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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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#952: We Can't See What We Don't Look For

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, December 29, 2008
My partner and I run a boutique consulting firm with essentially no competition. We are looking to expand and wonder what markets are likely to have similar low competition, sort of a "Blue Ocean" strategy.

Claims that "we have no competitors" are fairly common among small consulting firms. At first glance, this would seem to be because service quality is so exceptional and client access so robust, that no other firm could hope to break into this gravy train. What is more likely is that the market for services is so provincial that it is overlooked by any serious competitors.  This is not a bad thing, but shouldn't be mistaken for noncompetition.

Service commoditization, globalization, fast cycle mimicry of new services - all are trends that may make a consultant's small parochial market in danger of being invaded. Around the world, native species of plants and animals are being overwhelmed by invasive species. Most of these invaders have been ignored by most governments, despite warnings from biologists. Finally, after commercial losses have mounted into hundreds of millions of dollars, suddenly snakehead, kudzu, lionfish and melaleuca are household words to farmers, ranchers and fishers. So much for protected "markets."

Tip: If we presume there is no competition for our services, we will never see it coming when it does. Be proactive and ask your clients if they didn't use you to provide advice and technical services, who would they use. How would they go about finding another source, including insourcing, to receive what they receive from you. Conduct a survey in your space of what consulting services are most valuable for your industry. Then, ask how users of those services would cut expenses or increase speed or breadth of service delivery. If you think hard enough, you may come up with some troubling answers on your own. But don't presume you are free from competition.

© 2008 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  competition  planning  sustainability 

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#950: Your Best Consulting Moment Ever

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 25, 2008
Updated: Thursday, December 25, 2008
Today's tip is about reflection and perspective on what delights you about the profession and your practice of consulting.

Spend a few minutes thinking back over your consulting career. Close your eyes (after you are done reading this) and go over the research, marketing, selling, engagements, client conversations, analyses, interviews, publicity events presenting findings and recommendations and being called back to provide additional services. What were the one or two most satisfying and rewarding events or moments you have experienced?

Was is when a team received applause at a board meeting for your work? Was it winning an engagement you had been pursuing for some time? Was it reaching a unique conclusion or insight after a long period of analysis? Was it the times you spent with a valued colleague working on a hard problem? What about being able to speak to audiences about your work or about consulting? Or is it the flexibility of lifestyle consulting can accord?

Tip: Is there a pattern? What were you doing when you experienced your favorite moment? If you think about a few of your favorite moments, is there a pattern? Are they all related to selling your services and wining an engagement, or re they mostly about doing the work? Are the winning moments all of one type? If so, how will you make 2009 a year when you get to experience more of those delightful moments? Why shouldn't you focus your efforts on living a consulting life full of joy?

P.S. Conversely, what were some of the worst moments of your consulting career. Is there a pattern? Can you restructure your practice to eliminate or at lest mitigate them?

© 2008 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  learning  planning  your consulting practice 

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#949: Use of Type I and Type II Errors by Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 24, 2008
I always hear about Type I and Type II errors in business and how important it is that consultants understand these concepts. Why should I care about this?

People are referring to a statistical concept where a Type I error is a false positive and Type II error is a false negative. For the statistician, a Type I error is rejecting the null hypothesis when it should have been accepted. For a businessperson or consultant, a Type I error is seeing something that is not really there. Type II errors are missing something that is really there (and potentially company making or breaking).

A Type II error (false negative) can be serious when looking at competitive markets or human resource issues such as culture or employee opinions. Inadequate surveys or incomplete analysis may lead a consultant to conclude that there are not serious competitors or impending revolts among employees when, in fact, there are. Depending on the situation, a Type II error may result in serious losses for a company or put it out of business.

False positives are of most interest to consultants engaging in diagnostic or investigative activities, in two ways. As a consultant whose job it is to find problems to solve or opportunities to capture, we are looking for something on which to act. Maybe a process is "broken" or a market is "large and available" to your client. In either case, you may identify something that is not really significant enough to expend resources on. Alternatively, as a result of your activities, you conclude that your impact is significant when it really is not. In both cases, you have overstated the significance, or even existence, of your role to the client. Understanding Type I and Type II errors gives you good perspective on your role and significance to a client.

Tip: Think in terms of medical testing when you consider how you are going to control for Type I and Type II errors. The worst outcome when looking for a serious disease is to conclude it is not present when it is (Type II). To accommodate that, we use screening procedures that are relatively fast, cheap and for which we can tolerate a Type I (false positive) error. As a consultant, you may want to develop protocols that let you quickly tease out potential problem areas and for which you recognize there may be Type I errors. Those items that show up may be real or, more likely, false positives. Then you can proceed with more focused and rigorous protocols to look more closely at an issue, recognizing that what you want to avoid is a Type II error (false negative). You don't have to be a statistician to understand the concept and how your ability to mitigate risk on behalf of your client is a significant value added.

© 2008 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  planning 

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#941: Don't Let Expediency Ruin Your Reputation

Posted By Mark R. Haas CMC, FIMC, Friday, December 12, 2008
I have two prospective clients asking for my time over the next few months. Neither is a sure thing but I don't want to tell either one that I can't provide consulting services because I might be busy (I can't do both at the same time and this is something I have unique knowledge of, so I can't subcontract it). Should I just hope that I get one and not the other?

There seem to be two issues at play. The first is your desire to run your business by serving clients and keeping your client pipeline full. The second is your responsibility to your clients and your reputation by being honest with your prospects and yourself. This conflict is a pretty common one. Another factor is that of all the strategic planning methods proven to be effective, "hope" is not one of them. You should, and can, deal with this directly.

Despite the temptation to play the odds on this, your reputation depends on not getting caught promising, or letting your client infer, that you are available to do the work when there is a chance that you might not. Be honest with your prospects. Let them know that the nature of the consulting business is that not everything is certain and project delays, especially on ones that consume a lot of your time, are costly to your business. Tell them that you are not gaming or hard selling them but that you are being responsible just as you expect they would be to their shareholders or employees in the same circumstances. Let them know that all of your clients are important to you, that you value your reputation, and you want to be absolutely clear that you have potentially competing claims on your time.

Tip: There may be a way, depending on your prospects' circumstances, to alter the timing of your potential commitments so that a delay or part time availability may work for one or both. Be creative. They may be willing to offer you a retainer to be available but if they do not use your time, you still get paid and maybe even provide a partial credit for your time in the future. Maybe you really can train someone to help out if both prospect come to fruition. The one thing you don't want is for filling your pipeline to ruin your reputation by having to tell a client who is counting on your commitment that you have to break it.

© 2008 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client  ethics  planning  prospect  reputation 

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#938: Is Consulting All You Do?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 9, 2008
My consulting career is going pretty well, with a full book of business and a growing staff. It does occupy a lot of time and there are times when I feel like I am giving up on other experiences. Does consulting preclude other activities?

Consulting can be time consuming, but doesn't have to overwhelm other aspects of your professional life. In its traditional form, consulting involves building relationships, developing professional skills and technology, and applying them through time spent solving problems. As a professional who brings together experience, skills and perspective, it doesn't have to all be time intensive one-on-one consultation with a client.

There are a range of opportunities to use your expertise in other ways:
  1. Writing - Take on a column, blog, book, white paper, etc. to bring new perspective to your practice, build your visibility and create some lasting value from your expertise.
  2. Speaking - At any level, speak to trade associations, business or consulting conferences, or to community groups about topics related to your area of expertise.
  3. Research - Conduct some data collection, surveys, analysis or other approach to generating new information about your area of expertise or interest.
  4. Volunteering - Give back to your community by offering your management and consulting skills to local nonprofit organizations.
  5. Productizing - Turn your expertise into tangible products such as book or DVD "how to" guides.
  6. Starting Another Business - There is no reason why you can't extend your work into nonconsulting businesses related to your area of expertise, as long as you manage conflicts of interest.
  7. Partnering With Other People - Find individuals with whom you have not worked before and who you respect to develop new partnerships with, getting out of your comfort zone and perhaps discovering a new way of practicing your consulting.
Any of these approaches are ways to freshen your consulting business and develop some new approaches outside of the traditional day to day advice business.

© 2008 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  career  consulting  planning 

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