What is a Consultant?
Defining the professional consultant is difficult because of the broad range of services which various consultants provide across a vast array of businesses and industries. Generally, a consultant is defined as someone who possesses expertise in a specific area and offers an unbiased opinion and advice pertaining to that specialization.
More importantly, a consultant provides results. These results may be improvements such as greater efficiencies within an organization, increased effectiveness, higher quality products or services, enhanced value, or solutions to problems. As well, the result could be an innovation such as a new product or service, or a new building design.
Professional consultants offer specific knowledge or skills for addressing specific goals, tackling problems, or managing projects.
The need for professional consulting is growing as organizations become leaner. Most businesses cannot afford to retain employees on a fulltime basis to meet every challenge that their business faces. Recent trends towards downsizing and restructuring of larger business organizations have resulted in growing opportunities for self-employed, professional consultants to offer their services on a contract basis.
Technological advancements, changing government legislation, and global markets have also contributed to expanded opportunities for professional consulting.
As these trends continue to impact all types of business operations, professional consulting is mushrooming, with new types of consultants emerging in the marketplace every day.
Types of Consultants
There are many types of consultants. They range in their fields of expertise, including financial, educational, health, food, motivational, environmental management, and many other professions. Independent consultants can be found in every field imaginable. Almost any special skill, ability, or talent can be utilized for consulting. Home decorating, image consulting, retirement counselling, exporting, fitness training, party planning, occupational health and safety, office automation, and travel are just a few examples.
We have entered an era in which technology has yielded many new possibilities for consultants specializing in computer hardware, software, and the Internet. Information has become one of business’s most valued assets and there is a vast amount to manage.
Who can become a Consultant?
Anyone with a specific knowledge, fundamental business skills, ability to work in a self-directed manner, and willingness to take on a challenge can establish a consulting practice. Key skill requirements include the ability to communicate effectively with others, and professional marketing and sales skills.
Often individuals who have acquired years of experience within an organization choose to become consultants and apply their knowledge in other settings as self-employed consultants. Many people choose early retirement in order to begin a new career as a consultant.
Today, with the massive restructuring and downsizing of many large companies, displaced individuals are electing to establish their own consulting practices.
For many people, the need for control over their own destiny is a powerful motivator for establishing their own consulting business, rather than working for someone else. If you possess knowledge or skills that are of value and needed by others, you may choose this career alternative.
Who uses a Consultant?
Everybody in business, whether an individual, corporation, religious organization, non-profit community agency, or government agency may use the services of a consultant or consulting firm.
There are many reasons why an organization may choose to obtain consulting services:
- Objective review of a business.
- Initiating a change.
- Tackling a crisis.
- Applying for funding (i.e. government grant or contract).
- Writing a proposal.
- Completing/managing a project.
- Hiring a manager for a business.
- Third party request for problem resolution.
- Organizational restructuring.
- Implementing a new product or service.
Consultants are not required to participate as members of associations; however, many choose to do so for professional development and networking opportunities. Examples of such organizations include the Canadian Association of Management Consultants, the Association of Independent Consultants and the Society of Professional Consultants.
Establish Your Code of Professional Conduct
Professionalism is the framework of a consulting practice. As you establish your new business, begin with a commitment to your code of professional conduct. You may even choose to prepare your code of professional conduct as a written segment of your marketing literature. Consider the following elements:
Communication is the foundation of relationships with your clients. Communicate regularly and effectively, always considering your client’s point of view.
Advise clients of problems as soon as they arise and keep them apprised of progress.
Get to know your customers. Remember the 80/20 rule? Eighty percent of your business may come from 20 percent of your customers.
Demonstrate courtesy towards your clients by returning phone calls as soon as possible, and avoid being late for meetings or appointments.
Honour deadlines. If you say it will be finished Monday, finish it by Monday – or sooner.
Customers are number one. Show that you honour customer satisfaction.
Never promise to do something that you are not capable of doing, unless you have other resource people who can complete the task.
Commit to your ongoing professional development in order to provide the best service possible to your customers. Even learning new computer skills may enable you to work more efficiently and keep costs down for your customers. (If you utilize state of the art technology – tell your customers).
Click on Worksheet 7.1 to define your consulting practices.