I’ll be the first to admit, saying “no” is hard. But I also believe that saying “yes” too often can leave you over-committed and ineffective. Saying “no” can make us feel weak, guilty and contradictory to achieving success. But those who say “no” more than they say “yes” are better able to focus on the important projects and client relationships that they’ve selected. They have more energy and produce better work. Their client relationships are generally stronger and their work-work-life balance is more easily managed. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a powerful driver, but if you’re not careful it can get you get you into muddy waters. Whether drinks with friends or taking on projects that you’re not 100% sure will be worth your time or the client’s time, saying “yes” for the sake of FOMO is a dumb decision. Lots of opportunities come up every week, but choosing the right ones is more important that choosing each one. Saying “no” more empowers you to make each decision count.
As much as we try to push the limits and search for more hours in the day, the reality is there are only 24 hours to go around. At least 8 of them are already earmarked for your 9 to 5 job. Your consulting business, unfortunately, gets whatever is left over. It’s up to you to find creative ways to use the remaining hours in your day in the best possible way. Consulting would be so much easier if everything we did was over the web. But in reality, you can’t manage a client relationship through email exclusively. At some point, you have to pick up the phone and talk to them or meet with them face-to-face. Finding time to this during normal business hours is a struggle we all face. Fortunately, we get an hour for lunch every day. That’s one whole productive daylight hour that can be attributed to your consulting business and used for managing client relations, following up on project milestones, face-to-face meetings, and new client pitches. No matter what you need to talk about, your lunch hour is the perfect time to pick up the phone and make a call.
Increase your productivity with apps that simplify everything you do, from content management to your daily commute. There are many apps that, when used to their potential, can make your life so much easier. Working for yourself while also working for others can be overwhelming at times. It can be confusing, tough and exhausting. Arm yourself with tools that position you for success and help you achieve results.
Honesty is the best policy and this 100% applies when you’re managing a job while running a consulting business. Your clients should have a clear picture of what to expect in terms of your commitment, your day job, and the hours that you’re available to receive calls and attend meetings. Setting real expectations not only ensures that you’re all on the same page, but it reduces stress on both you and the client, it keeps the relationship honest and transparent and doesn’t spook your boss because you’re not answering personal calls during business hours.
This essentially means that you will do exactly what you said you were going to do, when you said you were going to do it. Sounds simple, but it’s the number one quality needed to build trust and credibility among your team and your clients. For example, in the beginning of your career, your team will lean on you for support in the more rote areas of consulting work, such as creating PowerPoint decks, taking notes, and organizing projects, and it’s important for you to be able to do these tasks without errors or much oversight from your manager. Make sure you keep your promises, be consistent in your quality, and master the basic skills in Excel and PowerPoint. The more trust you build early on, the more opportunities you will be given in the future. RELATED: 5 Unconventional Habits That'll Make You Successful
This is such a crucial skill in consulting because one of the ways we build trust with clients is by producing error-free deliverables, which shows that we’re thorough and our recommendations are solid. Ensuring there are no grammar, spelling, or calculation-related mistakes are in your work is essential and ultimately reflects on your entire team. If you have a natural attention to detail, congrats! But if, like me, you are more of a big picture thinker, there are a few tricks I’ve learned to help build this important skill. First, when it comes to math, show your work. I know this sounds like your high-school teacher talking, but this always helps to ensure you’ve thought of everything and allows you to show your manager the steps you took to get to your answer (and find any errors before it reaches the client). The second step—and the one that has turned me slightly OCD—is to create lists of things to double-check before submitting anything. For example, I have a PowerPoint check-off list that includes things like adding page numbers to every slide, recalculating all numbers, and making sure a consistent font is used throughout. RELATED: 5 Tools Every Consultant Should Have
During your first few years of consulting, you’ll likely be floating between industries, areas, and clients. Despite your broad experiences, it’s a good idea to start developing a skill that allows you to differentiate yourself from all your rock star peers. While being a jack-of-all Microsoft trades (Excel, Word, PowerPoint) is definitely needed, the consultants who perform best always have an area that they truly excel in—one that’s in demand and that nobody else seems to have. Whether that’s advanced financial modeling, communications skills, or a particularly deep knowledge in an industry, take the time to find out what you can become the go-to person for.
As mentioned before, almost all consultants are A-type personalities with enough ambition to last a lifetime. But what really distinguishes a good consultant from a great one is the ability to not only focus on the tasks at hand, but also to think critically about the work. For example, your client may be asking you to find cost savings in a supply chain, but first, try to understand why this is critical to the business. Are profits declining? Is the competition lowering product prices, forcing your client to compete? Knowing how to think this way will help you develop better insights and solutions for your client. Try spending a little extra time thinking through your task before jumping in, interpret the numbers you’re crunching (don’t just be an Excel monkey!), and challenge your manager’s requests (when appropriate, of course).
In consulting, you will be asked to solve problems that may be completely new to you—or even completely new to the industry. And when you’re faced with these tough problems or challenging requirements, it’s your resourcefulness that will help you succeed. While this isn’t quite Outward Bound, you should develop the ability to quickly and creatively solve problems. As a general rule of thumb, when you need help, you should approach your team and manager first, followed by your peers and internal experts, and then other external resources. There is likely someone who has done what you are trying to do before and can help you find the answer—or at least help you think about new ways to tackle the problem. Be sure to not give up too quickly, be creative in your research efforts, and show your team that you’re willing to do whatever it takes.
Asking questions is at the core of how a consultant works, so much so that there are times when I feel like Sherlock Holmes! Questions help ensure you understand what you are being asked to do and the issues your client is facing, and they can also help you to demonstrate your understanding. Never be afraid to ask for clarification—it’s better than doing something wrong. Even if you don’t have a question to ask, restating what you’ve been told to clarify your understanding can inspire confidence with your manager or client. Of course, be sure to ask questions in a helpful, non-annoying way. If you have multiple, send them in a single, structured request rather than repeatedly approaching your manager or client. Also, take simple questions on items such as acronyms or Excel formulas to your peers or Google undefinedRELATED: Landed A Consulting Gig? 5 Things To Do Next It takes a lot to succeed in the consulting world, but focus on these key skills. You’ll have everything you need to shoot above and beyond your peers. "Be The Best Consultant Ever: 6 Things That Will Make You Great" was originally published on The Muse. Alex Nuth is a Management Consultant at Accenture[/entity] and has worked across a number of industries and functional areas helping clients solve some of their largest and most important challenges. She graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Commerce in 2011 where her courses focused on Entrepreneurship and Innovation. She enjoys traveling and has worked in both China and Colombia.