So you want to be a Human Resource consultant. And why not? You’ve paid your dues in corporate life. You’ve risen to the top of your profession. It’s time for a new challenge.
So why not HR consulting? It’s glamorous. It affords you the opportunity to demonstrate your vast skills. It provides you the chance to do stimulating work in different industries. You’ll finally be listened to, you’ll be wanted, and you’ll be able to use your expertise in new and exciting ways.
HR consulting is a great career for the right individual-but the wrong profession for many. If you like predictability, the amenities of corporate life, a steady flow of people to your office, and a regular paycheck with benefits-then keep your day job. But if you’re comfortable with ambiguity, you thrive on change and uncertainty, and juggling multiple projects is what gets you out of bed every morning, then consulting may be for you.
HR consulting is a business and as such, it must be run as one. You need an idea that will sell; you need finances to grow and sustain it; you need insurance to protect it; and you need confidence, creativity, perseverance and a dose of chutzpa to lead it. Consulting is not for the shy or the faint of heart-after all, as I was advised by a wise, experienced consultant: “You wake up every morning unemployed.”
Starting and building a consulting business is hard work. It is not what you do in between looking for a job; it is not something you do on the side. HR consulting is a real business whose focus should always be to improve the condition of your client. And it can be an exciting and lucrative way to make a living.
So how do you become a successful consultant? Beyond printing your business cards, developing a brochure and a web site, and setting up an office in that spare room, here are ten musts for ensuring success.
1. Develop proven expertise: Prospective clients want to work with the best. They seek advice and consultation. Before venturing in, make sure you’re at the top of your game. Unproven entities or someone touting worn out solutions will be deafened by the silence from their phone.
2. Be different: If you look like everyone else; sound like everyone else; and offer the same bag of tricks, why would anyone choose you? Create a unique brand. Vanilla is nice but everyone loves Cherry Garcia.
3. You’re in the marketing business: You can be the best consultant since Drucker, but if no one has heard of you, you’ll starve. You’ve got to market yourself constantly and this is where many HR consultants fail. Get comfortable putting yourself out there on a daily basis or think about another profession.
4. Write and speak often: Writing and speaking are the best ways to demonstrate expertise, develop repute, establish your brand, and get in front of perspective clients.
5. Bring value to the equation: If you’re not bringing anything to the table that the client does not already have, then why do they need you? Clients want your expertise, knowledge and counsel.
6. Understand the differences between wants and needs: Clients want a lot of things, but a good consultant sorts through it all and provides them what they need. For example, they may want an employee satisfaction survey, but they really need to reduce turnover. They may want a new performance appraisal form, but they actually need to properly evaluate, develop, and coach their people. Good consultants listen to their clients, expose them to different ideas, guide them through the process, and provide them with solutions that add value to their organization.
7. Develop solid, long-term relationships: Developing a relationship with a client is more than getting a quick sale. It is getting to really know the person, understanding what makes her tick, and identifying his pressures and challenges. Good consultants develop trusts and confidences. They forge bonds-partnerships.
8. Know who can write a check: The trap in which most consultants get caught is selling to someone who can’t write the check. They quickly respond to any inquiry, meet the “prospect”, write a proposal, and wait. Eventually they find out that they weren’t even talking to a decision maker but merely a go-between. Remember, if you’re not talking to someone who can write a check, you’re merely practicing.
9. Offer results, not activities: Clients buy results, not reports or forms. You are hired to improve the client’s condition. Consultants often describe their involvement by the activities they’ll perform rather than the results they’ll achieve. Focus on results and outcomes, not tasks and activities.
10. Invest in yourself. Your knowledge, expertise, and experiences are what you have to offer. Develop them and find a trusted coach who can offer you perspective, insight, and a dose of reality and an occasional kick in the backside to get you going. You’ll often need it.
HR Consulting is a rewarding career choice. But like the frigid Maine waters, taking the plunge is not for the timid. Develop your plan, engage a trusted advisor, and dive in head first. Once you get swimming, you’ll love it.