Wouldn't it be nice if consulting work magically continued to flow our way, and the only thing we needed to focus on was solving the next problem for the next client? Unfortunately, consulting life doesn't work that way. If you've been doing this for any amount of time, you know that consulting and being in business as a consultant are two different things.
I'll be honest; when I first started out, I had no Web site, no business cards, and no real marketing strategy other than to keep my clients happy. I was fortunate in the beginning that I was able to coast on reputation and referrals, but at some point I needed to get serious about running a consulting business.
Regardless of your tenure in consulting, if you don't take the business aspect of your consulting seriously, you're putting yourself at great risk of finding yourself cemented to the bench with no idea about how to unglue yourself.
To avoid this unfortunate predicament, I exhort you to view your business as a process, and employ the disciplined techniques found in quality methodologies like Six Sigma to build and improve your practice. There are two basic applications to Six Sigma, each with its own acronym to guide practitioners through implementation. DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) is for process improvement; we'll get to this in the next article when we discuss improving your consulting practice. However, you can't improve what you don't have, so DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify) was created to actually build a product, service, or process with quality in mind. We'll follow the DMADV sequence when systematically building our consulting process.
Five phases of building a process#1: Define
First, determine what you want your business to produce, or its output. This is not a trivial task, and it takes some people years to truly understand this for themselves. You might instinctively say revenues, but is money all that matters? What about your life balance? My key metric is discretionary time. This did not come overnight for me; it took mentoring and counseling to figure this out. I'm not suggesting you adopt my goals, but you do need to uncover for yourself why you're in business, and what you expect your business to produce.#2: Measure
You need to consider who will benefit from your service (i.e., your clients), and what their definition is of a quality service. The best way to do this is ask them. Poll current and past clients about why they like working with you; also ask their opinion on how you might improve your service. These metrics are vital to your success as a consultant. Devise a system of collecting and tracking these metrics so you can objectively analyze your performance.
In this brainstorming phase, you start putting down ideas for how to systematically run your business to accomplish your goals and provide a quality service for your clients. Don't be too concerned about reality at this point — just brainstorm on how you can maximize your metrics. In our business, there are three main strategic areas to consider: marketing, implementation, and education. A somewhat advanced business should also add professional philanthropy (i.e., what you're giving back to the profession).#4: Design
This is where you start organizing everything into the set of processes that will run your business. Notice all the upfront work that's done before you get here. Although I applaud people who take to the time to map their business processes, most people make the mistake of jumping right to this point. By laying the proper foundation, your resulting process will be much more effective. Take the work from your analyze phase and boil it down into something realistic; then cherry pick the best parts from all your ideas to formulate the best combination of processes that will serve your primary strategic areas.#5: Verify
This phase starts with prototyping. Try out your process on a small scale in the real world and see what happens. Use your measurement system to gauge how your critical metrics are doing. Typical indicators of success would be more leads, quicker implementations, and happy customers. After things look bright on a small scale, go full throttle with your implementation for super service.Get weekly consulting tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Consultant newsletter, delivered each Monday, offers tips on how to attract customers, build your business, and increase your technical skills in order to get the job done. Automatically sign up today!
John Weathington is President and CEO of Excellent Management Systems, Inc., a management consultancy that helps executives turn chaotic information into profitable wisdom.