18 tips from 18 years in consulting

What lessons would you pass on about your industry, given the chance?

Here are 18 I put together….

>>Sales and growth
1. Sales is a profession — but should never be separated from delivery, or you will sell what cannot be delivered

2. Most sales happen through relationships, especially with happy clients

3. Be opportunistic, strategically — growth usually comes (despite strategic plans), from building on success. Often the trick is forming teams and propositions when you have just enough consistent demand in a new area.

4. Some instincts of consultants for sales and profit are wrong.
It’s better commercially that clients respect you than like you.
And don’t expect to be paid more for the hard work of intellectual struggle and innovation!

5. It is probably impossible to properly ‘scale’ a true consulting firm

>>Organise for growth
6. Love love love your people — they are the offer and the product! Almost always the rare disastrous projects come from lack of clear expectation and boundary setting with consultants and/or customers.

7. Clients and consultancies need a single neck to wring — you need real clarity of accountability

8. Operations is complex and too easily dismissed

9. The external client / internal business focus should be 90/10; it’s tempting to make it 10/90

10. One business model at a time: it’s *very* hard to mix ‘selling existing products’ with ‘responding to client/market demand’

>>Delivery (for growth)
11. Having senior people review work can really drive quality — and/or misery

12. Drive project delivery — start fast, and panic early and often to power towards your project goals

13. Consult to the context if you possibly can — it’s usually the client context that will kill your project, not your delivery within the ‘project box’

14. A lot of consultancy success is about gaining recognition of your credentials and authority — preferably implicitly, through proving it

15. Be really persistent in engaging, exiting, following up

>Be aware of the pressures of the space of service
16. As a consultant, you know less than the client, they expect a lot, and they can kick you out. The temptation is to try to be of immediate use by lecturing them or being a servant.
Hold back, so you can learn together with the client…

>Live in the swamp
17. Understand that it’s messy in human organisations. Try to make it clear and simple when you can — but no simpler than it is.

>Play beautiful football
18. It matters very much how you do what you do.

I’ve been an official consultant since 2004, with PwC, setting up a new thing inside Capita, and co-founding RedQuadrant in 2009, and The Public Service Transformation Academy in 2016. We work with about 100 clients a year. I’m a past Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants, and have lectured and spoken about consulting.

What are your top tips — or questions?

To share and learn more, join me in the RedQuadrant tool shed — https://bit.ly/RQtoolshedshowandtell

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