• Ian Baker

How important is the University of life to be a consultant?

I found an interview with Richard Branson, it’s a few years old, but he echo’s what I think is very much in the mind of many coaches and mentors such as myself.Business consultants can often perform an invaluable service. But only, if they have plenty of real-world experience themselves to call upon... now not every consultant will have experienced everything, which is why we tend to specialise.

"I’m always startled to hear about young people going into consulting right after school, without having a lot of real-world work experience under their belt," "Making this sort of jump is unparalleled in most professions. Imagine boarding an airliner and learning that the pilot at the controls has only ever flown a flight simulator. You’d be more than uneasy! Similarly, there is a reason that aspiring heart surgeons spend years in operating rooms assisting and observing other surgeons before they operate on their own." explains Richard, the Virgin Founder.

To be able to deliver as a consultant and be employed successfully as one, there are four questions any consultant, business owner or company must ask themselves before hand:

1. Have they ran or owned a business?When managing or running your own business, the learning curve is steep, since you have to master a variety of fields all at once - from supply-chain management to marketing, to accounting, to customer service.I don’t think any course of study can truly prepare any entrepreneur to successfully handle all of these important aspects of an enterprise.So as a consultant, a client would expect you to have entrepreneurial experience. And this sort of experience doesn’t come down to merely understanding the nuts and bolts of the business world - it’s also about having fundamental people skills. Not all can be learnt from a textbook.

2. Have they experienced failure?Failure is simply indispensable to the entrepreneurial experience. The reason is a simple one: There is more to learn from mistakes than from successes. Understanding what went wrong, where instincts failed, or what internal and external factors were responsible for taking an enterprise off course are all vital lessons in business. Understanding the failures of the past is key to having success in the future and as a consultant we need to impart this wisdom – even if it is not always taken.

3. Can they demonstrate good judgement with ideas?As a consultant it is important that you remain dispassionate with regards to the business, its ideas and the team. Depending on the role the consultant needs to perform, he or she should be able to deliver the agreed tasks without fear of retribution. On paper many ideas look and sound amazing, but the knowledge gained over years of experience will be able to help judge just how good the plan really is.

4. Are they relevant to my business?For a consultant to be successful in this quickly evolving world, he needs the ability to adapt frequently, a zeal for lifelong learning and a willingness to embrace an even greater degree of specialisation than ever before. If we revert back just 15-20 years, we wouldn’t of imagined the armies of consultants who have found ways to make a living by working in search-engine optimisation, social media consultancy or mindfulness coaching, to name just a few of the options. The key is ensuring that as a consultant you are able to help them with their specific issues and the company has taken the time to identify what it is they need.

When considering the transition into Consultancy or employing a Consultant, remember to carefully review the level of experience you need. After 26+ years of my working life, I take each new day as a learning experience and try to impart that experience to my clients. I may not always get it right, or know what to do in each given circumstance, but I do know that I am far more savvy now than I was at 25!

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