Archive for Consultancy

#31: 10 time management tips

Well here we are, my last consultancy blog! I’d like to thank you first for taking the time to read my articles and I do hope they have helped you in one way or another. Recently we have looked at 10 disastrous strategies and 10 habits of top consultants. Today I want to give me one more set of top 10 tips, this time for time management.

One of the challenges with being your own boss is that there is no one else to tell you what to do and by when. It is therefore worthwhile considering how you manage your time. This is my Achilles heel by the way! I’ve had to work very hard at this and will occasionally “backslide”, so I need to be vigilant. This is where having a good mentor and a good PA come in, as they will both “nag” you in different ways if this is an issue (in m).

In this article then we will consider some top tips on time management. I try to practise these, and sometimes I succeed!

  1. Enjoy the freedom of running your own life. Obviously, you have to be mindful of client expectations, but if it suits you and the family to take time off during the week and work part of the weekend, you can do it.
  2. Use lists to create forward momentum – for the month, week, day – and tick things off as you do them.
  3. Don’t waste time on issues that could be easily delegated or that you are not suited to doing.
  4. Don’t procrastinate over non-essential decisions.
  5. Do what feels right at the time – whilst you can’t put things off for ever, there may be some that you need to be in the mood for if you are going to be at your most effective.
  6. Maintain a sanctum sanctorum – part of your home which is either clearly earmarked as your office or you treat as your office, so you (and everyone else) knows you are in work mode.
  7. Do not be afraid to spend money to maximise efficiency, either via people or systems or a combination of both.
  8. Be selfish with your time. I will give anyone an hour of my time for free, but after that the meter is running. It will discourage the timewasters – and they are out there!
  9. Plan your long-term time investment. If you know you have a major piece of work to deliver in 3 month’s time, don’t leave the planning and preparation to week four of month three!
  10. Allow for the unexpected – try to keep some slack time that you can use for urgent meetings, unanticipated client requests, and the vagaries of the transport system.

A good place to start is what one of my client’s christened a “dead-time audit”. It’s very simple; set up an excel spreadsheet for 7 days, and break it in to 15 minutes components. Colour your various activities (billable work, marketing, networking, admin, breaks etc.) and complete the spreadsheet. It will give you a very simple graphic of how you are spending your time, and how you can prioritize improvements. It will also show you where you start to “burn-out”, and I guarantee you at least one surprise!

Well that’s it for now. I do hope you will continue to use my expert articles in the future and don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter for more insights. All the best!

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#30: 10 disastrous strategies

This month’s article follows on nicely from the last where we went through the 10 habits of top consultants, as this time I want to share with you the top 10 disastrous strategies to always avoid.

In this article we will consider the potential “own goal” areas of consultancy. These are not included on the grounds that they are theoretically possible – I have seen all of them occur (not all as a result of my efforts I would add!):

  1. Making promises and failing to deliver. This can happen for a variety of reasons- saying you can do something when you can’t; getting absorbed by something more interesting; double-booking yourself; or simply losing track of what you have promised and to whom. This is where it really pays to have a good sales pipeline system, and a good PA!
  2. Getting out of your depth. This is really building on the first point above. Do not take on something which takes you away from your core competence and area of subject matter expertise, or something where the size and sale is such that is too big for you to handle.
  3. Wasting the client’s time. This can be anything from engaging in small talk when the client wants to get down to business, through to calling unnecessary meetings which are not going to take the work forward.
  4. Creating change for its own sake. “If it isn’t broke don’t fix it” still holds good today. Clients will actually respect you more if you advise them that certain aspects of their operation remain fit for purpose.
  5. Confusing symptoms with disease and curing the wrong problem. Do keep an open mind when talking on a new challenge that the perceived problem is indeed the real problem. Sometimes it isn’t! I was once asked by the board of a small business to work with the second tier of management as they were holding back the company’s growth. When I worked with them I discovered the tricky reality that the business was in fact being held back by the board not the second tier!
  6. Trying to impose your own values. You have to respect a company’s culture, and you must remain sensitive to it at all times.
  7. Creating an inappropriate attachment to a client. This is as dangerous in consultancy as it is in any other business context.
  8. Failing to be candid. It takes courage sometimes to tell a client what they need to hear, as opposed to what they want to hear, but you owe it to yourself to be honest and to maintain your integrity.
  9. Have a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Someone once said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer you will treat every problem as a nail”. Beware applying the wrong solution to the wrong problem.
  10. Lose professional detachment and focus. Sometimes it helps to have veins of ice! However hard it may be at times you need to maintain an aura of calm and stay in control. If a situation becomes and looks set to remain untenable, then plan your exit in a dignified, sensitive and timely manner.

I am sure we have all slipped up somewhere in terms of this list, but the more we can guard against it the greater the likelihood that we can create value as opposed to destroying it, and enhance our reputation in the process.

Go through the list above and be 100% honest with yourself – am I doing any of these things? Does that sound like something I have done in the past and might do again? Unless you are completely honest with yourself, and a bit brutal too, you will never change any bad habits. Something that will cost you dearly in times to come…

My next consultancy article will feature some fresh, new tips on time management. It will also be my last expert article for consultancy, but you can always stay up to date with me in my monthly newsletter, which is full of exciting news as well as exclusive articles from my son, James.

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#29: 10 habits of top consultants

As we draw towards the end of this series of articles, it would be good to do a small aspirational piece. Over the past few weeks we have looked at networking, coherence of image, and what attributes make a good salesperson. With that in mind I have highlighted 10 habits of successful consultants – always good to have something to aim at!

  1. They ensure the quality of their work. It’s really easy to let standards slip as you get busy, but good consultants are obsessive about maintaining standards, so that their technical excellence is taken as a given.
  2. They have a sixth sense that tells them when there is a vacuum which may prevent successful completion of a project, and they will assume ownership and provide leadership if that is what they consider necessary to keep things on track.
  3. They are very delivery oriented, so they will be focussed on outcomes, and be driven to ensure that the project completes on time and to specification.
  4. From an emotional intelligence standpoint, they have a high degree of self-awareness, which they constantly develop and employ in their communication and relationship building with others.
  5. They use their self-awareness to learn how to adapt their behaviour in order to better match the behaviour preferences of people they are required to work with.
  6. They tend to be punctual.
  7. They prepare thoroughly for all meetings and events.
  8. They work hard on their listening skills.
  9. They anticipate potential alternative outcomes and developments, so that they can react accordingly, and are better equipped to cope with the unexpected and take challenges in their stride.
  10. They tend to have a “Plan B” up their sleeve for use in case of need.

How do you stack up against this list? I recommend that you reflect on it, and then plan out some personal development time if need be.

Next time we will look at the opposite of today’s topic – 10 disastrous strategies which you should avoid at all costs! Until then, go through the list above and see how you do, and don’t hesitate to contact me any time if you feel there are areas you need to work on and would like more guidance.

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#28: Networking

What does networking mean to you? Take a quick moment to see what the first three words are that spring into your mind when you hear the term – got them? Right, lets see how you did then.

A good place to start is what networking is not – it’s not about selling; if you try to sell you will get push-back. You can build new relationships, nurture existing ones, and promote what you do at the appropriate moment, but it’s not a place to sell.

It is important that you realise this in order to manage your own expectations. Remember that people buy people before they buy the underlying product or service, and so you have to cross the first hurdle before you can try to deal with the second one.

Networking is the “glue” in your marketing mix. It will help you sustain interest by creating your marketing collateral and activity – PR, Advertising, social media activity, talks, elevator pitches – and sustain interest. It will also keep you in your audience’s mind until they are ready either to a) buy from you or b) recommend you to someone else who needs what you can offer. Then and only then can you start the sales process, which we have talked about earlier.

For a typical consultant, around 70% of your business development time will be spent making contacts, establishing rapport, and building empathy and trust. Only 20% will be proposal-related, and 10% negotiating and closing. So the networking piece is an important component.

In support of that, here are my top 5 tips for successful networking:

  1. Try several events until you find the one that works best for you, and go several times – there are no short cuts and you need to get known, which takes time.
  2. Do not just latch on to the one person in the room whom you recognise – make some new contacts.
  3. Let them talk about their business first – you will get your chance.
  4. Think about how you can help them, even if there is no immediate business in it for you.
  5. If you promise to do something, do make sure you follow-up.


Oh, and don’t forget to smile and look like you are enjoying it!

I encourage you to look at the Gatwick Diamond networking group. The website will give you a pretty good idea of what an organised networking group is all about.

Next time we will look at what I consider to be the top 10 habits of successful consultants – in the meantime, keep networking!

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#27: Personal Branding – Coherence of image

This is a very important topic in the context of personal branding and, as I have said before, particularly with the advent of social media.

It has been on my mind quite a bit recently, in the light of some personal experiences. I am sometimes, in Winnie-the-Pooh terminology, a “bear of very little brain” – something has to happen more than once before I get the message!

Well, I saw three people in relatively quick succession at the request of people in my network, so these were all first or “exploratory” meetings. In each case what struck me was that the person I met face-to-face was different somehow from the person I had encountered on the internet, via their website, LinkedIn or Twitter. And this difference was not necessarily restricted to photo versus reality – although that did apply in one of the three cases.

What struck me most was that the person I met did not live up to the person I had seen on the internet; in other words they talked a better fight in the online world than they did in the flesh. I then started thinking about my reaction to this, and it dawned on me that I already had reservations about these people i.e. did I want to do business with them?

I guess in the old world it’s a bit like falsifying or “over-egging” your CV – a dangerous game to play as sooner or later the mask slips and you see the real person, or at least get glimpses of them. Needless to say, my reservations were such that I have not seen any of the three a second time.

I think there are some strong ties between your personal goals, your business goals and the way you behave to achieve both. One of the factors which binds these ties together is your self-awareness, and how that translates into a consistent manifestation of your personal brand. With that consistency comes authenticity, rapport and trust.

So, do take a little time out to check whether you really have one face to the market in what you write, what you say and what you do.

Next time we will take a look at networking – one of my favourite topics! Until then, do feel free to get in touch anytime for more advice, or even if you just have a question you need answering.

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#26: Personal Branding – Attributes of a good salesperson

Knowing your skills and how best to use them with certain clients and in certain situations will undoubtedly lead you and your business to success. So having a set of resources that you can draw on as necessary is key.

It will be helpful to look at this in the context of personal branding. We will look in future articles at coherence of image, and networking, but let’s start with the attributes of a good salesperson.

We looked at this earlier on when we looked at challenges, in that selling your services is one of the hardest things to do – delivery is the easy bit! I think it is fair to say that selling has become a lot less confrontational and adversarial than it used to be (with notable exceptions), and a meeting of minds has become more important – remember our consideration of PRISM.

When I run my workshops I do a little word association exercise; I say one word and ask the delegates to write down the first thing that comes into their head. The one word is “Salesperson” – the responses I generally receive are predominantly negative, including words such as:

  • Impolite
  • Shallow
  • Pushy
  • Smoothie
  • Aggressive
  • Shark
  • Bully
  • Suit
  • Sleazy
  • Scumbag

It is fair to say that most of the words volunteered are not words that you would feel happy being used about yourself! So, ladies and gentlemen, we have a challenge.

If we are going to eat, then normally we have to sell and yet we associate selling with pushy, sleazy scumbags in suits! So how do we do sales without having to risk ourselves being perceived as one or more of the negative images conjured up?

I have to try to demystify the sales process for you and make it slightly less scary. My personal view is there are three attributes of a successful salesperson:

  1. The first attribute is the ability to be liked. If you consider your own experience, you are more likely to buy from somebody you like!
  2. The second attribute is the ability to listen. There is a famous saying that God gave us two ears and one mouth and we should use them in that proportion, and this is absolutely true. The good salesperson asks the right questions then shuts up, and if you have asked the right questions and remain silent the client will tell you all you need to know. Some of the best salespeople I have encountered are amongst the quietest people I know.
  3. The third one is to my mind the hardest one to handle, namely the ability to enter the client’s world, rather than try to drag the client into yours. That is where most people fall down. When people get into the sales process and are in the thick of it, they get nervous and tense. When that happens, they revert to where they are comfortable, namely themselves and their business, and they stop talking about the client and his or her business. What you are trying to do is solve their problem in their world.

If you can master that, coupled with the other two attributes, then you have the main components of a good sales person. You still need a process to work with and some tools at your disposal, but in terms of a sound base, you will have it.

Next time we will take a look at coherence of image, which has become ever more important with the advent of social media. In the meantime, if this topic interests you give “Sales on a Beermat” a read – a great little book by Mike Southon and Chris West.

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#25: Appropriate bag of tools

Over the past few articles, we have looked at how to retain high value clients and build trusted relationships. However, without the ability to maintain these you will find yourself back at square one.

It is very helpful to have a “bag of tools” of resources that you can draw on as necessary, which suit the client and the situation. Someone coined the phrase “if you only have a hammer in your tool bag, you will treat every problem like a nail”. I have encountered people who do this and are then surprised when they get a pushback from the client or prospect. So, the watchword is make sure you have a range of tools which you can apply, but don’t use them at inappropriate times or in inappropriate situations.

Areas where you might want to have tools at your disposal could include:

  • Focus Groups
  • Interviewing
  • Problem solving
  • Innovative/creative thinking
  • Relationship building
  • Communication
  • Strategy formulation
  • Strategy implementation
  • Managing strategic change
  • Project management
  • Performance management and measurement
  • Coaching
  • Counselling
  • Conflict resolution

There are many more that you could assemble, that would fit your interests, your experience, and your proposition. The key is to put together a toolkit that you feel comfortable with and which gives you the confidence to get the job done. Don’t include tools that you are not comfortable with. Stick with ones with which you are familiar, and/or you have been trained to use.

One tool that I use is PRISM, which I employ to help with:

  • Self-awareness
  • Teambuilding
  • Leading high performance teams
  • Team performance diagnostics
  • Recruitment
  • 360 reviews

Others which I have developed myself include the “one-page plan”, which I encourage all my clients to use, and a diagnostic to evaluate progress towards achieving strategic objective (in other words “how far have we come?”).

So, arm yourself with a mix of appropriate tools, either acquired externally or developed by you internally, and keep them ready for use as and when the situation calls for them. It could make a significant difference when undertaking client assignments, thereby creating happy clients!

Next time we will move on to address the tricky issue of Personal Branding.

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#24: Trusted Relationships

This month I want follow on from last month’s article on how to keep the clients you have gained with some more tips on how you can do this for the long term.

One way of looking at your business is that you are selling trust – your prospects will buy “you” before they buy your subject matter expertise. If they like you, and believe they can trust you, then you are already moving along the pathway to assent. Trust is one of the main reasons for repeat use by a client, so what are some of the ways that you can build that level of trust?

  • Trust comes from delivering results on time. If you make a promise, or commitment, and you can match it or beat it, then you are building trust. This is where the dark art of managing “scope creep” comes in!
  • It also comes from delivering on or below budget. Again, they will trust what you tell them on future assignments.
  • The whole way you approach prospects and clients, in particular making an effort to adapt your behaviour to match theirs, thereby creating a “meeting of minds”, will also help.
  • Sticking to what you are good at, and what you deserve to be paid well for, is another foundation of trust. You will gain trust and respect by being open and honest re what you can and can’t do.
  • Keeping in touch with clients, even in between assignments, can make a contribution as well. “I saw this article and thought of you” – useful tactic to employ and generally one which is much appreciated.

Continuously striving for a better understanding of the client’s business, and his or her issues, will also bear fruit over time. In this regard one key tip is to instil in them the confidence and belief that you do genuinely understand their business, their issues, and have them in mind when you are not in their presence.

This can set you apart from your competition and position you so that you are better placed to react to what they will need next, as opposed to merely reacting to what they need now. This will also assist you overtime if, aspirationally, you would like to move from consultant to trusted advisor.

Next we would look at having an appropriate “bag of tools”.

In the meantime, go and build some trust!

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#23: Retaining High Value Clients

Welcome to my first consultancy article of 2015! Last time, or last year I should say, we looked at my top ten tips for bid writing and how to structure your presentation. Now we are moving on to how you can keep the clients you will now have gained.

We are going to look at this as one of the key aspects of the Delivery Process. We need to bear in mind that a sound delivery process has twin purposes – to create happy clients who a) come back for more and b) refer other people to you. The accepted wisdom is that a happy client is worth two quality referrals, so it makes perfect sense to exploit this.

So, two of the most important goals arising out of your process are:

  • Seeking repeat business at the right moment (ideally when the client is at their happiest)
  • Seeking referrals at the same time

To these you could add a third goal, namely:

  • Working to a process to ensure there is no deviation from the core assignment, managing client expectations all the way, with checkpoint reviews

Why is this third goal important? Well, it is dangerous to assume that the client is happy, and that he or she understands and appreciates the difference you are making. In addition, you do not want to fall foul of an industry disease known as “scope creep”, where all sorts of little bits and pieces get tacked on to the work, not necessarily with an increase in fees, which risk the delivery deadline being compromised.

A couple of other factors to bear in mind:

  1. If you are going to require support in order to deliver the work, make sure you only use top quality associates; to do otherwise is courting disaster.
  2. Keep a close eye on outputs and time, so that you don not give yourself too much to do against the clock.
  3. If the project is pretty much “full on”, try to carve out some time to keep up your networking and prospecting, so that you do everything possible to reduce the chance of moving from feast to famine.

Next time we will look at the importance of Trust and Relationships in establishing rapport with clients. Remember, if you think you are struggling with anything or would like to find out more, you can always contact me.

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#22: 10 tips for presenting a bid

This month we are going to continue on from my previous article on bid writing, and today I am going to share with you my top ten tips to doing this effectively.

Your written bid has done its job, and you have been invited to present it in person. The first rule is whatever you do, don’t “wing it” – it will very rarely work for you. The second rule is there is only one rule (thank you Monty Python!).

First, let’s consider a few general tips about how to deal with the audience:

  1. Plan your presentation from the listener’s perspective.
  2. Create for your listener an awareness of the need to act now.
  3. Maintain and build the listener’s interest.
  4. Tell the listener all they need to know about your services as far as they are relevant to him/her.
  5. Explain the benefits of your service.
  6. Check to ensure you have not lost the listener’s attention.
  7. Be prepared for questions, and make sure you have robust answers for the questions you would least like to be asked.
  8. Don’t use jargon.
  9. Have a component in your presentation that makes you and your bid distinctive.
  10. Don’t forget that if you have more than one listener, they may be looking for different things from you, based on their behaviour preferences and respective roles in the business.


I would like to finish with a couple of thoughts on how to structure your presentation.

Firstly, keep it as short as you can and focus on the essentials. What are the key issues you need to highlight from your proposal, and don’t spend much time telling them how good you are – they appreciate that or you wouldn’t have been short-listed.

Secondly, make sure the proposal has a structure, so that you lead the listener through to a positive decision-inducing position (i.e. acceptance). Items you may want to reference could include:

  • The objectives of the assignment
  • Measures of success (e.g. indicators of progress being made)
  • Expressions of value (what improvements and enhancements can be expected; in other words what success could look like)
  • Methodologies and options (how you will address the issues)
  • Timing (so both parties’ expectations are managed)
  • Joint accountabilities (who is responsible for what)
  • Key terms and conditions

Above all, just try to be your natural self – if you try to be someone you are not it will probably undermine your performance. So, let them see the authentic you!

I look forward to sharing more articles with you after the New Year. In the meantime, if you have any enquires or feel you need some more guidance please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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