Five core consulting skills you need to master to build a successful business

Making the move from employee to consultant can be extremely rewarding – financially, professionally and personally.

Making the move from employee to consultant can be extremely rewarding – financially, professionally and personally. But the transition is not necessarily smooth sailing, and there are some core skills you will need to master pretty quickly to survive. These five basic skills are essential foundations.

Produce consultancy proposals

There’s no getting away from it – in a competitive environment, if you don’t produce outstanding consultancy proposals, you simply won’t win enough business to stay afloat.  To stand out from your competitors your proposal must:

  • Demonstrate that you have a sound grasp of the client’s needs and a solid understanding of their operating environment;
  • Map out an effective and efficient project methodology;
  • Accurately estimate time and costs; and
  • Be well written and succinct.

Stakeholder engagement

Stakeholder engagement is the lifeblood of consultancy work. Stakeholders invariably hold the key to you being able to diagnose what’s going on and to lead you to the right solutions.  But it’s not as simple as just talking to people; the process needs careful planning, sound process and good technique. Run a poor process and you risk leaving behind a string of unimpressed stakeholders and it’s also unlikely you’ll get the information you need to deliver on the project.

Distil findings

At this stage of a consultancy project it’s easy to look back and think how easy the earlier phases have been in comparison.  Because analysis is generally the hardest phase of any project; you’ve successfully gathered and reviewed a mountain of information –now you have to make sense of it.  Distilling information into useful findings is a core skill you need to master as a consultant.  Your client has engaged you to provide expert advice and you need to deliver exactly that.  Your findings need to:

  • Be grounded and well informed;
  • Demonstrate a depth of analysis and critical thinking; and
  • Resonate with your client and their stakeholders.

High quality writing

Even if you think your writing skills are already pretty good, they will be tested as a consultant.  You write an awful lot of words as a consultant and you will be called on to produce a whole variety of documents – consultancy proposals, interview frameworks, workshop agendas, workshop proceedings, issues papers, background papers, summary of findings, reports, strategies, plans. The list goes on.  You need to become very proficient at quickly turning out documents that are well written in Plain English, succinct, engaging, and audience appropriate.  Many of us had to learn to write in a particular style as employees of bureaucracies or other large organisations.  If that applies to you, then you need to quickly unlearn some of those habits as they wont serve you well as a consultant.

Project management

Get used to it – projects are your new currency as a consultant.  So to build a successful business you need to have exceptional project management skills. It’s all about managing scope, expectations and time, and paying attention to these factors all the way through the project.  You’ll also likely be working on more than one project at a time, making it even more important to stay on track.  If you don’t hone this skill you risk your projects being messy, chaotic, running over time and over budget.  And if this is down to your poor project management skills, you’ll also have to bear the costs yourself, so you’ll also be out of pocket.

If you’ve recently made the transition to consultancy, or are thinking about making the move, mastering these core consulting skills is an essential part of the journey.

Jacq Hackett provides expert consulting services to public health agencies. And as a veteran of over two decades of consulting, she now provides coaching and development for other consultants. She is passionate about supporting the next generation of public sector consultants to become very good at what they do.

Improving your proposal writing skills is your ticket to winning more consultancy projects and earning the income you aspire to.  Access Jacq’s free video training series Writing Better Proposals here.

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