Why exactly, would someone who holds typical management consultants in such low regard, then become one?

As I approached the assignment of completing my inaugural blog posting I was overcome with ideas on what to rant about (um, I mean wax eloquently about) and thoughts of information to share that would most certainly change the perspective of, or at the very least the point of view of, this blog’s readership. In the end, however, it was a statement that I stumbled upon while doing some online research that sealed the deal for what this column would be about.

In an article pulled from Entrepreneur.com, a nameless author was promoting the benefits of becoming a business consultant by sharing, among other things, the notion that “As long as you have the desire, you can become a business consultant. No special education is necessary to break into this career and succeed. And, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 28% of consultants do not have a degree of any kind.” Good grief!

With such insightful advice and commentary, is it any wonder that most corporate business managers cringe when their boss shares that a “consultant” has been hired to help them maximize company performance? To the average seasoned business manager, the only phrase worse than “meet your new management consultant” is “Hi, I’m from the Government and I’m here to help.” Trust me, I know this first hand. But, I digress.

So why then, you ask yourself, would someone who appears to hold management consultants in such low regard then become one herself? It’s pretty simple, really. After years of experience in working in both large and small firms alike, I feel strongly that there is, indeed, a justifiable need within most companies for some outside help. Even bigger than that, however, is the need for a consultant who does more than just take your watch and tell you what time it is. So, to all of you former consultants who thought that I hadn’t noticed, well guess what? I did.

The process of thinking about client problems is what sets consultants apart from each other. Different individuals and firms apply very different frameworks and intellectual lenses to the same problems. There is enormous diversity in the way consultants think, and to a large extent, the results that they obtain. This is why there is such a high premium in the market for consultants with an exceptional ability to think, create and communicate.

The process of solving a client problem starts with framing the problem, followed by a diagnosis of its cause, and ultimately the formulation of a series of recommended solutions. Finally, a good consultant will assist in the adoption of a solution by providing specialized know-how and talent that is not otherwise internally available to the client. Each stage of this process requires critical thinking and keen understanding. That’s why the very best consultants are original and incisive thinkers who can quickly bridge the gap between theories, frameworks and a company's profitability.

Still, the obvious question remains shouldn’t most companies be able to find this same talent within their four walls and ultimately gain the same traction without having to look outside for help? Perhaps, but even still the single biggest hurdle that most companies will never jump is the ability for internal resources to provide truly objective advice --advice that has been shaped and informed by an insider’s view of the best practices of other companies in other markets and other industries.

Successful consultants by definition acquire an enormous databank of various client processes, costs and solutions that have moved a wide variety of companies and industries forward. It’s information that typically isn’t found in most organizations because to acquire it requires that a company have a group of employees that have worked in a wide range of other companies and industries. It is something by its very nature that is difficult for most successful companies to acquire via their in-house teams because most successful companies aren’t characterized by high rates of employee churn.

At the end of the day, almost 100% of a consultant’s business comes from referrals. If you do a good job working for one company, it almost always will lead to more business elsewhere. Which means that it is crucial for a consultant to have a “total client” focus on every job. Our future livelihood depends on how successful we are at generating enthusiasm, answers and results on virtually every engagement. That’s probably why only one in 10 small consultancies last 10 or more years. Which brings me to my final point.

Did I mention that 2010 also marks n2o’s 10th anniversary? There’s a reason that we’ve lasted this long and find ourselves thriving at a time when so many other companies are struggling to find their place in a rapidly shifting market. It’s because we’ve been on both sides of the fence and in doing so, have worked at every level on both the Client and Agency side (entry, mid-management, executive). Having done so, we are now adept at helping clients solve difficult problems.

Please peruse the n2o website and check-out some of our recent work that typically started as strategic consulting engagements and lead to new brand launches, some company re-positionings and even a few awards.

Enjoy!