How To Handle Your First Consulting Gig Like a Pro
By Jennifer Laible
You've decided to become a consultant. And after meeting with people and leveraging your network, you've landed your first consulting gig. So, how are you going to be successful?
At Antenna, my team and I have worked with many consultants and companies, helping to create maximum impact for client organizations. Through our experiences, we've identified several factors to consider for your first gig as a consultant to be as successful as possible.
Confirm The Scope
First, get crystal clear about your areas of expertise and what you're going to deliver. Confirm the objectives, the deliverables and the outcomes that you're there to drive. Of course, there needs to be some flexibility and fluidity in how the work will get done, but resist the urge to take on everything and the kitchen sink -- or you'll end up with scope creep.
I've found that it's not uncommon for a client to say, “I know I said we were going to do these three things, but can you also do this, this and this?” Before long, your list has quadrupled. That's why you need to be clear on expectations from day one.
Assess The Needs
How do you activate the process and actually start the work of consulting? Usually, the first week or two will involve assessing the current state of affairs. While gathering information, consider these factors:
• What information is available?
• Who should you talk to?
• Who are the stakeholders?
• Are there other partners that they're using to do this work?
In my experience, some clients will prepare information in advance, but if they don't, you need to get that material quickly and identify the key stakeholders you'll need to work with. New consultants often make the common mistake of waiting for information to come to them. Don’t be passive or hold back because you're concerned about making waves.
You're bringing your expertise to the table, but the key to your success is listening to the client and thinking and acting like a good investigative reporter. Ask questions, look for clues and keep digging to unearth the issues. Whether there are explicit problems to be solved or the client is trying to pursue an opportunity, I find that there's usually something to be uncovered.
At the same time, avoid sounding like a know-it-all. No one likes a consultant who oversimplifies or second-guesses. Instead, ask questions like, “Why is this a concern?” or, “Have you thought about this as a next step?” and, “What have you already tried?” You might discover new issues or constraints you didn't understand at first. Sometimes, companies know what they need to do -- they just need help getting there.
Provide Wins, Quickly
If you can go after low-hanging fruit and get some quick wins, do it! Within the first 30 days of working with a consultant, clients will want to see results. You don't have to deliver everything, but you should be up to speed and have a few wins under your belt.
As you continue your work, make sure you watch your own scope to avoid creep. Deliver the work without overstepping your bounds or making assumptions. If you go outside of the client's scope, you'll find yourself back at square one.
Summarize Your Impact
When your project is coming to an end, make sure you define a clear stopping point. Then, end on a strong note. Create some kind of tangible leave-behind -- it could be an instruction manual, a binder of information or training for the next person who's going to carry on the work. And give your client recommendations for next steps. It's a great way to open the door to a conversation about coming back for future phases of the work or to do another related project.
Wow the client with your work, and show what you could do for them in the future. This might be the end of your project, but hopefully, it's not the end of your relationship.
If you can follow these steps, focus on your core expertise and make an impact with small wins and your final deliverable, you'll be a successful consultant. Be curious, be a good listener and set up your clients for success.
An earlier version of this post originally appeared on Forbes.
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Antenna is a leader in delivering top marketing professionals to corporations of all sizes for project-based consulting, interim leadership assignments, and contract staffing engagements. With headquarters in Minneapolis, Antenna draws from its private community of experienced marketing talent to help clients balance the flexibility and expertise modern marketing organizations demand.