Becoming a better consultant isn’t something that has to be a major effort. Instead, it’s all about small, subtle changes in focus. It means highlighting areas where incremental improvement can lead to big payoffs, and using what you’re already doing to serve as a starting point.
I’m assuming you have already mastered (or at least built significant expertise) in a specific consulting topic or process. Taking that expertise to the next level depends on how well you take advantage of some key levers. They might seem obvious, but the trick is whether or not you understand their importance, and how well you are able to integrate them into your consulting. Here are five ways to improve your game:
- Check your focus. Do you know what your client is really saying? In any client interaction, participants bring their own opinions, prejudgments, ideas, biases and preferred solutions into the mix. If these biases are too top of mind, a consultant might believe they heard something that just wasn’t there. That can be particularly true if your consulting role includes recommending a product or service. Jumping ahead to a solution can miss the mark and convince the client that you weren’t listening . When you’re talking to a client, examine whether you’re truly focused. Restate what you think you heard as a good way to make sure you’re on the same wavelength. Listening well is the hallmark of a skilled consultant.
- Appreciate the network effects. Each time you work with a client, you have the opportunity to make new connections  to both people and ideas. Networking through people often happens organically as you build relationships during your project or engagement. But you can also proactively look for opportunities to get an introduction. Likewise, ideas that emerge from your work often come about organically, but you can also actively pursue new ideas as a way to help grow your business or expertise. Make note of connected ideas before you leave a current project, and seek ways to introduce or integrate new, connected ideas into your work.
- Understand your client’s business. Consultants too often have a superficial understanding of their client’s business because they focus largely on the task at hand. For example, a consultant working with a client on automation might focus all their questions on how a process works, without asking larger questions about challenges the company is facing. That’s a lost opportunity. Asking questions  that dig deeper can easily be integrated into your client work, without taking you off track. As you work with your client, ask yourself: what is one question that would give me a better understanding of their business? Building knowledge about a type of business or industry will also be valuable for similar work as you move forward in your career.
- Value your expertise. Establishing your value  helps you get clients. A client needs to know what you bring to the table, and why they should work with you. But once the work begins, demonstrating your value helps you retain clients. Look for signposts along the way telling you if, and how, the client values your expertise. If you hear that one of your suggestions or ideas was on target, do you know why? It would be wise to ask the client to provide more substantive detail. Understanding what you’ve done well will help you build confidence and will inform how you think about and value your expertise in the future. And that can have an impact not only on the types of work you might seek, but the level of compensation you might command.
- Find the lessons. As you work with your client, what are you learning? Are you taking advantage of opportunities to develop yourself? For example, if relationship management has been one of your weaknesses, can you get feedback from your client at various stages of the project? That would allow you to make real-time adjustments and improve your skills. What can you learn on a day-to-day basis? You don’t need to wait until the work ends to collect your “lessons learned.”  Asking yourself “what’s going well?”, “what could be going better?”, “where could things be improved?” is informative at any stage of a project.
Are you doing many of these things already, or are you overlooking these on-the-job learning opportunities? Finding ways to integrate these tips into your daily consulting game should become a priority. They’re easy to do, and they will make you a better consultant in the long run.