Winning the consultant drag race

Who hasn’t thought about being a consultant. Ok maybe it is in a negative sense to be out of the line of fire for a while. Maybe on the positive, it’s to help lots of people.

One of us (you can guess which!) even ran a consulting business for a while. We had a chance to interview some consultants and what we basically learned is that there a couple of key ways to turn a massive drag race into a stealth play. A niche where you can win. We learned there are three parts

The first and most important. Figure out the megatrend. It is much easier to consult into a growing market than one that is falling. So look around your industry and ask that gets you to a classic gap analysis.

I. What is everyone talking about and what is the big idea that they are staying. Big data. Cloud. 4g.

II. What do people think is just impossible and can’t be done easily. That’s the gap.

III. It is actually hard to just go from a small $5k assignments to a really big firm. You might never go there but somehow people who believe they are following a big dream have that passion and it is a test of big markets we talked about above.

Here is what we learned is the key is finding a relatively small gap in the market and then building:

1. Specific Tools. It is important to be good at something that is a specific deliverable. Something simple like a 24-hour assessment of the state. Or a specific methodology that gets to a good presentation. Having this vs general tools. That’s what later becomes books and slides and other things.

2. Specific Expertise. Build your street credibility as a general pundit. That means being able to be seen in the industry broadly as someone with expertise on a specific topic. These days that is about being at the right conferences and also about good work in the blogosphere. It is far more valuable to be an expert on mobile payments schemes for retail than a general IT expert.

3. Specific Clients. One fellow said it very well. It helps to start close to home. That is the best way to find gaps in tools and expertise is to engage in specific clients. If the area is super open that may mean there a million potential customers but most consulting is referral based so that means that you have to build the first client and get a good referral. The people who are leaders in a trend don’t you. The laggards won’t know what you are talking about. So you have to find the middles.

So how do you get from here (reading this at a Starbucks) to being Stephen Covey. Well first is a big topic that someone cares about. Something that is obvious to a top level CEO type that someone needs. Here are some of the tricks we’ve learned

A. Start with a taste test. On day one. Your value is zero so you really want to be useful first and then have people want more. And this is needed to start the referral pipeline. They need a small thing with one concrete result.

B. Start in your wheelhouse and extend to a big trend. If you’ve spend 20 years writing oracle software, don’t become a strategy consultant. Be a “bring oracle traditional ops to big data” is a good example.

C. Go to trade shows and meeting and get on the current pundit blogs bid they are bemoaning something figure out how you fill out. And finally this is where the referral network starts.