I moderated a panel with the above title yesterday at NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference. Jana Byington-Smith did a great job of capturing the discussion for the conference’s live blog. I’m reposting her summary below. The list of links she mentions is at http://www.rlweiner.com/nten/consultant_resources.pdf
So You Want to Be a Consultant?
Guru Master Robert Weiner
Important tip: The zip/thumb drive that came in the conference packet has a nice hand-out full of consulting-specific links, so be sure to open that zip!
Sarah’s list of necessary skills for consultants:
speaking and presentation
Came from a college-level academic background but a side project in grant-writing was very satisfying.
Recommends a book called “Consultants Calling” — Geoffrey Bellman (it’s on Amazon)
Need to meet client where they are in terms of skill level. She’s sees her self primarily as an educator in this role.
Becoming a consultant seemed natural – he felt compelled to keep coming back to it.
Good consulting Qualities:
Discipline for processes and organization — clients appreciate this
Be extremely flexible
“Scope Creep” – your client goes off the framework of the contract, i.e. “and by the way, will you help us with…” Some consultants are ok with it, but it’s good to learn how to say no gracefully (it’s not in the contract and I can’t fit it in yet/now…). Eric didn’t refuse clients and learned to work with sub-contractors, but he trained them to work with the clients in a quality control role too.
Set time to completely focus on family — no iPhone, etc. during family time.
It’s a fundamental step to choose products, agencies, partners who appreciate your lifestyle values.
Don’t let clients or volunteers contact you off hours — let it roll to voicemail and answer it during your office hours.
Ask for deadlines to keep them, and you, on focus — and build some padding into the deadline to cover for emergencies.
Always respond and always communicate, to give an answer or to say I’ll get back to you. Set an internal policy for how long before you’ll return calls — if you’re at a conference or out of the office, let them know in advance or as soon as you know you’ll be out.
Organizational Decision making:
Some clients are not good at managing decisions because they are not able to support the process in good faith, or they are challenged at, or unable to complete, decision-making. Robert has been told that consultants are “organizational therapists.” If there are hesitancy, sometimes there are dysfunctional, subversive or “dark spots’ that you have to overcome, or you just have to walk away.
Things to ask for from the client:
pre-assessment (Eric calls it a “jump-start assessment” with a meeting with the client for a few hours, and he generates a report that says what he can or can’t do) and priority; organizational chart; proposal process; listen to discussions about roles of the client staff in the process
Decide or develop a niche based on your interests or skills so your marketing focus can be refined.
Build a presence: Public speaking, a lot of writing of books and articles, blogging, volunteering, client referral, meet fundraising consultants if you’re a product consultant and product consultants should meet fundraising consultants, LinkedIn, Google, Facebook, apply for open jobs
If you have a product and you’re a consultant, how do you avoid conflict of interest?
It’s hard or impossible to be vendor-neutral. Transparency is the most important thing. It may be that you are not the right vendor, and if you’ve got the client’s interest at heart, you might refer another vendor you know.
There are no failures as much as learning for the next client…
Try to avoid drama in an organization – sometimes the project scope has unreasonable structure (not enough time, for example – and don’t wait to explain delays or concerns in deliverables.
Trust the client’s data to tell you what the problem might be, even if the client doesn’t agree with that assesment. Learning together with the client can be a bonding opportunity.
Know who pays the bills, who butters the bread, who pays the consultant – don’t try to swim upstream against his or her wishes without serious consideration for the stress.