So you think you want to be a consultant – Part Two

Last week I began to share some of the questions posed to me and my answers about being an independent consultant. Here is the rest of the story.

Question: What is one of the biggest lessons you learned being a consultant?
Answer: That people really value my expertise and advice, but you've got to earn their respect. It's about the client and not about you.

Question: Would you stay a consultant or move back into an internal HR role with a company?
Answer: I would never go back inside. My practice is too established and it provides the independence, freedom and income that sustain me. I’ve worked too hard to walk away from it.

Question: What do you feel are some of the key assets one should have in order to be a consultant?
Answer: Be a good listener. Don't go in with solution until you hear what the client wants or needs. Sometimes they don't know what they really need, so it's important to be able to have skills of persuasion to help them understand the issues and solutions. Gather all the information relevant to the situation.
Critical thinking skills and diplomacy are key factors.

Question: What do you think works well during an initial contract meeting?
Answer: Honesty. Be candid about what you can do, what you will deliver, and what it will cost. Articulate to the client that if the project begins to exceed the agreed-upon scope there will be extra fees.

Question: How do you determine if you have the right expertise to work on a particular issue?
Answer: You have to examine your own background and assess the knowledge and experience you've gained in various HR functions. Leverage your own strengths. Avoid areas where you've no experience. Refer the client to someone who does, or bring in someone to work on it who has the background.

Question: How did you build your expertise in this field?
Answer: Years of practical experience in a fortune 500 company. You have to have time in the trenches. You can't rely on theory alone.

Question: If you had a chance to do things over, would you go directly into external consulting?
Answer: Absolutely not. To be an effective consultant I strongly believe that you need to have the experience of working within an organization. Being able to tell a client that you’ve sat in their chair and walked in their shoes is a golden opportunity. It enhances your credibility.

Question: Have you found that a problem might be bigger than the department with which you are working? How did you handle that?
Answer: I had a client years ago who did not really understand the nature of the issue they were trying to address. They expanded the scope per our agreement.

Question: Why did you decide you wanted your own company instead of working for someone else?
Answer: I didn’t want another job working for someone else. Part of the challenge I was looking for was to be an entrepreneur, to create and build my own practice, one that would give me the flexibility and independence to do what I wanted. In 2011 I made the decision to co-author The Big Book of HR. If I worked for someone else, that might now have been possible, or I would have had to go through layers of approvals. I didn’t want that.

Question: What are some practical business issues of building and running a consulting company?
Answer: Know your market, know your strengths and build on them, network, stay involved in your profession and your professional community. Make sure you have good time-management skills. Have good people to support you, such as an accountant, an attorney if necessary, and administrative support. I’ve got a great virtual assistant I can turn to when I need a pair of hands with administrative support.

1 comment ()

1. Sue Blouch wrote:
As an organization development consultant and singer, reading your article about Leadership and Harmony was a crescendo for me. I sing with #Windsong, Cleveland's Feminist Chorus and member of #Sister Singers Network. Your observations about staffing, coaching, flexibility, using strengths, and on and on, really hit some high notes. I hope you take this concept further.

P.S. How refreshing to see a music performance metaphor used instead of sports!

You go, girls!

February 12, 2013 @ 9:43 AM


Managing people is the most challenging part of any leader's day. And that job certainly is not getting any easier. The Big Book of HR will provide any HR professional, manager, or business owner of any size organization the information they need to get the most from their talent. It is filled with information on everything from the most strategic HR-related issues to the smallest tactical detail of how to manage people.