Moving from Data Pollen to Honey: contracting bee to consulting bee

I've been asked twice this week how I moved from doing contracts to independent consultancy. In other words, going from one style of bee to another? In this blog post, I'll offer some advice on how I did just that.

Like a beekeeper needs tools to do their job properly, a data-driven independent consultant is going to need a few tools. Here are some recommendations from me.

 

You have to 'do' in order to 'be' a consultant

In your contract role, own everything you do. Be the best at it, whatever that is. Whether you regard it as menial or not - just do it, just knock it out of the park. Be the consultant you'd want to be, at your side.

Customers never document anything. As someone who is preaching best practices, you'll have to do it for them. I use the following for automatic documentation:

Pragmatic Works Doc xPress

ApexSQL Complete

RedGate SQL Toolbelt

Kutools for Windows - seriously, buy this. Best $39.00 time saver ever. You'll get it back in saved time.

I use all three of the automatic generation tools, and I'll take the bits that I need, and format it quickly using Kutools in Word for Windows. Why am I using Kutools? Well, the automatic document generation tools all produce documents, but they are inconsistent with each other. I want a clean finish, something that looks like it has been done with Paletti

Once I've generated the automatic documentation, I will change the documents as I need, in order to fit in with my structure. The documents are often very large and a summary is often enough. I may provide the documentation as a separate document.

Sometimes my customer will have at least one of these, but they will have gone out of date or expired. Occasionally, I see this pattern where orgs will start off documenting their solutions initially, but they don't do it incrementally.  

Getting Work

I think it's all about good content. If you are moving into consultancy, then it's good to generate a mix of projects, some of which have regular income, such as a contract, and then do consulting work that I do in the evenings. The consulting work has higher impact and reach e.g. writing a book, for example. I haven't done an actual contract for a couple of years now but this is how I balanced the books, with the long view of consultancy in mind.

How do you get work? Good content. All that comes from blogging, really. If you start blogging, people find you. 

Managing Work

Evernote everything. Emails, documents, manuals. You'll need their tagging and document-reading capability. Evernote allows you to take notes in a fluid, unstructured, and human way. It's also very light on your mobile devices. I have used it for five years and I could not live without it. My life, personal and professional, is in Evernote. Get into the habit of taking notes, whether it is audio, scratch notes, full documents, scans, whatever. 

I journal daily using Penzu. I have a paid subscription for Penzu, like I do with Evernote. It helps me to understand my own patterns of behaviour, conversations, things to keep on my radar.

Evernote helps with two things: storage and search. You'll spend less time searching for things. And don't whinge about their pricing model changes etc. It's fantastic value for money. Penzu helps me to see context; we live in such a world of here-and-now that it's hard to see achievements, how far I've come, and to see above the parapet and more clearly into the distance. As a consultant, I need to have a vision that's clear and long-term, not just here-and-now. There is nothing wrong with keeping an achievement journal and a things-to-learn-from journal, so that you learn from both. These achievements and things-to-learn-from items can be big and small.

For productivity, I do bullet journalling which I do in Evernote, but I log everything long-term in Any.Do and ToDoIst. I love the Any.Do interface, but ToDoIst fulfils my need to list things. One of my friends has put colouring images into her bullet journal in order to improve mindfulness as she goes. Fantastic idea!

A 'No' to something is a 'Yes' to something else. And that includes your time.

I've also got better at saying 'no' to things which aren't a good spend of my time. A 'yes' to something is often a 'no' to something else, so I'm learning to pick my 'yes' responses better.

Results

I have a 'pack' is that everything is done professionally and properly.

I have proven results at the end of the project.

As a consultant, it is about results and outcomes; not sticking rigidly to a process without a thought for the outcome. This can be a mind-shift. Occasionally, I see people getting 'institutionalized' where they have been with an org and they are all about the process, not about the outcome.

As a consultant, you are measured by your outcome and results, and you need to think about how the process can work for you in order to achieve that.