will be a mix of many things, like: sales, project work, client meetings, sending invoices, or doing your taxes for the quarter.
With that in mind, you *have* to be organised and be able to manage your time effectively.
There are a multitude of time management methods and systems, which I won’t go into here. If you don’t have any system in place though, I highly recommend you investigate a few and find one that works for you.
Staying organised and productive will not only make you a better consultant, it will also help you stay sane when things get busy!
People skills essentially refers to being able to develop and maintain good relationships with your clients, your network, and your partners.
There’s no real way to “teach” this skill – it’s really a matter of genuinely being interested in people and their problems, showing empathy, being trustworthy, and doing what you say you will do.
Look to really understand your clients’ problems and goals, and put yourself in their shoes. And regularly reach out to your network, and think about how you can help them.
Over time, you’ll become known as a genuine, trustworthy person – and that goes a long way. Nobody wants to work with somebody they don’t or can’t trust.
How to improve your consulting skills
Networking is a great way to improve your people skills, and can also be crucial to your consulting career.
Getting a coach can also help, as can reading good consulting books.
Spend some time each week to work on and improve your consulting skills. You’ll become a better consultant, which makes you more valued – and valuable – to your future clients.