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Between 2005 and 2011, IMC published Daily Tips every weekday on consulting ethics, marketing, service delivery and practice management. You may search more than 800 tips on this website using keywords in "Search all posts" or clicking on a tag in the Top Tags list to return all tips with that specific tag. Comment on individual tips (members and registered guests) or use the Contact Us form above to contact Mark Haas CMC, FIMC, Daily Tips author/editor. Daily Tips are being compiled into several volumes and will be available through IMC USA and Mark Haas.

 

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Top tags: client relations  communication  customer understanding  your consulting practice  marketing  consultant role  learning  client service  reputation  goodwill  consulting process  market research  practice management  sales  ethics  planning  client development  engagement management  innovation  proposals  professional development  professionalism  knowledge assets  prospect  trends  presentations  recommendations  consulting colleagues  intellectual property  product development 

#311: Insight into the Independent Consultant

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, May 24, 2010
Updated: Monday, May 24, 2010
Starting my own consulting practice a few years ago after coming out of industry management seemed like a way to cut back on work, but I am not finding it to be the case. Is this a function of the current economy or just the way independent consulting is?

The answer depends on your experience, selling ability, range of services relative to your local market and ability to use technology or outsourcing to more efficiently manage your time. Given the selling, delivery, professional development of consulting in general, plus practice management for the independent consultant, this is not a profession for those looking to cut way back on activity. Even under the best of circumstances, and a more robust economy, the best consultants (independent or not) do spend a lot of time on their profession.

A 2005 survey (still relevant) of independent consultants by Cadre Consultant Resources reveals that you are experiencing a common phenomenon. Independents work long hours for modest pay. One interesting finding is that nearly 40% of consultants are generalists with no specific niche or industry focus. About the same percentage of respondents found managing time and setting priorities was their biggest challenge to running a successful consulting practice. Take a look at the survey results to see where you fit into these results.

Tip: Talk candidly to other consultants in your market about how they spend their time. At a minimum, this will calibrate your expectations. At best, it might give you some ideas and opportunities to more efficiently manage your practice.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting lifestyle  fees  practice management  trends  work-life balance  your consulting practice 

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#310: Survey Tools for Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, May 21, 2010
Updated: Monday, May 24, 2010
Clients are asking for more survey work from my firm. Several years ago I used a popular commercial online tool but want to explore other options. What are some tools and by what criteria would I select them?

Surveys are a (sometimes overdone) fact of life in organizations. Online surveys have become so cheap to administer that most organizations readily use them to check on employees and customers or to do market research. However, the design and interpretation of surveys is a skill (i.e., get some help if this is not your area of expertise), so don't let the ease of administration entice you into conducting a poorly designed or interpreted survey.

Your first step is to be sure you have a legitimate reason to conduct a survey. Given the number of surveys people are asked to take, yours needs to be compelling and of interest to the respondent. It should lead to some action (e.g., improving employee benefits, developing new products) that benefits the respondent, rather than just collecting information that is interesting to you. Make it clear in the survey that respondents will get to see results (if appropriate) and they will benefit from the research. Also, most online tools provide for redirection at the end of the survey to a specified website that you can use to provide more information or access a free report as consideration for completing the survey.

Tip: A good summary of how to select a survey service and listing of vendors is a useful start to selecting the right tool. These tools range from simple to complex (with corresponding pricing), with the latter including skip logic (branching), randomization of a list of responses (to reduce sequence bias), and built in analysis (cross tabs, filters, statistical analysis and report graphing). A session with an experienced survey researcher will help you get familiar with the new online tools and better understand how to design and administer surveys your clients will value.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  consulting tools 

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#309: The Small Close

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, May 20, 2010
Closing consulting engagements sometimes takes longer than expected, even when we've had long discussions with the client and everything seems to have been negotiated. Why do some consultants seem to have more success with the close?

We'd all like to have an easy close to the engagement for which we have been talking with a prospect. This would seem to be good for bothparties. However, even when the client has come to us with a request and we think we are ready to start the engagement, the close doesn't come so easily. Why is that? Is the client getting cold feet or have we confused or complicated the issue? Did we expand the client's understanding of the scope of the issue (a good thing), or did we propose an unnecessarily elaborate approach to satisfying the client's need (shame on us)?

Closing is rarely a straight and sure path. Buying is an emotional process and if you force the buyer into a yes or no decision before they are ready, the answer will likely be "no." You know how you react when salespeople push you, so consider how a manager who is being asked to cede executive power to a consultant feels when pressed. The alternative to the yes or no decision is what is called the "Small Question."

The Small Question is part of what is called an assumptive, or small, close, where you assume the buyer has already agreed to purchase your services. Instead of asking for the sale, ask for something that would be a part of the sale. For example, you could ask if the prospect would find it more useful for you to brief the board or coach him or her to do the final briefing at the end of the engagement. Or, ask if the sales training should include developing a series of online training sessions. Finally, you might ask if it makes sense to conduct a pilot before going company-wide.

Tip: A yes answer to one of these questions is likely a yes answer to the engagement, but is much easier to make for the prospect. Once they have said yes to a critical part of the entire project (usually a high value part), they are on the path to saying yes to the whole engagement. Gauge the client's comfort with your small question and explore successively larger ones.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  customer understanding  marketing  proposals  prospect  sales 

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#308: Hand Written Notes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Updated: Thursday, May 20, 2010
What can I do to let my clients know how much I appreciate the business they bring to me? I used to send modest gifts but I worry about finding the right gift or, even worse, the recipient thinking my appreciative gesture is an inappropriate attempt to influence future business. Any suggestions?

I can appreciate your concern. Certainly gifts of any significance to public sector officials are clearly forbidden, but gifts to private sector business clents are still acceptable if done right.

Here is an alternative. Send a hand written note to your client telling them, in your own heartfelt words, of how much their business means to you. Unlike spending money to buy a gift that they could get from anyone, a note is uniquely personal. It will be appreciated far more than something out of a catalog and can never be accepted with confusion as to what you meant by the gesture. DOn't wait until the engagement is complete. Send a note when you feel the ned to express your appreciation.

Tip: If you are going to do this, do it right. Project a professional image and let the recipient know that you consider them and their business important. Go to a quality stationery store and order some personalized cards or notes with matching envelopes. Expect to spend about $2-5 per card/envelope - a modest price for the message you are trying to send.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  communication  goodwill 

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#307: Tapping the Education Market

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Many of my clients are trying to get their staff to go back to school or take classes to improve their skills. Is this a useful consulting opportunity?

It may not be a full time consulting practice but you raise a great opportunity for many consultants to augment their current practice. Enrollment at colleges and universities is already about 12 million, part time post secondary and technical education is on the rise and businesses are encouraging their employees (through tuition reimbursement and other incentives) to beef up their skills. For businesses to keep up, most employees will need to engage in continuing education. Many unemployeed workers are being told their best chances for reemployment will require more education or training.

Consider how your practice ties in with skill development. If you are in HR consulting, training program design and assessment is right up your alley. If you are in process manageme4nt or marketing, think about how courses or practicum in psychology, statistics or management would help. Regardless of what your practice focuses on, there is an education component to make sure that staff whose processes or strategies you enhance are able to sustain and further improve your gains.

Tip: Whether it is an online university, courses from training organizations like the American Management Association, or a degree or certificate program at a local community college, there are an expanding set of skill building opportunities. Spend some time looking through curricula and talking to faculty at some of these institutions and map out what education will leverage the value of your consulting recommendations.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client staff  learning  teaching/training  trends  your consulting practice 

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