8 Keys to Providing Consulting Services to Startups
I may be old fashioned, but the term consultant still conjures up an image of a self-proclaimed expert who can make great presentations, generate recommendations and leave you to do the hard work of implementation. This may work for big companies who have specialized staffs, but it doesn't work for startups and small businesses who are already understaffed and overloaded.
Startups need outside experts who can do the work, as well as provide training on what needs to be done. That's called leading by example, and it is actually appreciated by businesses of every size. In my view, it's time to eliminate the term consultant, as well as focus on activities and approaches that appeal more to the growing volume of small businesses today:
1. Join the movement to contract roles.
Businesses stopped hiring for lifetime commitments some time ago, as markets change so rapidly and companies need to tune their workforce for changing economic conditions. It's time to move from traditional consulting to a freelance execution role as a hands-on interim professional or executive.
2. Change your title to professional or specialist.
Simply defining yourself as a specialist or professional minimizes the stigma of a consultant role (think marketing specialist or staffing professional). Specialists and professionals are already seen as experts who do the work, rather than just make recommendations for others.
3. Adopt a project-based revenue model.
Agreements based on projects to be completed, rather than an hourly rate, put the focus on quantifiable business outputs vs. time spent. For example, a marketing project would be the number of leads generated or ad impressions, instead of recommendations for improving the process.
4. Be willing to work at all organization levels.
Leadership by example works at all levels of a company. It is not limited to the realm of the top executive or board of directors, who could bring in consultants for studies and analysis. Specialists today can justify their cost based on more direct return on investment calculations at all operational levels.
5. Treat a startup as a customer, not a client.
A client relationship suggests that the consultant is in charge, whereas the customer designation recognizes the more modern model of the customer in control. It also highlights all aspects of required customer service, satisfaction, loyalty and referrals to peers.
6. Be responsive to every customer communication.
Many consultants today are hard to contact between scheduled meetings, due to their formal communication processes. It's time to adopt your customer's favorite mode of communication, whether that be texting, phone calls or social media, and not limit responses to office hours.
7. Adapt a style to meet the new business work models.
If your customer dress code or decisions process is informal, you should adapt yours to fit in, rather than continue to act and look like an outsider. If the startup team is distributed around the world, your challenge is to meet their process requirements, rather than expect them to meet yours.
8. Deliver results rather than recommendations.
PowerPoint presentations are not business results. If your customer needs service and support procedures, then your deliverables should include customized creation, implementation and training, rather than simply recommendations on what to include.
Google and social media have transformed the business world. There are expert blogs and curation sites, like this one, covering every aspect of business and leadership. With a few Internet searches, anyone can find all the recommendations and advice that even the best consultants have at their disposal today. All that is missing are the skills and experience to execute.
The number of startups is at least an order of magnitude larger than big companies. The startup world today doesn't need consultants, but they do need specialists and professionals with experience and expertise who can do the job, and provide coaching while producing results, at a predictable cost.
Wouldn't you like to increase your opportunity by an order of magnitude?
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