- Consultants want to bring too much structure to an agile environment. For most consulting entrepreneurs, strategy consulting is where the fun is – it’s like being a part of the vision of the startup. Many see opportunities to bring their experience from big brands and apply “best practices” to startups. This could mean big strategy sessions, long timelines, and structured deliverables. However, for startups, especially early-stage companies, heavy structure won’t last simply because the company is still learning and iterating too fast.
- Startups want to hire you for X, but they really mean X… + Y + Z. With time and budget constraints, startup employees wear multiple hats. Same applies for consultants to a degree – consultants should be capable of having a comprehensive skill set within a functional area (marketing, sales, design). For example, if you’re a marketing consultant, know communication, social media, and website. Some graphics chops will do you good, too. For design, be able to design + code + CSS.
- The day the startup says they need help, they actually needed you a while ago. Startups work real fast, and employees are swamped managing what’s in front of them. So when issues start to arise, not much happens until it reaches a critical point. As a consultant, this means you are needed TODAY. Startups have investors to appease. We have to quadruple the current pipeline. We need to launch, learn, and iterate as fast as able.
- I’d be silly if I still didn’t say, “money”. This is a given, but it’s surprising this is still a shock to many consultants. They believe they can charge the same rate they do with larger enterprises. That may be your “market rate” with enterprises, but realize that your target customers (startups) is a different market. Thus, your real market rate is quite different.
These are challenges/ realizations. However, challenges straddle the “opportunities line”. I made a good living before as a consultant to startups, and I loved the energy of my clients and seeing my actions make a difference almost daily. There’s a give and take, but that’s why you work with startups. It’s not all about the money. It’s about the challenge, the opportunity, the learning.
- Consider the usage and implications to every layer of an organization that will use the product/ service — from executive buyers to core users
- Communicate clear benefits, and ensure delivery of said benefits
- Provide timely service in the event of missteps, bugs, or failure
- Nurture adoption of the product/ service with all levels of users (getting started wizards, email notifications, other)
- Create a simple, streamlined user experience (UX)
- Understand and mitigate the risks to each [level of] user — considering your solution is from a new, questionably “viable” entity
- Maintain relationships. My previous life as a consultant in a startup firm allowed me to get amazing experience working with decision makers. Many of those same people want to work together again and again.
- Say hello. I get many opportunities from just simple introductions to strangers in everyday places. For example, I met a woman at Starbucks who later introduced me to her boyfriend who wanted to redesign his digital assets for his retail store.
- Be flexible. I’m a generalist, and it’s been my advantage to work with companies in many capacities. For example, I have two recent opportunities in front of me: 1) technology consultant in China; 2) a talent manager for a burgeoning artist.
- Confident self and strong brand. I’m honest in my interactions, so many people see me as confident and genuine building a relationship on trust. As I mention more about my experience and my blog, others see me as an expert. Doesn’t take much from there to work together.
- Never hard sell. Everything is relationships-based (think: brand) – it’s the only real advantage companies have. When I meet anyone, I never hard-sell. I never need to. We form a relationship based on trust and ability to execute. Opportunities grow organically from there.
- Get out!It’s hard to do any of the above without meeting new people. I’ve formed great relationships from UK consulate events to network introductions to, yes, Starbucks. Everything starts with an opportunity.
What are your thoughts on finding new work opportunities? Where would hard-selling be more appropriate versus softer, relationship-based sells?
- Change is hard. When you go to a gym for a few years consistently weekly, you see those who come and go, and those who stay true. It’s clear those who are “newbs”. They come in, sometimes work half-heartedly, and then either stick around and wonder they’re not seeing the gains they want or they just disappear as quickly as they arrived. In consulting, similarly, companies who are looking to change make a difficult decision to embark on change. However, it’s so easy for companies to lose sight of the goal and milestones to bring about sustainable change.
- Even if you’re seasoned in the gym, you need to change to keep improving. Companies who don’t embrace the necessity to change as the world evolves are likely to see growth become stagnant, and is most often the case, fade away. It’s so easy for companies to keep going about their business managing the day-to-day without thinking larger and more strategically. However, without change, it’s even easier to then let competition come in and take everything away (think Blackberry, Kodak, etc.). In the gym, if you’re doing the same routine over and over again, your body adjusts and you no longer see gains in your strength. It only takes six weeks before your body adapts.
- Bringing an outside perspective can help. As a consultant, this is almost the very reason we exist. Similar to the point above, it’s so easy for companies to be complacent and continue to operate just as they have over the last 40 years. However, bringing in fresh eyes from consultants, an outside hire, or otherwise, can easily give perspective from potentially competition, other industries, etc. In the gym, bringing a friend who is knowledgeable about working out can easily bring new routines, or even help spot when you’ve actually got poor form.
- Establishing goals helps you achieve greater. One of the first things you do as a trainer with a client is to run an assessment. This includes understanding a baseline or where a client is, and where the client wants to go (i.e. lose weight, add 25 lbs to her squat, drop your 40 time by a half-second). Without knowing where you want to go, it’s hard to really push yourself and make it timely. In the consulting world, if you don’t establish a baseline of “current state” and plan for a “future state” (Shangri-la), how do you know what to do, who to employ, how your customers will react (if any)?
- Post-workout is just as important as in-workout. In working out, it’s important to take care of your body after a workout. That may include a post-workout protein shake to ensure you have the nutrients for recovery, or just daily nutrition in meals. If you aren’t eating right and stretching and the like, it’s hard to sustain any gains you may have from a workout. In consulting, implementing post-transformation catches is key to sustaining the change. Tracking efforts via metrics is one way of ensuring change has sustainability; while establishing a culture embracing change is another sure-fire way of keeping the momentum going.
Jon Stegner’s famous article “Gloves on the Boardroom Table” is a classic example of not just leaders in denial (for my business school friends) but also the opportunity in procurement – specifically, strategic sourcing. The article can be found here. I’ll downplay the leaders in denial aspect in favor of the Supply Chain benefits in the article – Jon describes the opportunity in cost savings opportunities within his organization. Convinced of significant savings opportunities, Jon tasked his summer intern to gather various gloves (yes, something so simple) across the factories in his organization, and what he found was staggering… FOUR HUNDRED TWENTY-FOUR different gloves were being used across the factories. Many of the gloves were similar but their costs could vary greatly. In one case, two gloves which were nearly identical were marked one for $3.22 and the other $10.55. Jon Stegner proceeded to lay out all 424 gloves on the boardroom table for his peers to witness the opportunity at hand. Jon didn’t share the cost savings his company was able to reap, instead citing a general “a great deal” but as you can imagine, strategic sourcing in this example can yield significant results.
And so this brings to light the very simple, yet impactful opportunity in strategic sourcing to your bottom line. Synchronizing procurement efforts across an organization can have immediate effects to costs. This should come as no surprise as you think about companies who do this extremely well including Wal-Mart (the epitome of operational excellence), UPS, The Home Depot, etc. Strategic sourcing empowers your procurement organization reap the benefits of supplier competition. And today, there are many ways to empower your company’s procurement strategy…
- As a Consultant, I was part of a small team leading the transformation of the Procurement organization of a major IT outsourcing company with spend across global business units. Over the next several years, the organization looked to reign overall Procurement spend with immediate savings through an e-Sourcing solution.
- The implementation of an e-Sourcing system enabled the company to leverage RFx templates and run auction events to drive down costs and enable supplier competition for its more than 1,000 vendors and more than a 100 internal procurement categories.
- I spent a few years as a Procurement Analyst within a major third-party logistics company’s Procurement group within its Transportation organization. Third-party logistics companies are the very shining examples of strategic sourcing. I supported the management of largely truckload and less-than-truckload carriers on behalf of our customers analyzing transportation costs, rate changes, and provided lane-carrier recommendations. At the end of the day, upper-tier carriers are very similar. Yet, when you review RFP bids, some carriers bid with 30% premiums over their competitors.
- Further benefits of strategic sourcing (and 3PLs) include “soft” benefits which at first are hard to quantify until service failures arise (in this example). Aside from numbers, Procurement empowerment meant also assessing suppliers’ qualitative bid as well. For example, being a low cost provider counts for naught should a carrier’s on-time performance be well below top-tier standards (99.8% oftentimes).
- Other activities included the analysis of rate increase requests. Our strategic goal here was mitigate costs as much as possible reducing rate increases, fuel surcharge increases, accessorials, etc.
It’s a no wonder during the Great Recession, opportunities in Procurement were (and are still) the fad. Not many strategies can be implemented so quickly with such significant impact straight to your bottom dollar. Strategic sourcing, e-Sourcing solutions, and intelligent deployment of 3PLs can be a powerful advantage against your competitors. So the question is: how many gloves are on your table?
I wanted to continue my first post on being an effective consultant with this — the sequel. What I mentioned before greatly hinges on the ability to quickly learn but adaptation and becoming a SC Ninja is more than learning. Another attribute and key ingredient to being an effective consultant is blending in, too. I mentioned “blending in” earlier but want to touch on this a bit more.
To be an effective consultant, supply chain or otherwise, you have to be able to adapt. As a Supply Chain Ninja, I have to be a chameleon… to be able to blend into my surroundings and new engagements. Otherwise, you end up sticking out like a sore thumb and you don’t pick up new projects quickly. You must be able to adapt and to learn on-the-fly. This… this is the key to being an effective Supply Chain Ninja.
One example of this:
I had one project with a Major Steel Tube Producer and Manufacturer. The client was looking for operational and systemic improvements in the warehouse co-located within its steel mill. However, I had limited experience in the steel industry. As a project team, we were completely transparent with the Client’s Executive Team in our relative limited experience in the steel industry; however, we had a plethora of experience and qualifications in warehouse operations.
To be effective and deliver exceptional results, we utilized our past experiences to relay warehousing’s core concepts. Nuances always exist that differentiate client to client and project to project. In the end, in warehouses and other business processes, core concepts are the same and “portable”… a pick’s a pick, a bin’s a bin, and picking strategies are crucial to the operations.
As effective Supply Chain Ninjas, each team member was able to pick up the critical elements of the steel company and industry while marrying key warehouse concepts to identify the areas of opportunities in a relatively short time frame. In the end, we partnered with the key stakeholders to deliver recommendations for bundling (picking and loading) strategies and integration points for a warehouse management system implementation.