Sunday, January 7, 2018

An eye opening mini-guide to internal and external consulting

What many people don't realize is that the world of consulting is generally split into two major categories: external (market facing) consultants and internal consultants.

External (market facing) consultants operate externally of their organization and their expertise is provided on a temporary for a pre-determined fee. Internal consultants operate within an organization but is available to be consulted on areas of specialty by various business units, leaders, and individuals.

Out of my 16 year career as a consultant, fourteen years were spent working as a market facing consultant and two years as an internal consultant.     Nothing brought more clarity to my career than the combined experiences.  Here is an observation of the similarities and differences of the skills needed for both types of consultants based on my experiences. 

Let’s start with the similarities.
·         Heightened sense of psychology.  As a consultant, you have to learn how to play sponge AND be a chameleon at the same time.  You have to have a grasp on how people think, how to communicate with them, and what triggers fear, motivation, or action.  You also have to learn how to read between the lines of what is verbally said (and what is not said).
·         Systematic approach of change.  Consultants, whether working internally or externally, have to have a keen understanding of the systems to change.  Change of people, processes, technology, and data. 
·         Ability to influence.  While influence looks differently for each type of consultant, the ability to influence is what elevates a consultant towards becoming a trusted advisor.
·         Commitment to lifelong learning.  Access to knowledge and technical expertise are key pillars of the value consultants bring to the table.  To do this well, consultants must have a ferocious appetite for knowledge and best practices.  
·         Have passion for the work they do.  Given the demanding nature of the role, passion helps make good consultants into great consultants.  Passion allows you to see the root cause of problems, helps you to sift through the noise, and helps you stay laser focused on what really matters – creating an impact for your clients.

Now…the differences.
·       Stakeholder exposure.  While internal consultants have the advantage to build longer term relationships with broad set of stakeholders and establish rapport and affinity more easily, external consultants are better positioned to take more high stakes organizational risks with senior leadership that can transform a company.
·         Different appreciation for cultural nuisances.   Internal consultants are likely to be accepted as an insider because they work for the company. Internal consultants tend to lean into the culture when making recommendations because they understand (intimately) what will work and what will not work.  External consultants bring an outsider’s perspective to a culture and might not always be attached to the recommendations made or empathetic to the impact of the recommendations.
·         How they position their expertise.  Internal consultant position themselves from a place of trust, while external consultants lead with influence, expertise, and a market place lens because they bring experiences from working with other clients.
·         Integrating with the rest of the company.  Internal consultants are able to connect the dots a lot of quickly to gauge how a recommendation could potentially have downstream impact on the company’s financials, people, processes, or technology.  External consultants may not always have the bigger picture of other programs, processes, or business line activities in mind when completing a project but is able to take on more risks with less repercussions.
·         Different agendas.  Internal consultants are seen as being an ally with more skin in the game given their personal allegiance to their company.  External consultants are objective and typically focused solely on the results than a personal affinity.

As an internal consultant you have an opportunity to learn how to better influence, navigate organizational politics, and build deep relationships, all while having an empathetic understanding of the motivational triggers of your stakeholder groups.   As an external consultant you have the opportunity to work on numerous client environments, business problems, and projects. 

In order to become a great consultant with depth to your expertise, I believe you need experience on both sides of the table.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Want to write a book in 2018? Here are my top 20 lessons learned

Within the last month, I know at least 25 people that have told me they are either writing their first book or thinking about it.  I'm excited to hear this and looking forward to seeing many more new authors in 2018 and beyond. 
As a new author publishing my first book, here are my top lessons learned from writing my first book.
1.      Know who you are writing the book for so much so that you have a defined avatar and/or persona of your reader. What do they need? How do they think? Why would they care about your book? What are their fears or motivational triggers?  What problem are you helping them solve?  Visualize this avatar every time you write.
2.      Know why you are writing the book. Make sure it is compelling and authentic to you.  If you want to write a book just to make money, here is a grounding statistic:  the average first time, non-celebrity author sells 200-300 books in the first year and depending on the business model you use to publish your book, most authors average a net profit of .50 cents to $10 per copy. 
3.      Just start writing or recording something every single day.  Refine later. But capture your thoughts early and often.  Make it a habit.   I wrote every single day - some days, I only had a paragraph in me, other days I cranked out 5 pages in an hour.  Go with the flow.
4.      While it is great to receive questions from all types of people about your book because it will help you see your book from varying perspectives, only take advice from other authors or media experts that have written and/or published a book before.
5.      If you decide to go the self-publishing route, be willing to invest if you want to create a high quality product. From beginning to pre-launch, I invested approximately $20k to ensure that my book was going to be on par with a book coming out of a traditional publishing house.
6.      Make sure your team's values, communication style, and work ethic complements yours. 
7.      Good covers and good editors make or break your book’s success.  Do not skimp on your book cover design or the editing services you will use.
8.      Only have your targeted audience read your book and give you feedback. In books the wrong feedback from the wrong reader can skew the content/direction/voice of your book.
9.      You are going to get attached to every word you write….let it go. Focus on the words that your reader needs, not what you need. 
10.  Build a platform of engaged fans and readers. Bring them along the journey of your book. If you do not have a platform, it is never too late to start. You can build the platform as you write your book.
11.  You have to get use to asking people for help for your book. A good book takes a village to create.
12.  For your first book, I suggest to not worry about the date you publish (unless your book needs to be specifically timed due to your topic).  In most cases, I recommend focusing on quality over speed.  It took me close to 3 years to finish my book and I am glad I took my time because I now have a book that I am very proud of.
13.  On the topic of dates and timing, create deadlines as a guide but do not beat yourself up if you do not make the dates.  I didn’t realize how much writing a book is a creative process and rushing the process is not ideal.
14.  Listen and trust your intuition when talking to a book agent, publisher, etc.… If it is too good to be true, it probably is.  Do not let a book agent take away your core message in pursuit of sales.  Remember your why throughout the process.
15.  Read the fine print of any contractual agreements.  Ask questions.  Conduct comparisons. Obtain second or third professional opinions. 
16.  Create a support network of people that are not afraid to give you honest feedback about your book.  Constructive feedback from the right people is oxygen for an author.
17.  Do not worry about someone else writing a similar book. They are not you having your individual experience on Earth using your voice. It will not be the same book. Instead focus on how your book will be differentiated and what uniqueness appeal you will bring to your project.
18.  Accept that you will have to continue building momentum about your book while you are writing and long after you launch the book.
19.  Do not be afraid to outsource components of your book.  For example, I used Fiverr contractors to conduct topical research or to help transcribe interviews. 
20.  At certain points in the process you will doubt your ability.  You will get tired.  You will ask if the book content is good enough. Listen to your voice and to your readers. If you have a book on your heart, you can do this. You got this!

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