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Best-Practices - Why Management Consultants FAIL

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September 18, 2020
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6 minutes
Bernadette Geyer
Bernadette enjoys working with innovative companies to help them communicate their value to a global audience. She's an avid ice hockey fan and balcony gardener.

Failure is not something that is limited to freelance management consultants, or even to freelancers in general. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about one-half of all newly established businesses survive more than five years. Sometimes, a company’s problem is due to external forces. However, many times, the issues that lead to failure are internal.

No one goes out looking to fail. As a freelance consultant, you might not be able to control all the external forces that will affect your ability to win consulting projects, but you should definitely try to make sure you’re not sabotaging yourself.

Below, I explain five reasons why management consultants fail and offer tips for how you can avoid these types of failures in the future.

They Don’t Know How to Market Themselves

People who are talented in a particular skill aren’t always talented in marketing themselves to find projects where they can use that skill. To find consulting projects, you need to at least know the basics of networking and branding. For networking, be sure you are attending conferences and meetups where your target clients will be. Once there, be sure to mingle and introduce yourself. Talk to people. Don’t just stand in a corner waiting for someone to come up to you.

When it comes to branding, many freelance management consultants think it does not apply to them – but it does. Branding is simply the way you consistently talk to potential clients about what you do. Have a website and make sure people know about it – on social media, on your business cards, and even in the tagline of your emails. Having your own website will be very important, especially if you do not use an online consulting platform to help you find projects.

Another marketing area in which independent consultants fail is when they compete on price, instead of value. Many freelancers chase after a lot of small, low-paying clients, because these consultants believe this is the only way they can compete. When you know your ideal client, when you find a niche and define the value you bring to your client. You will be able to attract businesses that will pay what you ask – and what you deserve.

They Assume They Understand the Company because They Know the Industry

No matter how small an industry is – even with just a handful of companies in the field – a consultant can never assume that all companies are similar. A management consultant will fail any time they think they don’t need to research a company before they bid on a project.

If you want to win consulting projects, you need to understand the past history of the company you want to work with. Learn what they’ve tried in the past, and get to know their specific processes and structures. Every company is different, even if they offer services or products similar to competitors. A digitization project will be handled completely differently depending on the company. Never make assumptions about a particular business just because you understand their industry. This leads us to the next point.

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.” – John Wooden

They Take a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

When freelance management consultants fail, it’s often because they ignored the specific needs of a company. The consultant came in with the same checklist they’ve used on similar projects with other companies in the past. They went through the motions with company XYZ, changed a few numbers in a report template, and sent an invoice for their services.

If you want to succeed as an independent consultant, you need to forget about your standardized checklists. You need to develop customized solutions based on the unique needs of the project and company you are working with. Success breeds success. A satisfied client will be likely to recommend you to others. And if you are on a consulting platform, a satisfied client’s feedback goes a long way toward getting you more work in the future.

They Use Outdated Tools and Techniques

There’s an old saying: When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. If you want to fail as a management consultant, you should keep relying on the same old tools you’ve used for years. Use them for every situation, even if there are new techniques that would be far more applicable.

Technology is progressing at an unbelievable pace. Projects in the 21st century cannot be handled using tools, methodologies, and techniques that were developed back before. The internet disrupted the way every single company does business.

The top freelance consultants stay up-to-date on the latest tools and techniques that can be used for client projects. While they may know how to use a spreadsheet to create a model – or even charts and graphs. They know there are new tools that can do a much better job at those tasks. When you are trying to find consulting projects to work on, don’t be surprised if clients are looking for consultants who have experience with these newer tools.

They Have Poor Communication Skills

There are many ways that management consultants with poor communication skills can fail, but the biggest is by leaving a client wondering where they are. Consultants have to be reachable by their clients – via email, phone, or video calls. It is understandable if you don’t want to be “on call” 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That said, when a client contacts you to find out the status of a project, they need to know how long they should expect to wait to hear back from you. At the start of any project, a consultant should discuss and come to an agreement with the client about acceptable response times to questions.

Of course, not everyone wants to chit-chat via phone or have to skim through unimportant details about your personal life on an email. However, don’t be surprised if a client feels a bit annoyed if all your messages are short, clipped, and contain no greetings or signatures. It doesn’t take that much extra time to be polite.

If you are providing summaries or bullet points to update a client on their project. Make sure you read through them (before you press “send”) to confirm that the details are clear, so that there can be no confusion or misinterpretation by the client. While there is no way to completely eliminate any possibility of confusion, always make a point of reading through your messages carefully to at least minimize the potential.

One way to streamline interactions with your client is to select a primary way that you will communicate with each other, share documents or information. In a business world filled with potential channels of communication. There should be one channel where you or your client know to look for a previous message containing important information.

Personal Growth Leads to Professional Growth

It’s time to take a good, hard look in the mirror. You can’t win consulting projects if you are lacking in the above areas, so consider professional development classes or workshops to increase your skill base if you think you need help.

Learn how to market yourself as an independent management consultant and take the time to understand the unique needs of your client – don’t just rely on outdated techniques and templates you use with every customer, regardless of their industry. Communicate clearly – and in a timely fashion – with your clients, and you will be well on your way to success as a freelance consultant.