Is Consulting for You?

I love to take photographs.  Where ever I travel, I always carry my camera with me, and take pictures of everything – Masai warriors, Haitian shanties, Jamaican beaches, and  Serengeti wildlife.  There’s a real joy for me in taking the pictures, and that joy comes through in the pictures themselves.  So when a friend asked me to take the pictures for her wedding, I leapt at the chance. 

But when I started photographing the event, a funny thing happened.   Usually when I’m taking pictures, I lose myself in the process, shooting intuitively without conscious thought, creating photographs with a strong sense of composition and content.  Now that I was taking pictures for someone else, I was constantly worried about what my friend wanted, as if there was another person looking over my shoulder through the camera’s viewfinder.  The resulting pictures lacked my usual joy and spontaneity, and in the end pleased neither me nor, I suspect, my friend (though she was too polite to say so).  I learned that just because I’m good at something in one context doesn’t mean that I’ll be as good (or as happy) using the skill in a different context.

The same principle applies to business.  Many successful business people decide to take their considerable business skills and become consultants, making their skills available to a variety of clients.  For some, becoming a consultant is exactly the right decision, as it constantly exposes them to new challenges (and can be quite lucrative).  But others aren’t cut out to be consultants, and soon become dissatisfied with their careers.  As with my photography, the problem usually isn’t that they don’t have the necessary skills to be consultants.  Rather, being a consultant forces them to use those skills in a different context, one they don’t find as satisfying.

Clients bring in consultants when they have a business problem, and once the consultant has provided a solution, that’s often the end of the consultant’s involvement.  The client may shelve the consultant’s solution in favor of an inferior one, or may implement only half of it, or may implement it fully.  In any case, it’s out of the consultant’s hands.  Some people aren’t bothered by this lack of involvement and control, but for others, who are used to following through and overseeing the implementation of their ideas, it can be a rude shock.

If you are a person who likes to see your ideas carried through to their successful conclusion, consulting may not be for you.

I had one client at Core Allies, LLC who had been the CEO of a successful start-up.  Looking for new challenges, she decided to try consulting.  However, she was unhappy with her first couple of projects as a consultant.  At first, she thought the problem might be that the subject areas of the projects were outside her previous experience, or that she didn’t have quite the right set of skills.  But in going over the projects with her, and also looking at what had made her happy as a CEO, we discovered that a key ingredient for her was seeing her ideas come to fruition.  Not having that ability as a consultant was incredibly frustrating for her, and resulted in her dissatisfaction with consulting, and it wasn’t going to change if she could just find the “right” project.  So instead, she started a new venture, where she is successful and happy.

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