Let’s face it, consultants have a bad image. Businesses want experienced people who get their hands dirty, rather than experts who give presentations, make recommendations, and disappear. Even consultants don’t like their job, since they don’t often get to see results, and too much of their time is spent looking for the next gig.
The Internet has changed the world. If you need to know how to do something, just look it up online. You will probably find more current alternatives and more recommendations on any given subject than any consultant could muster. For example, there are a dozen articles like this one for every area of expertise.
But certainly the Internet doesn’t do the job for you. My message today is to avoid the consultant stigma by signing up to do the job, not just talk about it. Then lead by example. There are a myriad of ways to make this happen in the world of startups. Here are a few:
- Take the end-role directly. An approach I suggest these days is for freelancers to contract for the actual role, probably part-time, of startup CFO, VP of Sales, or President. In this mode they take on the “doing” role directly, rather than any “consulting” role.
- Specialist versus consultant. Small groups of consultants have now become groups of specialists – CFO Services, Marketing Services, or Management Services. Specialists are consultants who do the work, rather than just make recommendations.
- Charge by task or fixed-rate. Another mistake many consultants make is to charge by the hour, and customers lose track and lose confidence as things change. A fixed rate will make sure there is no surprise at the end, and you will stand out in the crowd.
- Report within the organizational structure. In the past, consultants were taught to report only to the top executive, and to assume leadership rights in the organization. Today’s specialists have to earn their leadership, and prove their contribution to the department executive.
- Dress to fit in. Gone are the days when you can make a great impression by over-dressing. Dress to fit into the company culture, no more, no less. Share the everyday life of the startup team you are working with.
- Produce results. “Results” these days are not PowerPoint slides, or theories and recommendations. If you are the CFO, showing results means you set up the accounting system, and generate the first P&Ls. Speak to people, rather than write a document every time you want a change.
- Have "customers", not "clients." This is a minor semantic point, but an important one to the customer. A "client" implies that the consultant is in charge, while "customer" suggests that the service provider is beholden. All aspects of customer service apply.
- Be exceptionally easy to find. When your customer phones or emails you, his timer starts, so it behooves you to return his call or email quickly. Scheduling of a meeting at the end of the next week definitely tags you as a consultant whose focus is elsewhere.
So for all you consultants, maybe it’s time to consider changing your mode of operation as well as your title. If you have real experience in key business roles, or you are an expert in any one, then you have a good set of modern credentials. Use your credentials to figure out how to join a startup team.
Don’t be an outsider in attitude, recommendations, clothes, or rules of engagement. Every startup I know is looking for more team members, but none are looking for more consultants. If you find the right team, and do the right work, you won’t even need to look for a next gig.