In more than 50 years of consulting, we’ve observed hundreds of consultants. Many were very good, and some were mediocre. You aren’t starting your business to be mediocre, so here are some of the practices and characteristics that differentiate between mediocrity and being exceptional.
• believe that being a consultant means they can be just who they are without concern for what clients expect
• refuse to be flexible when necessary to fit their clients’ environment
• are unable to identify practical marketing tactics or find excuses to avoid implementing them
• have an inability to recognize an opportunity when it is slapping them in the face
• insist on using a model or solution that they are familiar with rather than creating or identifying a new solution that would be more appropriate for the client
• continue doing the same things over and over instead of creating new materials or trying new options
• have limited desires to continue to grow and learn
• lack recognition that their consulting practice is a business that needs an investment of entrepreneurial time, attention, and resources.
How can you stand out, differentiate yourself, and distinguish what you offer as a consultant?
We could write a whole book about ways to answer those questions. Instead, we’ve narrowed it down to four actionable suggestions you can implement right away to set yourself apart from the rest.
Be a lifelong learner. That means be a consistent and deliberate learner. Pay attention to the facts of the past, realities of the present, and predictions for the future. There are learning opportunities in all of these realms, and lifelong learners intentionally and proactively connect threads from one to another.
Why is this important? Your clients are paying you for your expertise. Organizations find it challenging to hire enough good people to keep up with normal, ongoing tasks. They need you to fill their knowledge and experience gaps. That’s how organizations will be able to exude the necessary agility to keep up with the ever-changing world in which we live.
Be client-centric. Listen carefully so you can reflect a deep understanding of your clients’ problems. Ask questions, challenge assumptions, and get to know your clients’ strengths and weaknesses so you can create the customized solution each client needs. Be focused on your clients and project an image that matches the organization’s image. Partner with your clients to build trust and deliver bottom-line results. Get involved and be passionate about meeting the needs of your clients and producing tangible, measurable results that your clients value.
Project a positive image. Demonstrate confidence without arrogance. See the glass as half full. Offer solutions and influence the change that must happen to reach the preferred future. You’ll need to balance authoritative with authentic, assertive with caring. Exhibiting two seemingly dichotomous traits at the same time is a true mark of professional excellence. Believing in an optimistic outcome and an encouraging future helps clients believe, too. Positive energy contributes to a winning solution.
Adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. Having consulting expertise is important to starting a consulting practice, but knowing how to run a consulting business is the only way to stay in business. Exceptional consultants have a business plan and a marketing plan and they use both. Entrepreneurs know how to generate work based on a marketing and sales plan. You must promote yourself and keep your name in front of potential clients. The easiest way to guarantee a steady flow of clients is from referrals and repeat business. That means you must do exceptional work.
Are there more characteristics and behaviors that can help you become an exceptional consultant? Yes, of course. We advise exceptional consultants to also be good communicators, knowledgeable, solution-focused, ethical, future-focused, and excellent leaders, and know how to manage their businesses.
In our experience, exceptional consultants continue to learn, focus on their clients, project positive energy, and use entrepreneurial skills to run their businesses. They’re guaranteed to win clients and run a successful practice that will serve clients for as long as they desire.
How about you? What are you doing to set yourself apart and to be the consultant that clients want to work with? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.
Elaine Biech and Halelly Azulay are successful consultants with a combined 50 years of experience. Both are leaders in the talent development field, volunteers for ATD, and mentors and coaches for new consultants. They are the creators of the online course, Building Your Successful Consulting Business.