Updated: Dec 17, 2020
As a consultant, there are many skills you need to possess to help your clients achieve their goals and get clients. Many of those depend on what type of consultant you are and what you offer clients.
That said, there are 3 skills I encourage all consultants to master. Why? Because they are skills that:
Clients tend to value highly
Are routinely needed in consulting engagements to achieve results
Require becoming adept at multiple, mutually-reinforcing skills
Can help you get more consulting business
The good news is these skills can be learned and continually enhanced. As you do that, you will become more valuable and valued as a consultant. Let me get into what they are, why they matter, and how you can obtain or enhance them.
The 3 are:
Negotiation Creates Agreement
Negotiation is essentially having discussions that are aimed at reaching an agreement. I have yet to have a consulting engagement that does not include negotiation. And usually a lot of it. I don’t know of any consultants who have had a client where everyone already agrees on everything. It just doesn’t happen. Now, I have had clients who said that everyone already agrees, but that has never been true. Not once.
Negotiation is also essential for getting consulting contracts and, not just getting contracts, but agreeing on the terms of the engagement. Critical things like scopes, processes, timelines, and prices—which need to be discussed and agreed on before you start working. Without solid negotiation skills, you may not get the contracts you want or may settle for terms that are not reasonable or fair. If there are changes to the work during the engagement, you also will need to negotiate.
Negotiation also requires you to learn other useful skills that will increase your value and ability to get clients. As examples, you will have to learn active listening, building rapport, problem solving, assertiveness, and conflict management. All of these skills are collectively and individually useful in serving clients and getting business.
Facilitation Creates Movement
Facilitation is moving people or groups of people to achieve a specific goal. Facilitate means to “make easier.” So what a skilled facilitator does is to make the process of achieving something easier.
How valuable is that? Well, think about all of the meetings or planning sessions you’ve been in—the ones that needlessly meandered, repeatedly drifted off topic, and/or didn’t help get anything accomplished. (An easy picture to conjure, isn’t it?) Now imagine being able to solve those problems for clients. (Did you just hear angels sing?) What a contrast that would be from what many of clients experience now. They will thank you for it. They will pay you for it, and they will want to keep working with you.
Facilitation skills will also help you get more business because you’ll be able to facilitate a prospective client meeting to a conclusion. When I meet with prospective clients, they don’t always know what they want and need. They know they have a problem, but they may not know exactly what it is or agree on it. They may not know what to do about it. However, all of those things have to be clarified to determine if you can help them and, if so, precisely how. If you facilitate the meeting and the result is clarity, you have already provided them with value and, often, relief. You’ll have the information you need to offer them a solution and develop a proposal. Plus it will give them an excellent experience, which tells them what it will be like to work with you.
Writing Creates Clarity
Writing is communication in written form. When you are a consultant, it is communication for a purpose, such as relaying technical information so people can perform specific tasks or persuading your audience to think, feel, and/or do something.
Regardless of the purpose of the writing, the key is to know how to write well enough to achieve your outcome. Bad writing, such as writing riddled with typos or that rambles without clarity, is distracting and can get in the way of achieving your outcome. It can also cause you to lose business, especially if you cannot produce client-ready written deliverables.
For example, I gave a client a 200-page technical document that captured all the aspects of an initiative we had spent months planning. He loved it. Sadly, he also told me how refreshing it was because of the multiple times he had to spend his weekends rewriting poorly-written documents that consultants produced—consultants who he paid to write the documents!
As a consultant, you also have to have writing skills to produce proposals that get you more signed contracts. What you write has to convince the prospective client that they should hire you. Doing so requires solid writing skills. A clearly written proposal devoid of mistakes also demonstrates to a client that you care about and produce quality work, which bodes well for what you will do if they hire you.
My Go-To Resources
Are you convinced? If so, now what? Well, here are the places I go to learn more and get better at these skills. (Note that I am not receiving any payment or other goodies from these recommendations.)
Negotiation: My favorite resource is Chris Voss’ book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. Who better to learn from than a former FBI-hostage negotiator? Although his background with negotiating was truly about life-and-death situations, the strategies and tactics apply to any type of negotiation. Although I am quite skilled at negotiation, I still learned a lot from his book.
Facilitation: Facilitation is what I am known for. I feel very confident in my skills. Or I did, until I met Leanne Hughes when we were on each other's podcasts. She is a Jedi-level facilitator, facilitation trainer, and host of the First-Time Facilitator podcast. She knows the art and science of facilitation at a level that, hands down, surpasses me. So I am a grateful sponge when I engage with her content.
Writing: First of all, please use a style manual. It can be the AP Stylebook or Chicago Manual of Style but have some reference you use that adheres to the basics of style, usage, and grammar. (And if you break the rules, as I sometimes do when I write blogs, it will be for a purpose and not by accident.) I also love Anthony Garcia’s guides and videos. His definition of bad grammar is “grammar that bothers people.” This perfectly captures the essence of good writing: don’t distract people with your writing such that they don’t understand what you mean or are too irritated to care. Otherwise, look online for resources that are specific to the type of writing you will do as a consultant.
If you have other resources that you use to get or enhance your skills, please share them in the comments!