EXPECTATIONS AND REALITIES OF INDEPENDENT CONSULTING

by Douglas Blaine Kenney

After several years as the hard-charging manager of a Manhattan-based "Big 6" national management consulting practice, I learned that I had just been passed over for Partner by the Committee and was out of a job on 12/31. I was thirty-eight years old.

Today was November 17th. That meant I had only three more paychecks coming! Bummer! I had been doing a good job for my employer. The Practice was pulling down good bucks, and I had been hoping for a raise and the yearend bonus - but as a friend in HR told me over drinks that evening, " Doug, you're just not tall enough or blond enough to make Partner here; plus, Bob doesn't like you".

'Bob' was my alcoholic, sadistic, brutal Senior Partner who literally drove my young consultants to tears with his monumental rages and his famous last minute major revisions. Many times my team would be forced to work all night before the big presentation, rewriting everything from scratch according to his whim - and then go before the Client drained and grainy at 10 AM to give the presentation; and then stand up for the customary grilling by the Client's lackeys with a brain full of cotton candy.
Too much "pay your dues" going on here.

I'd had enough of that type of boss during my years in the Marine Corps and later, at Citibank (sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between those two organizations); but the reality of the situation was, that I had lost my Big 6 career.

What to do?

Why not start my own consultancy? After all, I knew how to run a consulting business, didn't I? I'd been running this Big 6 national practice for years. I've been making steady big bucks for "The Firm" - why not make those same big bucks and keep them for myself!

Yeah! Great idea! So I did it. And I got rich at it! Clients paid me - directly - almost
Five Million Dollars in consulting fees, during the time I ran my own consultancy.

I began as an Independent Consultant 22 years ago. Life is full of surprises, and I sure found a lot of them, out here in the real world outside the Fortune 500 and the big management consulting firms.

For instance:
I'd had a reputation as being a good planner in the corporate world
- I'd introduced PERT into Citibank while I was there; I'd planned and budgeted and supervised many successful large technology projects at RCA and Thrift Transfer Services and Citibank - and at "Big 6" I'd managed a bunch of major studies and projects - all successful.

But shocker! In the real world of singleton consulting, I found that most of my planning for my own business somehow failed to work! I could do it for the Client with his money, but, when it came to my project and my bucks, I just couldn't be objective,
and I now know why surgeons never operate on members of their own families.
My fears and aspirations - and even my ego - kept getting in the way of rational planning!

In trying to market my own consulting services, for instance - despite my experience with "Big 6" consulting - I did everything wrong!

In my book "THE WISE MAN'S GUIDE TO THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY INDEPENDENT CONSULTING PRACTICE" I tell you everything that I did wrong in those early days and I show you how an independent consultant can avoid my mistakes and make money doing it.

The first real world lesson is that - as a "singleton consultant" or "1099 consultant" or "independent contractor" or whatever you call yourself - you cannot let yourself make the same business mistake twice. It's your money, dummy!

Mistakes waste money that could have gone into your retirement plan! You've got to be a really quick study on the practical aspects of your business - i.e., the marketing, the sales, finding an accountant who actually understands what it is you do, before you set up your bookkeeping system; actually proofreading the galleys before your local printer runs off those 10,000 sheets of four-color stationary that you need for the big Report; getting exactly the right mix of phone/fax/internet lines properly on order with the phone company before you actually need to make all those sales calls, etc.

As an independent consultant, you're in a horse race with the clock!
You've got to build up that retirement plan before you age out, or before your now-hot skill goes obsolete; or before the stock market crashes again, or before you develop a medical problem that prevents you from traveling, etc. You have no time to waste!
You simply can't afford to make the same mistake twice!

Here's just one of my dumb mistakes! I spent a fortune over the years on expensive office furniture and decorating work for my little Home Office there in my walkup apartment near the railroad station - but only once in 22 years, did I ever have a Client there!

In my book, I show you how best to set up your home office, and I teach you where to meet the Client in person on your own impressive neutral turf, without spending a lot of money. Because if you've got any extra money, you want to put it in the pension plan, not in your office.

Over the years I spent a lot of money and time "keeping up" with my field - not just the new technology, but also the key players. Technology changes in an evolutionary fashion, and you can keep pretty much abreast of the new stuff just by working in the field -

But the key players and the buzz words of the moment are fast-changing fashion items that will be used to judge and qualify you when potential Clients meet you; if you don't respond correctly, you don't get the Job.

Buzz words originate in the "B" schools and in the think tanks of industry leaders and in the marketing departments of the hot manufacturers. To learn the Buzz words you've got to continually talk to people in your field, and also, cruise the Internet boards that cater to your skills; you need to subscribe to (and read!) the trade papers, magazines, and book clubs, in your field.

You've also got to read the same newspapers your Prospects read every day - so that you can talk about general interest stuff at lunch, or on the golf course. You've got to attend those important trade shows and seminars - including cruising the hospitality suites set up by the vendors to attract their Prospects - because that is where people see you and you get seen, and people know that you're active in the field.

Attend evening classes if you need to learn a hot new operating system like LINUX, or how to use a useful package like MS PUBLISHER (you'll be surprised how many times your success at a new Client will hinge on knowing something like this). Here is money and time well spent - this is part of what the Client is paying you to know.

Your potential new Client will make his permanent assessment of you during his first twenty seconds of conversation with you! If during those critical twenty seconds, you unwittingly reveal that "ATM" means "Automatic Teller Machine" to you, when "ATM" means "Asynchronous Transmission Mode" to him; or you think "ABA" means, "American Bar Association", while to him, it means "American Bankers Association" - then hey, Buckaroo - you're history, even before your crumpled business card stops bouncing in his office waste basket!

Yet, despite all the mistakes I've made, I've learned how to sell my consulting services directly to the Client; no "bodyshop" to take the lion's share of my fee. I've advised 58 major Clients over the past twenty-two years of my own Practice - everybody from JP Morgan and Citibank and the National Commercial Bank of Saudia Arabia in New York, to Jones Intercable in Sacramento, to the Construction Bank Of China in Shenzhen, to the "Handelsgesellschaft fur Bank und Buro-Ausstattungen Normmobel Kassenraumeinrichtungen Ges. I.e." in Vienna - helping them to plan, purchase and install almost one billion dollars worth of technology and telecommunications equipment, software and services.

I've also found crooks in their management and bugs in their software, and electronic bugs in their phones. And, I've written tens of thousands of pages of consulting studies and reports that few ever read, but for which I was highly paid.

I wrote and published a couple of books, and invented a couple of gadgets - several successful, and one which made me a lot of money.

Over the years, I've had many opportunities to serve as an Expert Witness in Court cases in several of the fields of which I'm skilled - and I've had a lot of fun doing this. I've made a lot of money at Expert Witness work.

Despite all the dumb mistakes I made during my twenty-two year career as an Independent Consultant, somehow I managed to invoice just under five million dollars in consulting fees right off my own PC's printer, and to take those checks - payable to me, alone - to the bank; and I did all this while living and working out of a $650/month Long Island apartment hard by the railroad station and the expressway, and close by both JFK and LGA. With my wife doing all the typing and administration. You can do it too!

I carried those invoices in and presented them to my Clients, and then carried back the checks and put them in the bank. No "Boss". No "Headhunter". No "Agency". No middlemen! All Mine!

When the Client failed to pay me - which happened rarely, but sometimes - I figured out some surefire ways to get paid - and I teach you how to do that, in my book.

Earlier I said I found a lot of surprises, when I left my "Big 6" management consulting firm to start my own Consultancy. The first surprise was the difficulty of getting to decision makers who you haven't met before, to make your pitch for work. "Doug Kenney from … where?" Went the secretarial mantras, with the "…where" spoken from between clenched teeth, and with a rising inflection. You see, all those years I'd been introducing myself to executive secretaries as "Doug Kenney from Coopers & Lybrand or Citibank or RCA …" and then walking right in.

Silly me! You see - all those years I had thought that they were reacting to the "Doug Kenney" part of that - in reality, they had only heard the "Coopers & Lybrand" part!

What to do? This was an enormous problem - because while for a few months I could pay the rent by getting work through people I knew - at some point I would have to make rain with strangers.

My book "THE WISE MAN'S GUIDE TO THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY INDEPENDENT CONSULTING PRACTICE" covers all this, and more! Go to the "ORDER FORM" and use either check or credit card, for your copy, today.

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