As a consultant you’re supposed to be an expert in your field. Many mistake that expert label as a know-it-all. This error is usually fueled by the fact that many consultants act like they know it all.
The obvious truth is that you can’t know everything about any subject. But an expert knows an above-average amount. A subject matter expert (SME) is usually the go-to person that either knows the answer to a question or knows where to go to get the answer.
Even if a consultant is not a SME, a good consultant needs to stay up to date on her industry or subject area of focus. For instance, a health care consultant needs to be aware of the latest trends in the health care industry. When a client asks her a question about a new government regulation or the latest trend affecting the industry, it can be embarrassing to be caught completely unaware.
6 ways to keep up on your industry
So how does a busy consultant stay up to date on her industry? Some of the most common ways include:
Blogs: It’s good to keep a list of blogs that you regularly check. You can either have an RSS feed of blogs that you regularly want to check out or you can subscribe to some to be sent to your inbox whenever an update is posted.
Podcasts: In metropolitan areas like Chicago, where I live, commutes to and from work can be notoriously long. To make the time more productive, I regularly download industry related podcasts to my smart phone and listen in the car on my way to and from work. You can listen to a podcast during your workout or any time your mind isn’t otherwise occupied. Note: I don’t recommend listening to them during conversations with your significant other. Don’t ask how I know this.
Professional organizations: Joining a professional trade organization related to your chosen industry provides a number of benefits. Most of these groups hold monthly dinner meetings which are great opportunities for networking. They also usually have guest speakers that provide great content on the latest trends in that industry.
Videos: Video content is all the rage today. There are entire YouTube channels on various industries. Performing a Google search on ‘Videos on Project Management’ resulted in 349 millions items for me to peruse. Searching ‘Videos on Consulting’ resulted in another 157 million items.
There are other video series such as TED Talks, which provide content-filled videos on a myriad of professional topics. One project I was on held “Ted Talk Tuesdays”, where everyone brought their lunch on Tuesday, gathered in a conference room for lunch and watched a selected Ted Talk.
Lunch and learns: You might be surprised how much information lives right in your own organization. Organizing lunch and learns where the internal staff members take turns giving a presentation on a topic that’s near and dear to them. Whoever is interested in that topic brown bags it and listens in. It’s an added bonus when the audience starts sharing their own input for an interactive discussion. Few people walk away from these sessions less enlightened.
Beware of information overload: Subscribing to RRS feeds, newsletters video series and other content related mediums sounds great, but you can quickly get an overwhelming amount of content in your inbox. Most of us have to spend some time doing some billable work.
I recommend setting aside some set amount of time each week for learning. This could include your lunch hours, a certain amount of time on certain evenings, or in my case, my Sunday morning quiet time before anyone else in the house is up.
There’s only so much time in your day. It’s good to budget time for learning, but you must be sure to prioritize it appropriately with everything else that needs to be done.
What other ways do you use to keep up on your industry?
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
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.