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.
I am one of those types that is always up for a challenge so it was nice that my zig zag career path brought me to the door of consulting. I love being a consultant and part of the reason for that is because it gives me new challenges daily. Challenges of all shapes and sizes and of course many that I have never done before. There are crazy smart consultants everywhere but no one knows everything and that’s perfectly OK. There is sometimes a perception that consultants know everything or walk on water. I’ve worked with clients too where the exact opposite is true and the consultant is treated like the red headed step child. The know it all perception I think sometimes may lead folks to believe you have to be some kind of inhuman technical resource before you work as a consultant which isn’t true. Sometimes you have to take leaps of faith, but at the same time be prepared and smart about it.
When you are talking to clients about the potential project that is something you have never done, don’t lie to them or try to lay it on too thick. You never know truly what your audience knows and that could potentially hurt you more than saying nothing at all. Sometimes saying less than more, especially in this situation. Speak intelligently of what you do know but do not go overboard. And besides, being full of it should be put on the consulting deadly sin list.
The next thing you should do is get your game face on and get prepared. You need to immediately dig in and get as much experience and exposure to the technology. Setup virtual environments and practice working with the technology. You put your rear components on the line saying you could do something, you better get prepared for when you are doing it in front of your client.
You also need to do is prepare your support circle. If you work on a team, find out who has any experience or exposure to similar technology or projects. If you are independent, determine who the experts are for what you are going to be doing. Stay involved in the user community, it will help you understand the solid experts for the different aspects of your technology. You also need to evaluate how much assistance you might need and get prepared to possibly pay for that help by subcontracting. There are always great folks out there to help with your questions, but are you willing to put your neck on the line with a client waiting on a forum question to be answered?
Here are some questions to ask yourself before you jump at doing something for a client you have never done before
1. Have I done anything similiar to what is being asked?
2. Have I done any research on the technologies involved?
3. How many of the technical aspects of it do I have experience with? How many do I not?
4. Do I have resources available to me that have expertise in this?
5. If involves significant time from other resources, am I prepared to pay for that?
6. Does the project timeline allow me to put additional time into research/training to learn technology?
7. Do you have to estimate time of completion for the project? How confident will I be in my estimation if I have never done it before?
8. Is it a fixed price bid? Do I have finances in place to allow for mistakes?
9. What other consequences can come if I fail at this project? Can I live with those? (i.e. hurting reputation)
10. After answering those questions...what does your gut tell you?
There are many times in consulting you will need to take opportunities where you have never done what is being asked. That is one of the great things about consulting, it’s a fast track many times to build your experience. However you have to weigh the risks and decide if it’s one you should tackle. You definitely don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. You have to many times be willing to turn down opportunities when the pieces don’t fit. As the wise Kenny Rogers once said, “You have to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run”.