It seems like experienced consultants serve their clients with such ease. They can deliver speeches, run meetings and conduct analyses with little or no preparation. What do I need to learn to do this?
It is hard to really know how much preparation goes into an activity unless it is your own activity. What may seem effortless often takes a lot of preparation. Attributed to many people, a famous quote goes something like, "If I am to speak for ten minutes, I will need a week to prepare; If I am to speak for an hour, I am ready now." However, effective preparation is absolutely necessary. It doesn't get so easy that one can dispense with it altogether, which is what you infer that experienced consultants do.
A good house painter knows that the key to a long lasting and attractive paint job lies in the preparation (e.g., scraping, spackling, cleaning, taping, etc.) The prepping often takes more time than painting itself! What's this got to do with consulting? Everything! Here are some key points in the process to prepare carefully and do "your homework” well in advance:
- Before Soliciting a Prospective New Client — Make sure you are focusing your efforts on the right person in the firm. Also, know thoroughly what products and/or services the client provides (you might visit their website, for starters).
- Before Your First Conversation with the Client (Over The Phone Or In Person) — Know as much of the "knowable” as you can, including the client’s competitors.
- Before Any Meeting On Any Given Topic — Thoroughly research the topic to be discussed at a client meeting, even if it's not your within your direct area of expertise.
- Before Proceeding With an Assignment — Research and study to be sure you thoroughly understand the pertinent facts and variables.
- Before Visiting an Unfamiliar Location — Try to find out as much as possible about the geography, business norms and culture.
- Before Submitting a Report — Have you checked your facts? Make sure to always challenge your own assumptions before they are challenged by the readers.
Prepping pays off for consultants in the same manner that effectively prepping for a paint job pays off for a painter. True professionals know the importance of adequate preparation regardless of the field. What can really help is to begin to write down the steps you find most effective in preparation for an activity (in addition to the steps in the activity itself). Most people just document the latter and disregard the ability to improve the most important part- preparation.© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA