So you want to be a consultant?


The term ‘consultant’ is bandied around quite a lot sometimes to add kudos to a role, but it applies generically to sales personnel, advisors, senior clinicians in the NHS, and to my mind is an over-used but under-defined word





Many people talk about becoming a consultant because they see it as a chance to share their experience with others and extend their career. Some see it as a lifestyle choice. Whatever – it can be a fantastic vocation (rather than a job) that introduces you to a wide range of interesting projects and challenges. You can work for established firms or partnerships (which provide more security) or go out on your own, as I have. To be successful you need to be dedicated and take some considered risks, but when you reach stagnation in the day job the risk might be worth taking in order to break through the glass ceiling of ageism, or working for a company (as I did) where FM and Catering is not their core business.

From time to time new consultants arrive on the scene, some intentionally and others filling gaps between jobs or as a result of an unfavourable company reorganisation.

Everyone has valid reasons – mostly they want to remain engaged, have their opinions valued and make real and lasting change.

Those with a long-term plan will make it because ‘overnight success’ could take up to ten years to achieve. You have to believe in yourself and clients have to believe in you. Trust, commitment and shared values are the key attributes of a good consultant.

Self-help books tell you about what you should do and assume you have written some kind of life plan while at school. Most of us haven’t and let’s face it, there are other more interesting things at the time to distract you from future realities. Consulting can be more of a calling than an intent, and is not everyone’s cup of tea – ‘feast or famine’ is a term often used where you are totally inundated with too much work or nothing at all, which puts people off, as does the anxiety, stress and inconsistency of work, especially in the early years. The key is flexibility – have a plan of what you want to achieve, but consider all relevant opportunities because they all help. And don’t be obsessed with fees and titles. Being a big cheese in your old job doesn’t mean you have that sway as an independent.

Working in different jobs in your career certainly pays off. I started on the shop floor – porter, waiter, chef. It was a great insight into what it’s like on the coalface rather than some ‘back to the floor’ gimmick we see by desperate management trying to curry favour with staff. It can help shape your opinions, identity, what really motivates you and consider better ways of doing things.

Despite what is said, qualifications are important and doing a degree, for instance, gives you a grounding in rational thinking, analysis and presentation. It’s not essential, but it helps – though experience can be good enough. Most importantly you have to be yourself, good at social interaction and networking. In management, it helps to progress steadily through the ranks. The better contractors offer great development programmes, as I had with Sutcliffe, learning essential skills in time management, budget control, and the art of delegation.

Success is built largely from referral, recommendation and repeat business – ours focuses on four key sectors (healthcare, B and I, government and sports and leisure) in FM and Catering. Working client side is a must, especially for a well-known brand or organisation. Don’t listen to the cynics, you can’t go wrong working for Google, BBC, HSBC or any of those large corporates.

With a contractor your core business is the number one consideration, with a client, FM and Catering is way down the list unless staff start complaining about prices, the food, room temperatures, safety and so on.

In ten years we have grown our business because we have delivered the goods and we get on with our clients. They want the experience and guidance, they don’t want someone who is just playing at it.