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3 Ways to Stock the Pond with Independent Consulting Projects

Playing fair in the search for project-based management consulting work is very noble…just not very smart. While a sport fisherman may enjoy the art of fly fishing in a wild river, the guy fishing in a pond stocked with trout is simply going to catch more fish. Similarly, you *could* go fishing for consulting projects, calling on contacts and attending networking events, hoping to identify the right need at the right time, and so on and so forth. However, there is an easier way. Talent Response is pleased to present three suggestions as to how to “stock the pond” with independent consulting projects. Then all you need to do is reel those suckers in.

1. Have an angle: There is something very impressive about a generalist with such varied project experience that it seems as if she has tackled every client challenge out there. Nonetheless, many generalists struggle to win consulting work when the client is looking for very specific expertise, e.g. a retail due diligence expert in LA or a pharma compliance expert in NJ. For those who have specialized over the course of their career, coming up with this “angle” is relatively easy. For generalists, however, this proves to be a much more difficult task. It is important to frame one’s diverse skillset in a way that highlights particular layers of expertise. Instead of boasting expertise in “strategy, implementation, project management, and C-Suite engagement,” it will be more useful to tell a career story with underlying themes. Perhaps you have more than one “angle”, but each can be portrayed in a way that suggest depth of expertise in addition to breadth. It’s possible that, by highlighting areas of deep expertise, you may miss out on the occasional project you could have talked your way into because of a similar 6-week project you completed in the early 2000s. However, you’re much more likely to be plucked for the projects that are aligned with those pockets of deep expertise if you focus on the underlying themes of your career. No fancy moves required.

2. Be a giver: Givers, as Adam Grant writes in Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, sink to the bottom of the success ladder in the short-term by sacrificing themselves for others. “There’s even evidence that compared with takers, on average, givers earn 14 percent less money,” and “have twice the risk of becoming victims of crimes.” This sounds terrifying. Fortunately, there’s hope for givers after all. In the long-term, givers build goodwill and a balance of favors that will eventually tip back in their direction. Most givers give primarily due to their altruistic nature, and indeed that is a pure motive. We suggest that if you aren’t the type to give out of altruism, you should give out of self-interest. One effective technique is to help a friend’s kid get a job…parents always look for ways to pay back those “debts.” In the context of independent consulting, we always suggest referring friends for independent consulting engagements you may be presented with but aren’t well-positioned to deliver on. By referring consulting work to friends, colleagues and acquaintances, you not only help support others that are taking the risk to build their own independent consulting portfolio, but also increase the likelihood— karmic or otherwise—that those favors will be returned to you. To misquote Hunger Games, May the balance of favors be ever in your favor.

3. Spread your feathers: If the peacock doesn’t put on a bit of a show, he doesn’t get the girl. We all love a good sales process. There can be an easier way, though. If you market yourself well, the only “selling” you’ll need to do is to close. Like the peacock, let your marketing efforts show your potential mates how sexy your offering is. In other words, show a little feather. While marketing for independent consultants can be quite extravagant—slick website, webinars, multiple daily Twitter posts—it’s important not to skimp on the basics. Your LinkedIn profile should be optimized for search, including the keywords you’d like to be found for. For independent consultants, it can’t hurt to include “independent consultant” in your title or the body of your current position so that potential employers (and Talent Response!) can identify you when the need arises. Better yet, join our network so that we can most effectively find those sexy peacocks.

More to come from Talent Response, but these tips should be good quick wins to start bringing that utilization rate up from the 60%—the industry average across independent consultants—to something safely in the 90% range (or at least to give yourself that option if you want it!) Help us help you to stock that pond by leveraging our relationships with more than 25 boutique consulting firms looking for project-based team augmentation when their project demand surges. Let’s stock this pond!

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