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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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#287: Consulting Sabbaticals

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, April 20, 2010
I was thinking of taking a sabbatical from my consulting practice. Any tips on how to best do this without going totally out of business?

Literally, a sabbatical (derived from "Sabbath") means ceasing work, form months to a year or more. Especially in a tough consulting economy (which lags the business sector by about six months), it is not clear whether your intent is to take advantage of the current slowdown to tackle other priorities or to just take time off to wait out the storm. In either case, here are some general thoughts on how to take a sabbatical
  1. Are we talking a few months or a year?
  2. Are you planning to stay in your current location or travel?
  3. Do you intend to have the same clients when you return or seek new ones? This affects how you handle communications at the beginning of your leave.
  4. Why are you taking a sabbatical? In other words, how will you measure whether the leave was successful? This affects how well you plan and execute the leave - is there a goal to achieve or is this just a "getaway."
  5. Are you preparing for a new career, business start-up? This affects the level of planning required prior to the leave.
  6. Do you plan to continue to serve clients at a much reduced level? This affects how much support you may need to retain your business while on leave.
  7. Is your family on board with the idea of your new activities (or lack of consulting)? Perhaps the most important question is how your plans affect others.
Tip: Communicate early, fully, clearly with clients and prospects. Be flexible: you may want to return sooner. It's not all or nothing necessarily. With today’s technology, you can serve clients from a remote island. This may mean advising clients in a different way, and this may even be more effective that you have come to practice. Stay in touch even on a pure personal basis with a weekly or monthly communiqués, as long as this communication itself does not compromise the objective of the sabbatical.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting lifestyle  planning  your consulting practice 

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#271: Staffing Your Firm

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, March 29, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, March 30, 2010
I've been a solo practitioner for more than 15 years. Although it's been satisfying, I want to start to build a larger consulting firm. What do I need to consider before selecting people?

Building a firm is more than just "staffing up." Do you want to staff up for a current engagement or a long term business strategy? Would a stable of 1099 consultants work better than permanent staff? What legal form of business do you currently have and is it appropriate for your intended staff? Do you want to hire experienced staff or "grow your own?" Do you want staff to help run the business or just deliver client service? Is this part of an exit strategy?

There are a lot of questions that go into this decision. However, let's assume you answered them so we can address your question of how to select the right types of people.

Look at the following characteristics:
1. Skills in the technical disciplines you need
2. Attitude toward working on a team
3. Experience in your industries of interest
4. Enthusiasm toward your operating style 
5. (tolerance for risk, work pace, willingness to lead or follow)
6. Compatibility with your other team members
7. Compensation needs and flexibility
8. Commitment to professionalism and ethics

Tip: Remember the adage that we hire for eligibility but fire for suitability. As you build, give at least equal weight to attitude, behaviors and perspective as you do to technical skills and experience. Talented people are in short supply. Even if you can identify the perfect staff, you will still need to market your firm successfully to these prospects.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  planning  practice management  work-life balance  your consulting practice 

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#268: The New Normal

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, March 24, 2010
How can consultants take advantage of the the New Normal in business?

"New Normal" is defined as an equilibrium state in business or culture that represents a discernable change from a previous commonly recognized equilibrium. Equilibrium does not mean lack of movement, but a relatively stable set of processes, relationships and significant components of a system. A major disruption (e.g., economy crashes, demographic structure changes, new technology arises) affects so many aspects of our lives, that the combination of changes people and institutions are compelled to adopt to restore their effectiveness can create a new equilibrium around these new relationships and processes.

What does this have to do with consultants? Everything. First, in stable times, we need to be a step or two ahead of our markets and clients. In turbulent times, we need to be agile enough to be ahead in whatever direction our clients and their industries go. Second, our own business is built on the "Old Normal." As the world changes, we need to change our own relationships, processes and assets on which our practices rest. Third, there is no one "New Normal for business as a whole. Because each significant disruption affects industries and populations differently, the New Normal will manifest itself differently.

Tip: We never really know when what the media reports as "The New Normal" is done changing. Most reports describe what the change is, but do not recognize when a new equilibrium is reached. Part of our job as consultants and experts is to be able to see far enough ahead to help our clients adapt to what will become a stable, recognizable New Normal, not describe the bumpy ride they are already on - and can see for themselves.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting terminology  customer understanding  market research  planning  trends  your consulting practice 

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#262: Looking Ahead in Your Practice

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I have been in consulting for 15 years but am starting to consider about when I leave my firm for other pursuits. I am not ready to start formal exit planning yet but want some simple tips to help me think about the 10-15 years.

There are lots of books on exit planning for consultants but probably the best guide is colleagues who have recently left the profession. Take advantage of their perspectives, each of which will differ depending on their industry focus, discipline and practice management approach.

One way to start your thinking in the right direction is what we generally ask our clients to do (you know, "physician, heal thyself"). Describe your business as if you were going to sell it today. What is your run rate, client contract backlog, proprietary processes, relationships, key staff, reputation in the market, position for new areas of practice, etc. Now, given where your business and marketing plans are aimed, describe your business along those exact same metrics in 5, 10 and 15 years. Are these really where you want to be when you leave your company (either by sale or by just folding up shop)?

Tip: Most of us will resist this exercise because we live in the present and near future. You may well find that your business plans do not connect your current status to these future scenarios. This is the first test of how well your plans will get you to your 5 year objectives. It is simple enough to do, but the simple act of writing down performance metrics for selling the business will change your thinking about the current and possible future value of your business.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  planning  practice management  your consulting practice 

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#261: Your Client is a Critical Part of Your Project Estimates

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, March 15, 2010
Updated: Monday, March 15, 2010
Our consulting firm has a detailed and very successful project planning methodology but some projects are compromised by the client's lack of cooperation or commitment of resources. How do other consultants deal with this?

Your situation is common. Consultants who say they never experience this are likely executing projects that they are doing by themselves without much client interaction. Work with clients should be a joint effort. Consultants provide expertise, perspective, information and methodologies. Clients provide culture, history, facilities, staff expertise, and so on. Both are necessarily involved in the engagement to improve performance.

One good approach is to include the client resources in you project plan. Consider the entire project and be explicit about how many and what kind of client hours are required. Some clients don't fully consider their own time required when you say you want to do a few focus groups, then realize that they are committing to hundreds of hours of staff time. This is as much a project cost as your fees.

Tip: This is a professional and ethical issue, in essence a matter of full disclosure. Failing to clearly detail what hours, skills, facilities, information and risks a client is expected to provide is an insufficient project plan. Show your client that you consider full costs in your planning. More than one client of mine has said that they have never had a consultant include these costs in their proposals and they really appreciated my doing so.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  customer understanding  goodwill  planning  proposals 

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