When I tell someone I’m a consultant I never know what the response is going to be. Some people are impressed. With some people, their son or daughter is a consultant and they sense a connection.
Still with others, I see them trying to suppress a sneer. Some of these people may have had a bad experience with a consultant. Or, they know someone who lost their job because of some changes implemented by a consultant.
Whether the impression is good or bad, it seems that people have many myths of consulting. Here are just a few dispelled.
Myth #1: They travel in luxury
It’s true. Consultants tend to travel a lot. People who don’t travel for business on a regular basis have a somewhat romantic vision of business travel. They imagine consultants traveling to exotic cities and staying in fancy hotels. They imagine gourmet meals charged to expense accounts. It really sounds like a great life.
In reality, traveling for business is not a free vacation. Consultants who travel, do it week after week. They come home for the weekends, which are often filled with errands they couldn’t run during the week. They also need to do laundry to have clothes for the following week of travel. If they travel on Sunday night, they begin packing Sunday afternoon before they head for the airport.
They may stay in nice hotels, but they usually work long hours at the client. The most they often see of the fancy hotel is the lobby they walk through and the hotel room, where they crash for the night.
They also have an expense account. But most meals consist of room service. If they go to a restaurant for a fine dinner, it is with clients or fellow consultants. It’s just not the same enjoyment of going out with family and friends.
Myth #2: They take your watch and tell you the time
When a consulting team starts an engagement with a new client, they spend a significant amount of time learning the client’s processes. The consultants may know the industry. But every company in every industry has their own unique way of doing things. They learn their processes by spending time interviewing and shadowing the client’s employees.
Once a consulting team becomes familiar with a client’s way of doing things, they will present their findings as a report or in a meeting to verify their understanding. They’ve taken the company’s proverbial watch (spent their time learning how they do their jobs) and told them the time (regurgitated their business back to them).
The consultant’s next step is to begin adding value. They pinpoint where the problems exist and provide options for improvement. Many client employees don’t see when that value is provided. They only see the firm burning up the client employee’s time shadowing them.
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Myth #3: They only produce “shelf-ware”
When consultants identify opportunities for improvement, they present it formally to the client management. They give the big presentation in PowerPoint with a large binder for each executive to review the details. They provide charts, graphs, and cost-benefit analyses.
They provide their solution hoping the client will hire them to implement it. And on the last page, the implementation cost is provided. Most executives know to look at the last page first.
For the client executives, hiring the firm is a great idea until they find out how much it will cost to fix things. The executives decide to sit on the decision for a while.
The consulting firm continues to follow-up with them. Many times the firm wins the engagement. Sometimes they negotiate a solution that is smaller in scope. Other times, the price just scares the client away. They put the binders on a shelf somewhere. And that’s how the firm leaves behind shelf-ware.
In many ways, being a consultant is like being someone’s doctor. Your doctor can tell you to stop smoking, cut back on drinking, watch what you eat, and to get more exercise. But if he gave you that advice in a binder and you just placed it on a shelf without following his advice, his binder simply becomes shelf-ware.
A consultant can give advice, but there’s not much they can do if the client isn’t interested in following it.
Myth #4: They train new consultants at the client’s expense
Consultants do hire people right out of college. They also hire experienced people out of other industries who have never consulted before. A legitimate firm will do the following with these new consultants:
- Hire top notch people with expertise in their area
- Provide training and orientation to teach them the firm’s policies and how to be a consultant.
- Charge lower rates commensurate with the consultant’s experience.
A good firm won’t place a billing consultant on a client engagement if he or she is not providing value. The rate usually matches their level of experience and capability.
That consultant may be young enough to be your daughter, but she’s probably still smart enough to be your consultant.
Myth #5: They are over-paid to do the same work we do
This complaint is usually applied to contractors who are hired to do temporary work. These staff augmentation (or staff-aug) workers are hired to augment the staff that the client doesn’t want to hire permanently. They just want them for the duration of a project.
Your employee may argue that that software developer does the same work the employee does. But the consultant is paid an hourly rate that is twice as high.
The independent contractor pays for all of her own benefits including medical insurance and payroll taxes. If the consultant takes a week off for vacation, she doesn’t get paid.
When the contract ends, the consultant may be lucky enough to find another gig quickly. But she may be in the hunt for an extended time. That high hourly rate subsidizes all of these situations and then some.
There are exceptions to all of the myths that make them true in certain situations. Like any industry, a few bad apples ruin the reputation for the whole group. Unscrupulous firms may train their consultants on the client’s dime. Some run up exorbitant expenses in meals and strip clubs at the client’s expense. The client should monitor their consultants to ensure they are receiving competitive value from them.
But most consultants are legitimate and provide value to their clients. Those that don’t provide value, don’t stay in business long.
How have you overcome the consulting myths held by clients?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com