Originally, I wrote this article specifically for consultants, but there weren’t the number of people working from home in 2015 as there are today. I write today for consultants and, additionally, those people working primarily from home. Some things have not changed, but many have. Projects should be low-risk, high-value and result in near-term sales, although new business development (NBD) appears more on the list of companies’ strengths than it used to.
One of the biggest changes in working at home for most people has been the lack of structure of the workday and, for some, perhaps the camaraderie of having people to talk with or bounce ideas off of. The other issue is time management. It is too easy to let your day become 10 or 12 hours if you aren’t careful and don’t want to work greater than eight hours.
As a consultant, you will need to determine your hourly rate, which needs to include costs of benefits, taxes and insurance. This may vary by the length of an engagement as well as type. For this article, I will briefly outline what I consider the key elements of being a successful consultant. Others may have slightly different views; if they focus on a career as an expert witness in litigation cases, for example. I also won’t cover that here. The key elements I see are :
- Marketing yourself
- Proposal writing (if required)
- Landing the opportunity
- Execution of the project/opportunity
- Reporting/completion and post-mortem
As a worker for a company, you need to determine how to best structure your day and maintain your sanity. I find that if you can set aside several hours for phone calls, it is less likely you will be interrupted and can get a solid block of work done in the time that you’re not on the phone. As things are starting to open up again so that there is live interaction, attendance at conferences, seminars, trade shows, and the presentation of papers will ensure that you will be noticed.
There are several failings of new consultants. Some will underestimate the time it will take for a fixed-price project. Others do not have the resources available for a job, such as a laboratory and haven’t included any subcontract work to be completed. But the biggest problem for all consultants is not defining the scope of a project fully before the project starts. Scope creep occurs at large companies but is somewhat manageable. Clear expectations and deliverables have to be agreed upon in writing at the onset, or you may find yourself in court. Understand clearly what the client wants, including quantifiable performance requirements. These could be ASTM, DIN or ISO tests and specifications, or internal tests provided by the client.
At the conclusion of the project, reflect on what you did and learned. This is a post-mortem of the project to put it to rest. What did you do well? What could you have done better? Take the time to file away documents and data and refine anything for future use that is not proprietary.
With home offices being a lot more the norm, if you haven’t figured out that Friday is the day most people make calls and catch up from the rest of the week, then you should step back and take notice. I have found it a good practice to call at the beginning of the week and set up a phone call for Friday if you have to interview or talk to someone at length. People are generally more relaxed on Friday, and if they are prepared to talk with you, it can be a lot more pleasant than catching someone in the middle of the day.
- Tools for Consultants – Starting Out, Sustainability and Profitability – Prospector Knowledge Center (ulprospector.com)
- Tools for Consultants II – Sustainability, Profitability and Growth – Prospector Knowledge Center (ulprospector.com)
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