Written by Jenny Okonkwo
As we look back over the past 12 months, we can acknowledge the widely predicted continuing increase in short-term, assignment-based contract work in both large and small organizations as they struggle to adapt to the changing global economy.
In my experience, independent consultants are initially hired by companies for three reasons, because they:
- CANNOT spare the time, capacity or necessary focus of the permanent staff to complete the work package (e.g. resolving outstanding legacy issues)
- WILL NOT do the work (e.g. a high risk of failure project)
- DO NOT have the necessary capability, skills and expertise in-house (e.g. project management / systems development / process improvement)
The opportunity is to deliver a piece of work that drives fast-moving change, demonstrates intrinsic client value and truly differentiates the consultant from the employee. With that in mind, here are a few things to consider when seeking new consulting engagements:
1. Perform a 12 Month Review. Get comfortable with critiquing yourself. Start high-level (perhaps by doing a ‘SWOT’ analysis) . Then ask for feedback from your trusted circle. Think about how you can make the most of your ‘strengths’ over the next year.
2. Be prepared to invest in yourself. As you uncover your weaknesses through self evaluation, seek assistance and advice from your network. Do some research into what action is required to turn a weakness into a strength.
3. Seek constructive feedback from your clients. You may uncover some professional development needs, which may help to combat ‘threats’, or capitalize on opportunities, identified from your SWOT analysis.
4. Draft a ‘Phase 2’ proposal. As each assignment is completed, understand from your customers where future challenges may emerge, either in the short or long term. This is a great step in taking the client relationship to the next level because it demonstrates that you are continuing to ‘problem solve’ for the firm even though you may be moving on.
5. Define and/or further develop your value proposition. This is linked to one’s overriding sense of purpose and this may change if you plan to operate in more than one market space.
For instance, I bring most value to larger corporate clients when I’m doing work that moves the company forward. This typically involves driving positive change from a Finance perspective, e.g. project management, decision support, process improvement and redesign). For small business and individuals, my proposition changes and becomes more related to compliance.
If your value proposition(s) are clear, it will be easier to understand what you can bring to a client, and will help you make confident decisions as to which assignments to take on and which to avoid.
6. Manage and maintain working relationships. The time when consultants could avoid the organizational ‘politics’ is long gone. As companies come under continuous pressure to improve the bottom line, it’s critical to understand who your stakeholders and detractors are, and their relationship to whoever is paying your fees. Use this as a basis to manage their expectations. Under certain circumstances, your skill level in this area could have a bearing on whether an assignment is long or short-lived.
7. Celebrate your prior year successes. As an ‘outsider’ the most effective way of doing this is through your customers or project team. It’s essential that you are not seen as a ‘self promoter’ as this could alienate you. Find a way of informing the senior people (who decide whether your services could be used on a repeat or extended basis) of your contributions in a quantitative and non-threatening way. As you get ready for the next 12 months, looking back, what was your greatest accomplishment?