Thursday, 4 May 2017

5 Tips For A Successful Consulting Project

For many students, just the thought of doing your first audit can be pretty daunting. It might be hard to believe, but the hardest part is getting the courage to start.

I sat down with The University of Sydney Business School’s Industry Specialist Lecturer Colin Farrell to discuss what makes a great consulting project. Although one would believe that the key is research and analysis, there is, in fact, a lot more to it than just that.

Keep reading to find out how to land a client and get on the road to a consulting success.

1. Ask yourself: what you want out of it?

Before starting your search, you need to sit down and work out what your goals are. Maybe you want to use this project as a platform to launch your career. Perhaps you are looking for a foot in the door to a new industry. Or maybe, you just want to finish your degree and get out of university. Whatever the case, you really need to have a plan of attack.

The first step involves research. Do your homework and look into any potential companies before making contact. Besides making a strategic decision, it will also demonstrate how serious and professional you are.

Look into your network. Ask around and talk to your friends, family, colleagues, or even the bus driver. You never know if they have any interesting contacts that you could reach out to.

Going after a multinational or a larger firm might be the perfect client for some, but don’t count out the smaller firms, start-ups and non-for-profits. They’re likely to have the need for free consultancy work and your research could have a real impact on their business.

2. Approaching your client

Kathryn Minshew speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt NY (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for TechCrunch)
Be confident. What’s the worst they could say? No? You have nothing to lose by getting in touch with potential clients. In a recent interview with Business Insider, Kathryn Minshew, co-founder and CEO of The Muse, says, ‘You are never going to get what you don’t ask for.’

If you need proof that cold-calling or cold-emailing really does work, here is the evidence. The Muse wasn’t looking for a new hire but Minshew received a LinkedIn message from Elliot Bell that changed her mind. Bell was hired as the Director of Marketing a few months later and worked at The Muse for four years. To read Bell’s message click here.

In her book, The New Rules of Work, which she co-authored with her co-founder, Alex Cavoulacos, Minshew breaks down why Bell’s message was so compelling:

  • He included something personal. 
  • He said something nice about her. 
  • He made it clear that he was excited to work with The Muse specifically, and not just any company.
  • He briefly spoke about his background.
  • He mentioned the name of a mutual connection.
  • He made it easy for her to say yes to him by not asking for too much.

3. First Contact

Great, so you hooked yourself a fish, but don’t think that just because they’ve agreed to meet with you that, you’ve already got a client. You have their interest, now it’s time to get them listening.

You need to sell yourself and sell your idea. You may already have done a little research before the initial contact, but this time it’s a good idea to get intimate with your client’s business and their industry.

You will want to “wow” them at the meeting, so prepare a list of well-thought-out questions to demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm. You can never be too prepared. Just remember, the initial meeting isn’t about coming up with solutions, it’s more of a diagnostic of sorts. The first meeting is crucial for forming an idea about what the client is asking for, identifying some problems to base your research on, and assuring them of your skills and dedication to offering them value.

4. Establish Trust 

From there on out it should be smooth sailing. You’ve managed to convince them of your capabilities, now all you have to do is maintain the facade. Just joking. Just be (professional) you.

The most important thing at this stage is keeping an open line of communication. That doesn’t mean that you need to send them daily updates, but you will probably need to keep them in the loop whenever you pass a checkpoint or discover anything noteworthy. Just remember that their time is money so keep all contact brief and to the point.

Here are some tips from Colin Farrell about how to handle communications with your client:

  • Keep communications brief, simple and to the point.
  • Demonstrate how you can provide value to their business.
  • Make an effort to always listen to your client with strong eye contact and positive body language (active listening).
  • After each meeting, follow up the meeting with an email thanking them for their time and demonstrate that you have listened to your client by summarising their main points and confirm your next actions with them.
  • Answer questions directly with a good understanding. If you don’t know the answer, say you’ll get back to them.

5. Dealing with your client

Finally, we get down to the 3Cs of dealing with your client, as outlined by Colin in his last lecture. You should use this as a checklist to make sure that you are on the right track in achieving a strong constructive relationship with your client throughout each stage of your project.

  • Stage 1: Co-design. Demonstrate strong due diligence and listening skills. Find out what your client’s business is about and what they stand for, listen to your client’s concerns and goals, and pass on your observations and any secondary research that you have completed.
  • Stage 2: Co-construct. Complete secondary research and discuss these outcomes in relation to your earlier talks. Don’t forget to establish the context and nature of your role as a consultant of providing value to the client’s business.  Again, it is important to listen to your client’s concerns to assist you to work with them to co-construct a management problem or opportunity that will provide value to their business.
  • Stage 3: Co-operate. When you finally have a shared understanding of the business problem and conduct your client’s primary research, keep an open and consistent two-way dialogue with your client, actively listening to what they say. Ask questions along the way and don’t forget to reflect on what they’ve said and incorporate their views in your analysis of the findings and recommendations. If you achieve strong co-operation with your client and establish an environment of trust, they will co-own the recommendations made in your project. An excellent outcome indeed!

Last but not least, remember that research is vital to making strong recommendations. Any advice that you give before concluding your audit is just an assumption. Don’t discredit yourself by making claims that you can’t back up.

The key to a successful project appears to be not the research itself, but how you defend your ideas. Be confident in your ability, your knowledge and education. And if you ever feel like you’re in over your head, remember that you’re not alone. There are many people here to help you out along the way.

Alyce Brierley
Current student from the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School.

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