The Successful Consulting Series is a set of articles that are being written to both, help decisions on joining the consulting field and also, help existing consultants in their professional development initiatives. Please visit, “Successful Consulting Series” for a full listing of each part in this series.
Presenting yourself as a consultant is the first stage in being successful in terms of clients and your team. Most times, the client will be the critical variable in the equation to your overall success rate as a consultant. Let’s face it, if the client is not happy with how you’ve presented yourself and skills, both you and possibly the consulting company you work for are at a complete loss. However, your team is just as critical to the success rate.
To be a successful consultant, you need to present yourself appropriately to two groups: the rest of your team, and the client. Presenting yourself visually and your skills doesn’t per say mean, pink hair and tattoos should never be seen. Although, in business, that may be a good idea to wear long sleeves on initial engagements. What presenting yourself will entail is manners, ability to allow yourself to not be self-centered and freely utilize team resources and abilities as all the team follows the same presentation guidelines.
Working as a Consultant in a Team
All teams, whether fulltime employees or consultants, have a dynamic nature to them. One member of the team can seriously interrupt the entirety of the overall success of that team’s output. Independent consulting aside, it is seldom that, as a consultant, you’ll be on an island, segregated from the rest of the resources – your team – while working for a client and on a project. If you do find yourself in this situation often, there should be effort put forth to pull the team together and utilize each consultant’s skills adequately and effectively in order to achieve the highest quality of services.
As a consultant in a team-oriented structure, presentation of yourself and your skills is extremely important. When successful, these two points will gain the respect and trust of everyone that a consultant should be relying on and depending on when there is a need in fulfilling a client’s expectations. Before going on, let’s define a team.
Consulting – The I in Team
The everlasting phrase, “There is no I in Team” has much merit in what we’re discussing today. The definition of a team doesn’t necessarily mean you will find two or five consultants always on the same client and the same project. In fact, often there will be one consultant leading the way with a client while the resources, the team, are backing that lead fully with support, skills and direction. If at any time the complete disconnection is made purposely by a consultant based on how they present themselves to the entirety of the team, failure, if not on the current engagement but future engagements, will undoubtedly occur.
This concept flows into almost any area in life. You rely on a team even when you go to the grocery store. The team is the consumer (client), the employees stocking the shelves, the management scheduling the employees and then the checkout employee. As hard as it may be to compare them, even a transaction can be seen as a project that involves a team. Imagine for a minute if the checkout employee presents himself in a way that upsets the consumer. The consumer may seek out a new checkout employee located in a different lane or, in the worst case, leave their goods and seek out a new store with better employee representation. In this example, the team broke down due to the presentation of the checkout employee. Given this loss, the team breaks down and the other members start to have ill feelings towards the failed team member. Essentially, this is the starting point of the team’s ongoing ability to succeed.
Take the checkout employee concept but with the overall consumer still being successful in the transaction. Let’s say the checkout employee has a remarkable ability to remember the prices of several products that are sold at a high rate. The other team members may need to know them at times. Making this situation more critical, the other team members require them quickly when there is a need to satisfy requests by consumers. If the checkout employees’ way of presenting himself is rude, egotistical and with extremely poor manners, the team members bypass him completely and seek other, more time-consuming methods of obtaining the prices. This causes a breakdown for the consumer as they are required to wait longer.
All of this has a direct comparison to consulting in IT or any other consulting field. Take a consulting firm that consists of several SQL Server consultants. In the team, one consultant has high understanding of T-SQL and specific coding methods in XQuery. On a specific project and client that the XQuery consultant is not on but three other consultants are, finds an extension to another project that involves an in-depth need in coding XQuery for the overall objective. The consultants have a day to prepare for a demonstration to convince the client that they can complete the coding needs in a fixed time. Each consultant on the project has never written XQuery and within a day, coding in front of the client would be a disaster and expose the need for the client to seek other consulting to complete the project. While the consultant that does know XQuery very well could have easily been utilized as a resource to achieve the goals and added billable time, that consultant presents themselves the same way the checkout employee does: segregated, egotistical and with horrible manners. That has caused the other consultants to bypass utilizing him completely. It’s human nature to avoid an uncomfortable situation when possible. As a consultant employed by a firm or consulting company, you may take the path that would lose the project with the client simply to avoid working with the poorly presented consultant because you think your salary doesn’t directly become impacted by a lost project. In reality, though, it does become impacted.
Presenting yourself in a team is not a concept that should be painful to succeed at. Here are a few goals to meet.
- Good manners go a long ways. This isn’t just in consulting, this is in life.
- Present yourself visually so others want to be seen with or known to be on the same team as you.
- Everyone has specific skills. Being overly egotistical about those skills can have a negative effect on others wanting to take advantage of those skills. In that, your skills go without merit.
- Involve yourself in team discussions and allow the team to know you are there and willing to be a resource when needed.
- Communication is as important in consulting as it is in anything. In fact, more so in most cases. This applies to a team structure just as much as communicating accurately to clients.
Everything we’ve discussed on how to present yourself in a team, directly relates to presenting yourself to your clients. How you present yourself can be more critical and potentially damaging is due to the fact you could lose the client. In consulting, clients have the upper hand. A contract or statement of work only goes so far and when that has been completed, your overall objective should always be good relations with the client so new projects can be obtained. In consulting, and even more with consulting in technology, a client and consulting relationship can last for years. Over those years a relationship is built between the two entities and that relationship promotes ongoing work. That work is the lifeline of the consulting company and either makes or breaks a year (or a company all together).
In order to obtain ongoing relationships with clients, present yourself in a way that the client keeps a high level of respect for the consultants. This requirement starts on the first day and doesn’t end until the last day. Taking that farther, all clients may have a brief time in which consulting is not needed. However, new opportunities arise and the client may require consulting again. In that, retain the same level of respect and presentation of yourself at all times through the downtime.
Take the same five steps that were listed for building a team and how presenting yourself in a team better can make you a more successful resource, and apply it to clients. Although some clients allow a consultant to lower their guard on certain areas, clients are still clients and a consultant should always maintain a certain level of presenting themselves. This may not mean you are required to wear the best suits daily or mean you have to have the best posture while working at a desk. What this does mean is, present yourself in a way that never causes an uncomfortable situation with the client. Each consultant will understand the line that is drawn by how the client’s demeanor is. That line should never be crossed. If it isn’t, the client and the relationship will be maintained for current and future gains.
We’ve discussed a few key areas in how not to present yourself as a consultant in terms of teams and clients. Some of those high points are to ensure communication is performed well, manners are always a way to earn respect and clients, and remembering that resources vary as a consultant and allowing your specific skills to be utilized without being self-centered promotes success as a team and obtains and retains clients.