Consulting 101: Demystifying the “Business of Expertise”

Consulting is widely known as the “business of expertise.” There is this perception that consulting involves simply advising on return for remote work, great pay, and global travel. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. Consulting is a very diverse field that requires much more than just giving advice. This misconception can lead to a career or business failure. Today, I am sharing a crash course on consulting and shedding light on what it means to be an expert in your field. 

What is consulting?

If you were to grab a Merriam-Webster dictionary and look up the word “consulting,” you would find the following definition:

providing professional or expert advice

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Although this is a concise and succinct way to define consulting, it is rather generic and does not capture the experience in practice, which is much more complex and rewarding. I propose a better definition to describe and reflect this work.  Consulting is the active process of using expert knowledge and insight gained from personal and educational experiences to help others achieve a desired goal. 

What does it mean to be a consultant?

A consultant is a problem solver and considered an expert in their field. By definition, an expert is an individual who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area. Therefore, a consultant must have the know-how to guide others along a strategic journey to address a pain point or problem and achieve a successful outcome. 

Although education and training are required to help a consultant reach their level of expertise, there is no specific certification or degree that would automatically qualify an individual to be a consultant. Having the ability to use their expert knowledge to drive change successfully is what allows an individual to effectively serve in a consultant’s role.

Consultants do more than just give their opinion.

Consulting is more than just giving advice and sharing your opinion. It is really centered around transformation. People are looking for ways to improve themselves, their lives, and their business. They want to achieve their vision of success, ranging from weight loss or improved style and fashion sense to optimized operating systems and executive practice. The consultant’s focus is on moving a client from Point A (their starting point) to Point B (achieving their initial goal) and beyond.

As a consultant, you are a guide that helps the client navigate this journey by bridging the gap between their current status and their desired result. It’s a bit like the work of a travel agent who maps out plans to an exotic destination. A consultant can draw from their expert knowledge, personal experiences, and insight gained from working with others to help guide clients along their future path with fewer detours. It is often easier for an expert in the area to accomplish the desired goal, and they typically achieve a more successful outcome.

Why do people hire consultants?

Simply put, people hire consultants because they want to solve a problem. They are looking for solutions. However, this does not necessarily mean that they can’t solve the problem themselves. People hire consultants for several reasons. 

Lack of knowledge and expertise

Some people are unsure of where to start and do not know how to accomplish their desired goals. The required skills and knowledge that would help with goal attainment may not be readily accessible. In this instance, the consultant is hired to outline a clear strategy that guides others through a straightforward process that results in a desired outcome. 

Speed and efficiency

For others, trying to solve their problem is taking longer than expected. They want an expert to help them speed things along. The expectation is that the consultant has already developed systems and strategies to address their problem, proving useful. Although these systems may not translate from client to client, a well-trained consultant can support personalizing the plan and subsequent implementation. 

Desire to conserve resources

The process of problem-solving can be time-consuming and requires significant resources (i.e., workforce, financial). If this is not something that comes naturally or is not currently part of the business structure, a consultant can help simplify this process, which helps conserve resources.

There are many more reasons people hire consultants, but in general, people want to find a way to solve a problem that they have been unable to solve satisfactorily on their own. 

How do consultants solve problems?

Your work with a consultant will typically begin with a consultation. The consultation process is almost like joining the cast of The Amazing Race. Maybe that’s a bit animated, but consultation is indeed a journey. The consultant is focused on bridging gaps and building the infrastructure for success, and the client is reading the map and investing the sweat and equity to reach the ultimate goal.

One of the first steps in the consultation process is the interview.  The initial client interview allows the consultant to collect the necessary information to determine whether they are a good fit to solve the problem at hand. It is also an opportunity for the client to assess their initial connection with the consultant and gauge their first impression.

Problem-solving becomes the main focus of the consultant’s work. After the initial interview, there is often a period of information gathering that allows for assessing the gap between the current state and the desired outcome.  The consultant can audit and analyze the information and data provided and develop an initial strategy for the client’s work toward their goal. A thorough review of this strategy should be provided to the client to provide insight and ensure mutual understanding of the process and required needs. Once both parties agree to embark on this work together, the collaboration can begin.

Do consultants only give advice?

Not at all. Consulting typically requires the completion of some critical tasks for the client. It would be misleading to give the impression that communicating knowledge and advice verbally or in writing is all that is needed. There may be points in time when this is the case. However, at the beginning of a consultant-client relationship, successful outcomes are highly dependent on the strategy’s successful implementation.  It would be to the consultants’ detriment not to engage significantly in work with so much on the line.

How do you become a consultant?

Once you have established expert knowledge in your field, you are positioned and equipped to succeed in the world of consulting. Although management and finance are key areas of practice for many consultants, these are not the only areas in which consultants find a niche. Consultants can be found in many different and unique areas including but not limited to, social media, marketing, healthcare, information technology, and more. Although the field of practice may vary, the overall approach to consulting remains the same. If you are willing to use your expert knowledge to serve others and help them solve significant problems, you are likely ready to pursue the business of expertise.

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