Five “Insider Secrets” to Being a Happy and Successful Independent Consultant

Have you noticed how many articles there are about “What makes a great entrepreneur?” or “How do you know you’re cut out to be a success as a small business owner?”

I’ve read them, and I’m always a bit in awe of the people who manage to score high in the surveys indicating extraordinary capabilities that successful entrepreneurship requires.

When I think about one very important “subclass” of entrepreneurs –the independent business consultants I’ve known and worked with – I conclude that they share certain qualities that never seem to show up in the “successful entrepreneur” research. Yet they may be the most relevant characteristics that draw people to consulting in the first place. And keep them there over the long run.

Here’s my list of 5 common characteristics and orientations of the solo- and small-firm consultants I’ve known who love their work, thrive in their roles, and handle the “challenges” of their chosen profession with a minimum of fuss and bother.

They are so important, I consider them to be real “insider secrets” for being a happy and successful consultant.

Consultants who love their work are:

  1. Curious, knowledgeable, always learning, “quick studies” yet patient with details that contribute to really understanding the world and the situations their clients find themselves in. They like to be informed, accurate, relevant, and love using their expertise to help others (and earn a living, too boot!)
  2. Analytical, “objective,” comfortable weighing pros and cons, evaluating information and drawing implications to craft solutions to problems, choose between alternatives, justify recommendations. They are careful to specify and adhere to agreed-upon objectives and priorities, and willing to question biases that can blindside them or others.
  3. Creative, flexible, able to go into different organizations and quickly get the lay of the land, consider multiple viewpoints, balance various interests, handle uncertainty, and see opportunities to venture in new directions and propose options for change and improvements. They often draw on unusual sources of inspiration or different industries to open up thinking.
  4. Interested in, and respectful of, their clients as people, intrigued by all kinds of personalities and styles and experiences, and able to work effectively in diverse and changing environments.  They recognize that top management, teams and individuals have created existing business practices and assumptions, and optimally they should all be involved in changing them.
  5. Trustworthy, willing to serve as counselors, advisors, and influencers, rather than “bosses” or ultimate decision-makers with their clients. They’re willing to go to the mat to fight for what they believe is best, but able to defer to their clients’ ultimate authority in final decisions.

If you’re a consultant, do you see yourself in this list? Or if you hire professional consultants, do you recognize these qualities in your advisors?

I’d love to know!

1 Response to “Five “Insider Secrets” to Being a Happy and Successful Independent Consultant”

  • Oh dear! All this time I thought I was a coach, but I’m really a consultant.

    Thanks for this post. I think it is thorough and right on point.

    Too many consultants saunter into a new environment and assume their “process” or “model” will be a sure cure. A good consultant has multiple tools and strategies to mix ‘n match to suit the clients’ needs and goals, and the ability to invent on the fly to achieve an elegant solution or resolution.

    Andrea Williams

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