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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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#421: Precise Language Is Always In Style

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, October 25, 2010
Updated: Monday, October 25, 2010
I am concerned by the imprecision in consultant communication. Mangling language is important because clients may hear something other than what the consultant meant. Is this just me or is it a growing problem?

It seems to be a growing problem in general as demonstrated by written and spoken comments by politicians, in advertising and in media accounts of events or issues. It may be more likely in consulting communication when attempting to make a message more cerebral or sophisticated than plain English would provide. If your goal is to make sure you are understood by your client, why is it necessary to use longer and a more nuanced word when a simple one, often clearer, would do?

An example: Utilize vs. Use. The two words are different. The first means to make use of something for its intended purpose, the latter to make do with something not normally used for the purpose. Another example: the words forecast, projection, estimate, and extrapolation all have very specific, and different, meanings, yet many people seemingly use them interchangeably.

Tip: Use the simplest language possible, one or two syllable words instead of longer words. If you need a longer word, make sure that you are clear on its meaning and that you can be sure that your written or spoken words are clear to your recipient.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

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#420: Set a Logical Limit on Hours Billed

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, October 22, 2010
Updated: Friday, October 22, 2010
I find myself busier than ever. Combining billable work, marketing, research, and keeping up with the profession is taking more time than I want to give. Where is the best place to cut back?

Regrettably, long hours are seen by some as evidence of productivity. But in people providing professional services, such as consultants and lawyers, it is the effectiveness of individual hours that determines how effective we are. Are you really effectively serving your clients if you bill 2,000 hours and do no research or learn no new skills? If we can encourage our clients to streamline processes and do more with less, then we should be able to do the same with ourselves.

Think about the amount of time you would like to spend in various activities. Be sure to include working on your business, personal time, sleep, education, research, billable activities, marketing, activities with your professional association(s), and exercise. How much of each is not enough - or too much? Create a plan for how you will reach your activity time targets.

Tip: Every month, step back and evaluate where you spent your time. Graphically display the ten categories of activity that consume the most of your time. Compare them to the amount of time you think you need to be most effective. Each month, commit to getting at least one of these categories that have drifted away from your plan back in alignment.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting lifestyle  practice management  work-life balance 

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#419: Always Have a Streamlined Version of Your Briefing

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, October 21, 2010
Occasionally I am presenting to a client and, due to some longwinded prior presentation, I am left with 45 minutes for my 90 minute time slot. I don't want to talk twice as fast or cut out important findings. Should I just ask to reschedule or is there another approach?

Unfortunately, this happens to many of us. One of the first rules of consulting is to "always have a five-minute version" of every presentation. Unfortunately, when presenting to a board, for example, you may not be the main event and other issues can run long. If you know your material well enough, you can easily skip a few slides here and there and advise the audience you are doing this due to lack of time.

Any presentation can be shortened. Years ago I went skydiving, waking up at 5am to drive to the airfield and go through 4 hours of classroom and physical training so we would be thoroughly prepared for all contingencies. When we got out to the plane, the instructor yelled over the roar of the engine, "You are all so excited that you have forgotten everything we talked about today so you just need to remember three things" (one of which was to smile). It actually did work out fine based on the shorter instructional version.

Tip: If you are concerned about this, request that your client schedule you first (or early), make clear that you need the full planned time or would prefer to reschedule, or prepare a short and long presentation (advising the client that they are paying for two versions). Ultimately, management of time available for your presentation is grounded in your client's respect for your time - and you. If these exist, you are unlikely to face a short time slot.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  meeting preparation  planning  presentations  speaking  teaching/training 

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#418: Leverage Your Professional Association Capabilities

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, October 20, 2010
How do I find out more about these marketing organizations that promise to find projects for independent consultants?

Without mentioning names, there are a dozen or more high profile companies (some are organized as nonprofits) that, for a fee, will provide consultants with a list of "qualified" prospective clients. They market the availability of consulting services, often made up of a list of those consultants who have paid for an annual or other type of subscription. These companies vigorously market their access to consulting expertise to clients and serve as project brokers to subscribing consultants.

There are two issues with these companies. First, how does it make sense for someone unfamiliar with either the client or consultant to serve as a broker? Doesn't it make more sense for consultants and clients to deal directly with each other? Second, there are a lot of ethical issues with these brokerage companies. Claims to clients and consultants by many of these companies often go unfulfilled, as some IMC members who had thought it might be a good idea to try these services. One of our members recently brought to our attention one such company that had even selectively plagiarized the IMC USA Code of Ethics and passed it off as its own. Wow!

Tip: Be aware of the danger in these kind of companies. Take advantage of your professional association to check if the organization is legitimate and follows ethical practices. Ask your colleagues and in IMC chapters to see what your consulting friends experience has been.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  ethics  networks  proposals  sales  your consulting practice 

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#417: Being Technically Competent Is Not Enough for Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Our firm has made a concerted effort to train our consultants in how to be methodical and consistent in the design and delivery of consulting services. We believe we can start a new line of business training other consultants in a way that most "learn consulting in a weekend" vendors can't match. Is there a market for more consultant training?

The consultant training market is somewhat perverse. In tough economic times, a lot of people enter the consultant market, albeit only temporarily and without a lot of intent to invest in specific consulting skills. In good economic times, consultants may seek out training, but this is usually for a very narrow skill set to enter a new market or industry. It is rare for a consultant to assess the range of skills and attitudes needed for effective consulting (e.g., the Management Consulting Competency Framework) and dedicate themselves to thorough education and development.

Perhaps it is useful to distinguish among consultants who seek to be technically competent and those who seek to become what the Japanese call shokunin kishitsu. The term is roughly translated as "the craftsman's spirit" and means more than technical excellence and is imbued in professions at all levels of society. We expect a violin maker or sculptor to bring an extraordinary esthetic sensibility to their work, but in the West we don't expect this of bricklayers or fry cooks. We all know consultants who seem to have an innate sense of client psychology and culture and commitment to their profession. Because of this, they bring far more to their clients than one with just technical skills like the ones you seem to propose providing.

Tip: Consultant training is a hard business in which to succeed. As a way to differentiate your firm from every other "consulting trainer" in town, consider incorporating shokunin kishitsu concepts into developing a different kind of consultant. This will draw consultants who are really serious about taking themselves to a higher level of service and give you a Blue Ocean approach. Read an article of how one American came to appreciate shokunin kishitsu.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

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