Examining The Role of the Business Consultant
We will begin by explaining in more detail exactly what a consultant does on a daily basis to meet both short and long term strategic business growth. Consultants serve several purposes for their clients. They provide solutions to specific problems and resolve challenges that the organization cannot address itself. The consultant may be brought in to resolve a specific situation, or to be an independent neutral party in circumstances where emotions run high, or bias may exist. The client may not have expertise in the area of need, and the consultant may be used to fill that role.
Consultants provide a specialized level of competence in their field, and also must have the skills to run their own business, serving as its:
  • Client relations manager

  • Marketing executive

  • Office manager

  • Accountant

  • Customer service manager

As the client relations manager for your consulting business, you will be responsible for nurturing customer relationships to ensure client satisfaction. In this capacity, you will also have the opportunity to sell clients additional services they may not know they need.

As the marketing executive, you will use your creativity to determine the best marketing strategy for your company, whether it is printed materials, radio or television advertising, or an Internet website.

As the office manager, you are responsible for all business and administrative activities, including all necessary support services, such as billing, hiring employees, and ordering office supplies.

As the accountant for your company, you will be in charge of keeping records for all financial matters.

As the customer service manager, you are responsible for providing clients the desired service for continued business.

There are a number of complementary skills that you will need. A good consultant must display a combination of humility, competence, confidence, and also be a good communicator.

  • Humility is important, because clients want to feel comfortable with the person they are working with. They need a consultant who is realistic and down to earth, not someone who thinks they can fix everything as soon as they walk in the door, without discussion.

  • Confidence is another key trait. As a consultant, you want to show confidence in your abilities and your ideas, without being arrogant. You want to be competent but not overbearing with your clients.

  • Competence is the ability to convey to your client that you are proficient, and knowledgeable.

  • An articulator or narrator is an individual who is able to communicate effectively, and persuade their clients to take action. Quite often, a good consultant is required to be a storyteller. You want to tell a story to your clients about the possibilities, if they take action on your recommendations.

Still another role of the consultant is to show that you add value to the organization through knowledge, experience, and wisdom. Clients are seeking the consultant's ability to problem solve and apply critical thinking. It is your experience that is key.

So what exactly does a consultant do, and how do they do this?

Consulting actually flows along a continuum of services you are able to offer a client over time. As you structure your consulting business, you will be faced with the challenges of any other business, as you determine how it will grow. Whether you want to operate as a single individual, a team, or manage a company with a group of hundreds of consultants, you have to determine the size of the company you want to develop. The consulting continuum is similar to a business life cycle. There are a number of steps related to the services you will provide, which also offer opportunity for future growth.
Consulting objectives include:
  • Providing the client with requested information
  • Conducting an analysis to diagnose the client's problem
  • Developing a solution to their problem
  • Providing the client recommendations, based on your findings
  • Assisting the client with implementation of your recommendations
  • Helping facilitate consensus building within the company
  • Helping the client improve organizational effectiveness
The chart that follows will delineate your overall objectives. Some of these are short-term activities, as you initiate consulting, while others can become a longer-term relationship with your client. Building consensus, facilitating learning, and improving the overall organizational effectiveness may be long-term endeavors, as they require a cultural shift and change.

As a consultant, you are able to review the company from a high level, through its strategic plan, as well as its mission, vision, and values. Although you perform the initial required analysis for a project in a broader sense, you facilitate learning, and in the future may also improve organizational effectiveness. You have the opportunity to become an integral part of a company's improvement efforts. As long as you can show them a return on investment, clients may continue to use your services in the future.

Your role is to provide your clients with expertise on an as-needed basis to solve problems. Your goal should be to solve a problem only once, and to develop a reputation for quality and excellence.

Additional consulting activities

  • Improving organizational communications

  • Improving operational performance

  • Increasing employee oration and morale

  • Improving customer satisfaction

  • Developing management and supervisory skills

  • Identifying operational needs

  • Increasing market base

  • Reducing costs

  • Providing advice on gaps between present situation and the desired state

  • Diagnosing problems

  • Coaching and training employees

  • Act on behalf of the client with integrity

In addition to consulting expertise, the consultant will help the client develop some business parameters. For instance, the client may not understand the full extent of the problem, and may not want to acknowledge the problem. They may be aware of the problem, but do not understand how to seek your assistance. They may ask a consultant for a proposal based on the perception of their needs, but not fully be aware of all the complementary factors. They may not understand what type of a budget to allocate for improvements. This may be based on their understanding of issues at the time of requesting a proposal, but there may be significant issues requiring improvement.

In this capacity, the consultant should always be clear to the client that you have the right expertise to solve the problem and accomplish the necessary improvements. Never stretch your expertise. This could be disastrous for your reputation. You may lose the client's respect and wind up hiring additional consultants to pick up the areas where you have weaknesses. As a consultant, you will conduct your business in a confidential manner. Clients expect confidentiality and integrity as the highest weighted priorities when interacting with you as a consultant. Some clients will expect a signed nondisclosure agreement.

One of the primary roles you will serve as a consultant is to conduct a needs assessment, based on the current state of operations for the company. This may include your review of several key components:

  • The company's mission, vision, and values

  • Its organizational structure

  • Analysis of the employees and human capital, which includes staffing levels and employee turnover

  • Analysis of competition within the market, including comparison and contrast

  • The company's performance records in terms of revenue, sales, and profit

  • Employee reward and bonus programs

  • Information on training and development programs

  • Marketing information

  • Any types of surveys or feedback from customers, employees, and any other stakeholders -- internal or external to the organization

As a consultant, you will use this information to develop a needs assessment for your client. The needs assessment will focus on the current state, and develop the future, or desired, state of operations, based on your recommendations.

As a consultant, you are expected to be a problem solver, coach, and mentor for the organization -- to enhance its operational performance, stop immediate problems, and develop a strategic plan for the future.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Business Consulting course?

The client will be looking for you to have the right combination of these skills:

  • Integrity and confidentiality

  • Technical expertise

  • The ability to lead, guide, and coach

  • The ability to mediate

  • Good communication skills

  • The ability to analyze and summarize activities

  • Good people skills

The consultant is expected to analyze the issues within the company, synthesize them, and use creativity and innovation to test and refine ideas for the ultimate presentation to the company. As you enter these roles, these are the types of questions client companies will consider:

  • How does the performance of our company look at the present?

  • Does this consultant look like they have the necessary knowledge to provide the right level of consulting?

  • Do they appear to have the right level of integrity, and are they confidential in their interactions with us?

  • Does the consultant appear to ask the right types of probing questions?

  • Does the consultant appear to provide clear, distinct answers to specific questions?

  • Does the consultant's proposal seem tailored to our company and our needs, or are they presenting a generic off-the-shelf template?

  • Does the consultant have a respectful demeanor?

  • Does this consultant portray the ability to work with your employees in a collaborative environment to make the improvements that are necessary?

  • Does the consultant ask about past performance of the company?

  • Does the consultant have my best interest at heart, or are they more concerned about money?

Consultants may offer a wide array of services. Your role is to provide expertise based on your area of specialty.

These are some of the most common types of consultants:

  • Financial consultants, who are typically licensed, such as certified public accountants, tax specialists, or financial brokers. These types of consultants help companies make good decisions or resolve problems on financial matters.

  • Strategy consultants assist companies by reviewing their operations and develop strategies to enhance performance.

  • Technology consultants help their clients integrate and implement new technology.

  • Legal consultants resolve legal issues, such as contracts, intellectual property, employment, or trusts.

  • Social media consultants help companies increase business through branding and developing a strong marketing presence, particularly with search engine optimization.

  • Public relations consultants assist companies with the flow of information to the public and may be hired in instances where an adverse event has happened and a company is working to salvage its reputation. Public relations consultants are also hired to help develop the image customers have toward your company.

  • Human resource consultants assist with a number of human capital strategies, such as succession planning, labor relations, and mergers and acquisitions.

  • Marketing and advertising consultants assist clients with brand name recognition, and developing innovative and creative techniques to improve their position in the marketplace.

This is a list of areas in which you can become a consultant.

· Accounting

· Marketing

· Business analysis

· Diversity

· Entrepreneurship

· Safety

· Emergency management

· Technology integration

· Human resource

· Management

· Market research

· Media relations

· Organization

· Search engine optimization

· Taxes

· Public speaking

· Time management

· Website management

· Communications

· Sales

· Team building

· Operations consulting

· Real estate

· Environmental compliance

· Pharmaceutical

· Efficiency

· Fund raising

· Personal consultants

· Wedding consultants

· Executive consultants

· Investment

· Leadership

· Strategy formulation

· Software

· Labor Relations

To help frame some of the types of issues you may be consulting for, here are some examples of the activities you may encounter:

  • How do I build a new product launch strategy if I want to expand my business in Ohio? Or, overseas?

  • How do I improve employee morale and build a better performance management system?

  • How do I determine the most profitable option if I want to build an additional two factories?

  • How do I keep up with the times in terms of marketing and my brand positioning?

  • How do I develop the right marketing strategy for an Internet presence?

  • Should our company merge with a smaller, less profitable company?

  • I'm spending a fortune on marketing. How can I reduce my cost?

  • How do I improve my search engine optimization and increase presence on Facebook and twitter?

  • I want build the right data repository for hundreds of remote location employees. How?

Other roles and benefits of hiring a consultant

  • They help clients to clearly define their needs and requirements.

  • They provide an independent and objective view.

  • They help prepare companies for the introduction of change.

  • They provide technical skills that are currently nonexistent, or in short supply.

  • They implement recommendations.

  • They provide a level of speed in reaction.

  • They provide outside exposure to other industries and best practices.

Summary Reminders and Takeaways

The consultant provides a specialized level of competence and expertise in the field in which they are consulting. Consultants provide solutions to their clients' specific problems, or challenges that they cannot resolve themselves. The consultant may be brought in to resolve a specific challenge, or to be an independent neutral party for situations where emotions run high or bias may exist. Consultants serve as client relations managers, marketing executives, entrepreneurs, office managers, customer service managers, accountants and business owners. It is important to conduct your business with humility, competence, and confidence. You are the narrator of the story your clients want to hear about improvements. Consulting businesses have a number of objectives, which include providing clients information, diagnosing the problems, providing recommendations, facilitating learning within the organization, and improving overall organizational effectiveness. The primary role you will perform as a consultant is to conduct a needs assessment. The needs assessment is developed by taking internal client information, such as the organizational structure, employee staffing, market competition, reward programs, and information on training and development, and synthesizing this information to develop the future state of desired operations for the client.

Consultants are expected to be problem solvers, coaches, and mentors, who work with integrity, confidentiality, and technical expertise. Consultants may work in an endless number of industries.