After 750 days, I can't play the newbie card on being a consultant, yet even after this amount of time and exposure to client-based engagements, I still find myself often wondering what makes a good consultant.
Most of the successful consultants I know are because of specialization. You can find a freelancer, mercenary, or agency for pretty much anything these days. Indeed there is an app-for-that and on-demand-humans are pretty much an 'add to cart' commodity. This makes a whole lot of sense as it's become so much easier to connect people with subject matter expertise with people who need it.
I think I am atypical to most consultancies as my repertoire lends itself to a broad range of business scenarios.
Lucky for me, I have rarely been asked to explain myself because I have seldom needed to sell my services. Sometimes, I do things that are in the marketing vein, sometimes more strategic planning, while others more creative centric. What I do is all of these things and more.
This bring us to Lesson one: The world is small and word can get around, so be aware of and protect your reputation. You never who might need whatever the fuck you do.
I fell into my first consulting gig thanks to my reputation of taking legacy technology at organizations and bringing them onto new platforms. Having experience on orchestrating the many moving parts within a team, an organization and with noteworthy partners turns out to be a generally useful skill.
The type of client problems that followed all tended to be rooted in change or some kind of business model shift. Words like innovation and adaptation come up a lot, but defining what such things mean are usually the mystery bag of "what the fuck do we actually need to do?" that land on my door step.
My background in design provided an invaluable foundation for facing this kind of scenario. There really is something to be said of 'design thinking' and having an approach to mixed open canvas and highly constrained problems.
Where there is change, there is always uncertainty, and I have a soft spot for these kinds of scenarios because I generally like helping people.
I am not an 'ideas guy' because an idea is pretty much useless without the follow-through. Deriving the process by which an idea is nurtured and shaped into a state where it can actually delivers against intention. For this reason, I think my sweet spot straddles the strategic and tactical cusp... which can cross many lines within an organization.
Things leads us into Lesson 2.
Even though you need to have a lot of confidence in your abilities to do whatever you do, being the most skilled is not necessarily the deciding factor of being a stellar consultant. Of course, your client needs solid confidence in you ability to deliver, but it is their TRUST in you that is paramount. You will naturally observe that this is closely connected to lesson 1, so many there is only 1 lesson of supreme importance. Trust is an intimate thing... not only do you need to earn it, it does not auto-renew... you are only as trustworthy until you lose that status, whereby it is hard to recover.
For sure, there are practices and behaviours that anyone can observed to maintain a strong and health relationship with clients. The reality is, you don't have to even like an account to keep them . For me, however, it is important to genuinely want my clients to succeed. Whether it is on an individual level (the people) or truly believing in the culture or mission of an organization, it makes a significant difference in my ability to perform. It also allows me to have some objectivity on my value with respect to their agenda. In general, I believe in a policy where, if I am not needed, I shouldn't be there. I am sure there are circumstances of necessity where such principles are too ideal, but in my experience, trust and respect have proven to be the defining factor for all my consulting engagements.
I've put a lot of thought into it and I don't have any suggestions on how to improve or develop such a thing. Much of this is dependent on our individual attitudes and values. In this manner, I think becoming a better consultant is mostly a matter of being true to what you strive for yourself, after all, as a consultant, you are the product.