Category Archives: Personal Branding

Critical Consulting Skill: Flexibility

As I’ve pointed out in this blog before, one of the things I’ve always liked about consulting is the variety.  You generally work on a project for a few months and, by the time you’re getting tired of your surroundings, you get transferred to another project.  Sometimes it’s another project at the same client, but often times you go to an entirely new client, perhaps in another city.

You could be moved to another project right as you were getting in a groove of the project you were on.  Often times you have some advanced warning.  If you are assigned to a single phase of a project, you know the timeframe of that phase.  You may have hopes to be on the next phase, but you could be pulled off if you lack the right skill set for that phase, or the client loses funding for the next phase or any number of other reasons.  Projects simply go in new directions, causing changes to the staffing model.

You could be informed of a change at a moment’s notice.  Once, while I was unassigned (on the bench in consulting vernacular), I was called at home at 9:00 PM and told to show up in another city the next day.

When you roll off of a project and the firm doesn’t have another project to assign you to, you either go back to the office or to a work-from-home status.  Firms evaluate their consultants on a number of criteria, but the primary ones are on their sales numbers and their utilization numbers – percentage of available hours that you were billable on projects.

While on the bench, it’s important to do two things.  First you want to get assigned to a team working on a project sales proposal.  This will help you gain sales credit, but also can help you get assigned to the project if the firm wins the business.

The second thing to do is to get your name out to partners or whatever roles within the firm assign staffing to projects.  It’s important to let them know who you are, what skills you have and that you are available and ambitious to get on a billable project.

Once you get assigned, it could be on an out-of-town project, requiring travel from Monday thru Friday or at a location that requires a long commute from your home.  You may hear of new projects starting up with new and exciting technologies only to find out that you’ve been assigned to a mundane project with little growth potential.

You can lobby for the projects you desire, but you often don’t get a choice.  Consultants are usually assigned to projects based on the firm’s ability to maximize their billing rate across all clients.  If you turn down a project for any reason, you risk being labeled as a non-team player and they may resist assigning you to projects in the future.

They usually do ask you what you are interested in and what your career goals are and, if they’re able to assign you to a project that fits your interests, they’ll try to find a match for you.  They do have an interest in keeping their employees happy.  But they also need to bill clients to stay in business.

The critical aspect here is to be flexible.  Doing what’s best for the firm in the short-term will often be recognized by management and can be good for your career in the long-term.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com).  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Business, Consulting, Flexibility, Morale, Networking, Personal Branding

4 Ways to Market Yourself within the Consulting Firm

Imagine that you have developed a soft drink that tastes better than Coke.  It has fewer calories, comes in a biodegradable can and contains nutrients that will make its users healthier.  Everything about this product is better than Coke, Pepsi or any other soft drink on the market.  Unfortunately, you have no marketing budget to promote it and have to rely on word of mouth.  The current market seems perfectly happy with the soft drinks they’re already drinking and your new product never gets off the ground.

This fictional scenario can happen to you in a consulting environment.  You may be the hardest, smartest worker in your firm.  But if you don’t get your name out to the decision makers who staff projects or have influence on that staffing, you may get passed up for high-profile projects.

This is not as much of an issue at smaller firms where management already knows you.  It’s more critical for larger firms and critical for 1st & 2nd tier firms like McKinsey, Deloitte and McGladrey.  It’s easy to get lost in firms like that.

You may do a bang-up job on a project and impress the partner and the project manager.  If their next project requires your skill set, they may lobby to get you assigned to their project.  But they may move on to projects that require a completely different skill set.  In larger firms, it’s very important to market yourself within.  Some of the things you can do are:

  • Volunteer to speak at firm meetings. – Most firms hold all-hands meetings on a quarterly or semi-annual basis to update the staff on their progress and provide an overview of a couple of their latest successful projects.  If they showcase a project that you have served on, offer to give part of the presentation.  It’s a great way to get your name out.
  • Make an effort to meet the firm leadership – Understand the firm hierarchy and figure out who the decision makers are (Partners, VPs, Directors).  Get to know their names and faces and introduce yourself in a non-intrusive way.  Selling yourself like a used car will backfire like a… well, like a used car.
  • Volunteer to work on sales proposals – When unassigned (on the bench), show that you are willing to do whatever it takes to make the firm successful.  It exposes your skills to others and increases your chances of being assigned to the project if the proposal wins.
  • First and foremost, do your regular job well – You won’t get assigned to any high-profile projects or proposals if you haven’t already developed a reputation for doing quality work.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Everything I Need to Know About Networking I Learned from My High School Pals

By Lew Sauder

Last weekend I spend three days in Lexington and Louisville, KY with two life-long friends.  Jon and Robb have been friends of mine since grade school.  We were good friends through high school and were even roommates at various times through college.  One of the things we did was tour a whiskey distillery.  I’ve never been a whiskey drinker and a sample taste of it at the distillery confirmed that for me.  We also went through the Louisville Slugger bat factory and generally consumed mass quantities of unnecessary calories all weekend.

Just like in our school days, we had a great time together.  After college, we went our different ways, working in vastly different industries.  Two of us live in the Chicago suburbs while the other is in Southern Illinois.  Although we’ve gotten together in pairs at various times, we realized that, except for a funeral six years ago, the three of us hadn’t been together in 18 years.

What struck me was the way we were able to just hit the ground running with our relationships as if it had only been 18 weeks instead.  But we really hadn’t stopped being friends.  In fact we’ve kept in close contact.  We keep up with each other on Facebook, email each other and even connect the old-fashioned way through telephone calls every once in a while.

It got me to thinking that we have been networking with each other the way professionals should network with their contacts.  I’ve known people that I call ‘reactive networkers’.  They may gather connections in LinkedIn or Facebook, but they don’t keep in touch with any of their contacts.  Not until they need to anyway.  They wait until their company has a round of layoffs, find themselves without a job and are suddenly reaching out to their network asking if anyone knows of any job openings.

This is an ineffective way to network.  Many of your connections are not bound to remember you like life-long friends.  If you meet someone at a conference and connect with them on LinkedIn, but never maintain that relationship, contacting them three or four years later is not bound to be helpful.  On the odd chance that they remember you, they won’t know enough about you to feel comfortable referring you for a position.

People often hear that they need to network and they consider collecting contacts to be sufficient.  There is a lot more to it.  Practicing ‘proactive networking’ means making contacts and keeping in touch with them on a regular basis:

  • Update your LinkedIn profile on a regular basis.  Update it with new career experiences, newly published publications and any updates that people in your network might be interested in.  If they receive periodic updates on their network, they will regularly see your name, keeping you top-of-mind on a regular basis.
  • Keep in touch by sending an email every once in a while.  Tell them you saw an update on their LinkedIn profile or saw an article they might be interested in and thought of them.  This helps to keep up your awareness and provides them with helpful information.
  • If your contacts are on Twitter, follow them.  Chances are they will follow you back.  Tweet on a regular basis and interact with them.
  • Determine how you want to use the various social media applications.  I use Facebook for personal friends only and have very little overlap between it and LinkedIn or Twitter.  I use LinkedIn and Twitter professionally connecting only with professional contacts in which we could help each other in some way.

If you think of this as contacting people with an ulterior motive or as an insincere approach to making friends, you’re probably doing it wrong.  When I keep in touch with my personal friends, I don’t do it with the intent of asking them for a favor sometime down the road.  But I know that if I need help someday, they may be more apt to help me out if I haven’t abandoned them for the past 18 years.

The same goes for networking professionally.  If I keep in touch with people and send them an article that they may be interested, they know that I’m interested in them and will be willing to help them out if the need arises.  It’s a matter of making friends professionally, knowing that if you stay in touch and maintain a familiarity with each other’s’ skills, either one of you can help the other out when needed.

So I’m thinking I should make this high school friend outing an annual event.  Maybe we could meet next year in Las Vegas. In the meantime, I’m going to make sure I keep in touch.

What do you do to keep up with your network?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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The Consulting Dress Code by Lew Sauder

When I started out in consulting many years ago, the dress code was very simple.  You wore a suit and tie every day; even if you were on the bench, sitting in the office all day.  After all, you never knew when a client would show up for a meeting. It wasn’t a whole lot different for women.  They wore skirt suits and high-heels.  While they didn’t wear ties, they often wore those bow thingies that looked and felt like ties.

Shortly into my career, however, a major revolution took place in the business world: the concept of business-casual Fridays.  We started seeing it at client-sites.  Nearly all of our clients required the restrictive suit and choking tie costume Monday through Thursday, but on Fridays, they allowed their employees to take off the jacket and tie and wear a pair of khaki pants.  Most consulting firms strictly prohibited their consultants from drinking the causal Friday Kool-Aid.

Keep in mind that this was a time when the button-down reputation was a significant part of the branding for some of the top consulting firms.  EDS, the consulting firm originally started by Ross Perot, had a rule that you could take your suit jacket off at your desk, but must put it on when away from your desk, even to go to the bathroom.  Arthur Anderson (now Accenture) consultants were known as clones or “Androids” because they all looked alike with their standard blue suite and white tie uniform.

I do remember some exceptions.  While at Ernst & Young, I had a client whose dress code was strictly casual.  They told us that if we showed up in anything dressier than jeans they would send us home.  They didn’t want us to stick out as consultants.  I was happy to comply.  As the consulting firms continued to require their consultants to stick to their own formal dress code at the client, they began running in to the same issue with clients.  The consultants stuck out too much on casual Fridays and were perpetuating their reputation of aloofness.  The firms began to get pressure from client management to fit in a little more.

The economy also played a role.  As the economy improved, business got better and consulting firms needed to keep expanding their workforce.  Retention became an issue.  Salaries and bonuses increased, work-life balance became a familiar term and the firms began instituting casual Fridays if the client followed the same policy or if you weren’t client-facing on that day.

Understandably, they didn’t want the relaxation of the rules to become a slippery slope.  But it was the subject of some now-humorous debate that reminds me of when Congress held hearings in the 1960s on whether the Kingsmen song “Louie Louie” was somehow harmful to our American youth. Some of the debates that stick in my mind were:

  • Whether it was appropriate for women to wear “skorts”, those pleated shorts that flared out to look like a skirt.
  • Whether it was too casual for men to wear dress shoes with tassels.
  • Should women be allowed to wear pant suits (Hilary Clinton helped settle that one)?

This was a major renaissance for consulting firm policy. Suddenly, rules were lightening up and people began to push the envelope.  There was almost too much ambiguity to set hard and fast rules.  Many places began listing clothing that was not acceptable. (Really?  Shorts and flip-flops aren’t allowed?) One of the hardest rules for firms to let go was the denim policy.  There was often a strict rule that even if the client wore jeans, consultants were strictly prohibited from wearing this appalling garment.

I remember my boss back then, a partner in the firm, advising that we should observe how their employees dress and target dressing just a notch above that.  If all else fails, try to emulate how the client’s executives dress. 

I never quite understood the debate.  I always thought that if you were more comfortable, you would be more productive.  But I also knew people who felt that the suit created a formality that caused people to be more focused.  The analogy was of two kids baseball teams.  One team wore whatever they had; tee-shirts, jeans and whatever, while the other team was decked out in matching uniforms.  It made them feel like a more cohesive team and perhaps gave them a psychological drive to perform better.

Today, dress codes are across the board.  There are still clients that require suits and ties five days a week, some have casual attire all week.  Some allow jeans on Friday, some all week.  I actually heard of an IT shop whose policy was “If you won’t get arrested for wearing it in public, it’s OK”.  I was recently at a Friday meeting at an organization whose policy allowed jeans on Friday.  There were some consultants from Boston Consulting Group in attendance.  They actually wore jeans with the un-tucked shirt look!  Holy Cow! BCGers were that casual at a client site?

The fact is, they looked nice.  And like my old boss’s advice, they were still dressed a notch (or two) above the client’s employees that day.  I tell new consultants to follow the “one notch above” rule.  If there is ever any doubt, where a suit and tie.  You can always take off the jacket and tie and be business casual for the remainder of the day.

What faux pas have you experienced in dressing for a client or business situation?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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The Jimmy Buffett Approach to Career Management by Lew Sauder

For those old enough to remember Jimmy Buffett, but are unfamiliar with him, most would probably think he’s a washed up musician from the 70s who should probably be making either the local festival concert circuit or appearances on reality TV shows.  In reality, he’s going almost as strong as he ever has.  He had big hits in the 70s including “Margaritaville” and “Come Monday”, which still get radio airplay.  But at the age of 64 he shows no sign of slowing down.

His music is not for all tastes.  It’s never been labeled accurately.  Some call it country – and he has performed some true country music – but it’s more of a Caribbean sound with the steel drums and nautical themes.  He is famous for songs about sitting on the beach and drinking Margaritas and other Caribbean drinks.  He maintains a public persona of a free-wheeling barefoot beach bum.

In reality, he’s a shrewd businessman who is a case study in personal branding and marketing.  In addition to his music, which allows him still to fill outdoor concert venues all over the nation, he owns restaurant chains, a line of foods, and liquor and beer brands among his many entrepreneurial endeavors.  He’s written three #1 best-selling books and is one of only eight authors to have reached No. 1 for both fiction and non-fiction.

It’s an irony that for an artist whose music hasn’t been precisely labeled, he’s so accomplished at personal branding.  If you know his music at all, you immediately think of sunny beaches and flip-flops.  So how does he do it?

First and foremost, he has a passion for what he does.  If you ever watch him on the stage, he’s having as much fun as anyone in the amphitheater.  That gives him the energy and stamina to do the grueling concert tours and continue turning out new products branded around his songs.

Secondly, he knows his market.  He knows as well as anyone that his music is similar to black licorice in that some people (known as “Parrotheads”) really love it while others despise it.  He also knows that he’ll never be mistaken for Jimi Hendrix or Bono.  But there is a large market that buys his music, visits his restaurants and purchases the high-end products with his name on them.  He’s found his niche and serves it well.  It serves him well too.  With an estimated worth of about $400 million, he may not be worth as much as the more famous Warren Buffett (no relation), but he’s doing pretty well for himself.

So how are you addressing your market?  Do you have a passion for what you do?  Have you identified your market niche and served it well?  When people hear your name, is there something they immediately think of?  Buffett has proven to us that you don’t have to be Lady Gaga or Bon Jovi to develop and serve a significant niche market.

I took off for a weekend last month
Just to try and recall the whole year
All of the faces and all of the places
Wonderin’ where they all disappeared
I didn’t ponder the question too long
I was hungry and went out for a bite
Ran into a chum with a bottle of rum
And we wound up drinkin’ all night

–         Jimmy Buffet, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

 

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Personal Branding

There is a lot of talk today about personal branding.  The tools available are plentiful.  Social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and the up-and-coming Cuora allow you to easily get your personal brand out to the world.

Additionally, tools such as Blogger and WordPress allow you to set up a blog or website – or both – within minutes.  If you would like to publish a book, you no longer need to submit a manuscript to multiple publishers until one of them accepts it.  You can self-publish for a relatively small outlay of cash.

If you want to write articles, online magazines – ezines – offer an excellent way to get your brand published and noticed.

The whole branding phenomenon began back in 1997 when famed business writer Tom Peters published the now famous article “A Brand Called You” in Fast Company Magazine.  If you have never read this article, I would strongly encourage you to read it now.  If you have read it, I’d urge you to read it again.  I’ve been a Tom Peters fan since he wrote the ground-breaking book “In Search of Excellence” with Bob Waterman in 1982.  Since then, he has published scores of books and DVDs about reinventing businesses and reinventing yourself for success.  “A Brand Called You” was essentially an extension of his previous writings.  It just seemed to catch traction with the Fast Company crowd and with the prevalence of Web 2.0, has continued to pick up steam.  It’s never been as important as it is today.

Over the past three years, the economy has been in the dumper.  Home values have plummeted, the stock market plunged to historic lows and unemployment has risen to historic highs.  We have recently begun to see the economy show signs of improvement, but it’s taking its own sweet time.

The stock market has risen, but shows little stability.  Home sales have started to slowly increase, but will require years of improvement before home values show any significant correction.  And employment is slowly starting to take hold

But it’s a different employment market than it was three years ago.  While the threat of a double-dip recession is not as great as it was a year ago, businesses are still reluctant to make the commitment to hiring full-time employees.  They are much more likely to turn to consulting firms to provide their labor for them.  This can range from staff-augmentation firms that provide freelance experts as needed, to full solution services firms that come in to manage and fully staff enterprise-wide projects.  When the work is done, the team or individuals can be swapped out for a different group of people with the expertise needed for the next project.  While this costs the business more on a per-hour basis, it gives them the flexibility of having the appropriate expertise for each project without committing to hiring full-time employees whose skills may not fit the next project.

With this trend in mind and the fact that more people are vying for these jobs, it’s more important than ever to work on your personal brand.  The consulting firms and the few businesses that are hiring have the luxury of selecting the best and the brightest in the job market.  What can you bring to the table that provides them with enough value to justify hiring you?  Once you identify that, how do you brand yourself to convince them of that?

To start with, you should have a presence on at least a couple of the social media sites.  LinkedIn is the minimum requirement.  Whichever ones you are on, your message should be persistent and consistent; persistent enough to contribute regular content to develop your brand, and consistent content with each post.  Signing up for ten different social media sites and never providing updates adds no persistent value.  Posting a serious article on a business issue one day and then pictures of the big bash over the weekend the next day is not consistent.

After that, start a blog and write articles with serious and consistent content.  Study and learn as much about the industry as you can.  Share your opinions and ask others for theirs.  Become part of the community, providing your input and soliciting opinions of others.  It takes a while, but eventually you will start to see a response, and then another.  Soon you are participating in a community.  When people Google (or Bing, or whatever) your name, they will find your brand.  And they’ll know what you stand for.

What have you done to brand yourself today?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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