I recently made the career change from being an Engineer and Project Manager in a large government organisation to being a consultant in a small, private firm. With any career change, it is normal to feel some trepidation about how you will be able to perform in a new and unknown environment. In my prior role, I was confident in my ability to deliver projects, solve problems and achieve outcomes. So why was I unsure about my ability to do the same in this new arena?
One of the big changes for me was going from a familiar environment to a constantly changing one. That is, previously any project I undertook was for the same organisation; so while the project changed, the backdrop didn’t. This gave some level of reassurance and consistency that helped me to feel comfortable in my ability to deal with any project, no matter how different or difficult. Going to a consulting environment was completely different. Not only was each project different, but each project was for a different client. So not only was the project the unknown, but so was the environment. It’s easy to question in this situation your ability to deliver on the client’s requirements. After undertaking a few projects though, I made some discoveries about myself, my role as a consultant and the value I could add to our clients.
My first big realisation was this:
Consulting is not about having all the answers. It is about being confident in your ability to help clients through the journey of solving their problems.
Of course you need to have knowledge in the area you are consulting in. But it’s impossible to be an expert in everything. More important than having all the answers straight away is knowing where and how to help clients to find those answers.
Most of the time, the journey is more important than the destination.
Of course clients hire consultants to solve a problem or provide a solution, and we do that. But more important than the solution itself is the journey we lead clients through to get there. If we aren’t focussed enough on the journey, the chances of ongoing success of any proposed solutions is greatly diminished. Further, quite often clients aren’t entirely sure of what the solution needs to be. Taking the time to work through with them the real issues and develop together possible solutions enables the best outcomes to be reached.
Focus on doing the right thing for your clients, not turning a profit.
This is not to say that money doesn’t matter – clearly for us to be successful and stay in business we need to turn a profit. But the focus shouldn’t be on that profit. By focussing instead on doing the best for clients, we are able to establish trust. Trust leads us to develop long term, sustainable partnerships with our clients, which in turn leads to long term, sustainable cash flow. More than that; it means that a lot of our existing clients become advocates for us, recommending us to others and creating an almost self-sustaining business.
Being a consultant puts you in a very important position; you are trusted by clients to help them through difficult situations. Being able to do this successfully is an incredibly rewarding experience. For me, coming to these realisations has renewed in me the confidence to continue to deliver projects, solve problems and achieve outcomes; even in new and unknown situations.