3×3 Tips to Being a Great Consultant

Article contributed by Matt Prohaska, Principal, Prohaska Consulting

Our daughter, Danielle, is in first grade and started working on adding 3 numbers together last week. I’ve been told first graders are not ready for multiplication yet, so being sort of a math dork, I hold back on giving her times tables at home.

But I was thinking about her addition worksheets when writing this column on a list of tips I’ve learned over the years trying to be a great consultant. Many others have done the Letterman Top Ten homage and I’ve got lots to share, but know that many will read through this so quickly that having a true takeaway might be tough.

So since we usually can remember 3 things, my goal here is to give 9 tips, but break them into 3 categories. That way, if you don’t have the time to print this column and tape it to your office wall like everybody does with Terry Kawaja’s Lumascapes, then maybe you can take any 3 of these with you.


A. Get Real

You are the company. You are the product. Treat your product like you would any that you have represented. It’s amazing how much a business card and website can do to legitimize things in many peoples’ minds. It’s often the difference between telling people you are consulting and showing them you are consulting.

B. Try Your Best Not To Work For Free

I know it’s tough, especially when starting out. Assume everyone wants to get as much from you for free as possible. Agencies have run into this problem doing spec work for client pitches. Remember, many things you do to help individuals/companies are things where senior people get help from their peers and friends for karma. I have an unwritten rule where I’ll talk with prospects for about 15 minutes until their questions get so detailed, I have to say something like, “You know I helped a client of ours with a similar problem, and I’d love to do the same for you….”

C. Build Your Brand While Making It All About Your Clients

Another tough balancing act, but when you make it about your clients, your brand gets built as a result. It takes longer but if you are doing this for real anyway, why not do it the right way? Don’t get me wrong – I tweet and keep active in social media while maintaining a website because I need to promote a business that stays top-of-mind for active and potential clients…without being annoying and too self-promoting. If you are spending even 10% as much time talking about yourself rather than working on your clients, then it’s too much.


A. Listen First

Strange to have this be the opening tip in the “about you” section, but make sure you listen to what the market and clients need before inserting yourself into where you think your service needs to fit. Just like a sales rep who opens a pitch by reading Powerpoint slides, make sure you ask many more questions of the client then they are of you.

B. Control Your Time

This is the most important commodity you have, especially as an independent worker. I remember as a sales director 8 years ago calculating how much revenue per working hour my goal was and what I actually brought in. This helped me determine whether I or someone else should pursue  a new potential client and how much time to invest. You need to do the same for your clients, not just in prospecting but in making sure every hour you invest in them is going toward their goals and driving real value to their business.

C. Get Rid of Cobra, If You Can

Not to get too HR-ey, or make some DIRECTV reference, but one very practical thing I learned a few months too late: my COBRA plan given when I left my last company was a rip-off. I realized I could save enough money each month to equal one small regular freelance job, so why not spend time shopping around. Turns out the insurance plan I had through COBRA is from the same company I now have our individual family plan with…at half the price for something we fortunately don’t use very much.


A. Underpromise & Overdeliver

It can be tempting to promise the world and show you will blow everyone away with your best-ever performance. Don’t do it. Be realistic in what you can accomplish, as an “outsider” in the organization and for the real length of time you have to get it done. So many consultants, like so many salespeople, hype like crazy to get the sale then run into performance issues. Just like any digital media campaign, the real sale doesn’t start, and the real consulting doesn’t start, until the day after the contract is signed.

B. Start with a Specific Project

I had a recent potential new client meeting where we uncovered in 30 minutes 5 different ways I could help them. Proposing all 5 initiatives at once felt too big, to me and them, so we honed in on what is most important to the CEO today. That became the first project, geared to build trust and gain mutual confidence that hopefully leads to helping them in at least the 4 other areas put aside for now.

C. Agree On & Accomplish 3 goals

Just like this column, your client will likely not remember more than 3 things that you are doing/did. So after listening to everything needed, propose 3 goals, then sign the agreement tying success to those goals, and then track your performance against those goals. Even if it seems like only one goal, Grow Revenue, I break that up into a typical selling cycle where we track meetings, proposals, and revenue (and a couple others, but usually clients only care about how you are doing against those 3).

Hope these help.  Please tell me what I am missing or where you agree/disagree. Thanks and see you online and here next month.