July 24, 2024

Trusted Consult Insights

The Right Strategy for Business Success

Insights From Two Seasoned Consultants

Consulting is an attractive career option for professionals eager to share their knowledge and experience to improve workplaces and foster growth in organizations. The freedom of a self-directed work life, choosing clients that align with your ethos, and bringing in substantial earnings are some of the draws of starting a consulting practice. With your own practice, you will encounter many challenges and growth opportunities that might not come in a traditional employment situation. You can take what you’ve learned from your years of experience in talent development to become a trusted advisor and active partner to different organizations.

To keep up with a rapidly changing landscape, every consultant can benefit from different perspectives on how their peers start, build, and scale their consulting practice. We asked two contributors for ATD’s Handbook for Consultants the questions that every consultant should ask themselves routinely throughout their career. Together, Sharon Wingron and Dolores Kuchina-Musina bring close to 40 years of experience to give you valuable insights to take into your consulting career. If you’re launching your company, are steadily growing, or need a new direction after years in business, these experts provide an honest glimpse into their practices, lessons learned, and advice for creating and sustaining a rewarding and meaningful career as a consultant.

How did you decide to become a consultant?

Sharon: With a degree in engineering management and work experience in telecommunications and manufacturing, I completed my MBA and decided it was time to figure out what I really wanted to be when I grew up. I did several informational interviews, took personality and career assessments, and reflected on my strengths, talents, and dreams. After my “year of reflection,” I determined I was destined to be in the training and development profession, and that having my own consulting business would be the best way to fulfill my purpose and have the flexibility and lifestyle I desired.

Dolores: I chose consultancy due to my inherent curiosity and passion for unraveling complex systems. Raised in a physics-centric household, with my mother and grandmother holding PhDs, I learned the value of inquiry and exploration early on. Despite this scientific backdrop, I gravitated toward contract law and negotiation, fascinated by their creative use of language to shape outcomes. Venturing from science to law allowed me to nurture my creativity while engaging in intellectually stimulating work. Pursuing a PhD deepened my understanding of contracts, particularly Other Transaction Authorities (OTAs), enriching my analytical toolkit for navigating innovation policy. As a consultant, I’m driven by curiosity and a commitment to effecting meaningful change in contracts and innovation.

What’s something unique or unconventional about your consulting practice?

Sharon: Early on, I decided I wanted “products” to pay for life and my “services” to provide a positive contribution to the world and fuel my passion. I became an independent distributor of Carlson Learning Company’s DiSC assessments, which provided the opportunity to sell the assessments directly or embed them in my services. Being a part of this network supported my ongoing professional development while the tools legitimized my offerings and gave me frameworks to build on. Over time, this evolved into being an Authorized Partner for the Wiley Workplace Learning Solutions of Everything DiSC, The Five Behaviors, and PXT Select.

Dolores: REXOTA’s consultancy stands out for its focus on fostering cross-sector collaboration and transforming innovation policy. While many firms target specific sectors, REXOTA bridges businesses, government, and academia, offering a holistic approach. It prioritizes practicality over theory, delivering measurable solutions for real-world applications. This approach reflects my diverse experience and ensures clients receive tailored actionable insights. Moreover, REXOTA’s mission to redefine acquisition practices underscores its forward-thinking ethos. By advocating education and support, it empowers clients to navigate innovation policy confidently. REXOTA’s commitment to cross-sector collaboration, practical solutions, and innovative acquisition strategies positions it as a leader in consultancy for driving impactful change.

What’s your litmus test to determine if a potential client will turn into a mutually fulfilling relationship?

Sharon: In our discovery and needs assessment discussions, I get a feel for the company and their leadership approach, as well as the services they are requesting and the outcomes they are pursuing. In addition, I seek information about their timeline, budget, and internal resources. While it is important to ensure I have the capacity and skillset to do the work and they have the resources to support a successful project, ultimately their foundational philosophy needs to align with my values and beliefs. I’ve learned that if they don’t value people as I do, the relationship won’t work.

Dolores: I employ a litmus test aligned with REXOTA’s ethos. Firstly, I gauge alignment of objectives, ensuring shared values and missions. Collaboration is pivotal; I seek clients who value teamwork for mutual success. Prioritizing practical solutions over theory is key, resonating with REXOTA’s approach. Long-term commitment matters: I assess clients’ interest in sustained collaboration. Lastly, respect for expertise is crucial; clients valuing REXOTA’s cross-sector insights foster a trusting relationship. This multifaceted evaluation ensures partnerships are productive and mutually fulfilling, echoing REXOTA’s commitment to driving impactful change in innovation policy and acquisition practices.

What’s a consulting mistake you made at the beginning of your career, and what did you learn from it?

Sharon: Early in my career, I said “yes” to too many projects. This had negative outcomes: I did work that I wasn’t the best suited for, and I over-extended myself. I’ve learned to deeply consider the needs of the client, my skills and passion for the work, and my physical, mental, and energetic capacity to deliver excellent results, both from a project outcome basis and a client relationship perspective. I’ve learned to be more realistic regarding what I’m capable of and to manage my calendar conscientiously: blocking time, noting other responsibilities and commitments, and ensuring balanced work/rest/play time.

Dolores: In my eagerness to always grow and meet the needs of my current and future clients, I sometimes took on more work than I could handle effectively, leading to high stress without asking for help. From this experience, I learned the importance of setting realistic expectations and managing workload effectively. I realized that it’s crucial to carefully assess my capacity and capabilities of myself before accepting new projects. Additionally, I learned the value of clear communication with clients regarding project timelines, deliverables, and potential challenges. I discovered the significance of prioritization and delegation. Recognizing that I couldn’t handle everything on my own, I brought on additional team members to help manage the workload. By delegating tasks appropriately and leveraging the strengths of my team, we could deliver higher-quality work within the allocated time frame. Ultimately, this mistake taught me valuable lessons about workload prioritization and the importance of building a capable team. These lessons have since guided my approach to consulting, resulting in more successful outcomes for both me and my clients.

What’s an aspect of consulting that you still find challenging? What do you find rewarding about getting to the other side of it?

Sharon: Like many consultants, I struggle to set my fees and price my projects, especially if it is a more complex, longer-term project. There are always so many variables to take into consideration. I prefer to use a “value-based” fee (popularized by Alan Weiss); however, it can be challenging to nail down the outcomes we are working toward and set up appropriate measures since we are focused on “soft/people” topics such as leadership development and culture. I am relieved when we move past the financial aspects and can focus on doing good work that makes a positive difference in people’s lives.

Dolores: Staying in tune with the rapidly evolving consulting landscape poses a perpetual challenge. The industry continually births fresh methodologies, tools, and best practices, demanding constant learning and adaptation to maintain relevance. Embracing this challenge fosters expertise expansion, novel ideation, and innovative problem-solving for clients. By investing in ongoing education and skill refinement, I establish myself as a trusted advisor equipped to navigate the dynamic business milieu. Successfully navigating evolving trends empowers me to deliver heightened value, utilizing cutting-edge tools and methodologies to drive tangible results. Witnessing the transformative impact on clients’ enterprises reaffirms my dedication to perpetual learning and innovation in consultancy.

Browse chapters 10 and 19, and download a sample chapter of ATD’s Handbook for Consultants to get more in-depth insights on setting up, running, and growing your practice from Sharon and Dolores and the more than 37 consultants who contributed to this essential resource. In each chapter, you’ll get actionable consulting tips, in-depth discussions, resources, and other tools.

How will you transform your consulting practice today?

Sharon Wingron, CPTD®, has been enabling clients to connect, adapt, and thrive in the workplace with assessment-based solutions that develop PEOPLE (personal excellence–organizational performance–leadership effectiveness) since 2002. She is an award-winning Everything DiSC by Wiley Authorized Partner and a leader in the application of psychometric assessments. Sharon travels widely and supports clients around the world.

Dolores Kuchina-Musina, PhD, MBA, PPCM, CFCM, NCMA Fellow, is the chief disruptor at REXOTA Solutions, a company in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area focused on strategy, planning, pursuit, capture, management, and administration of federal contract and agreement awards. Dolores has more than 10 years of experience in federal, state, and international public procurement.