#1: ConfidentYou have to look at a challenge and say, “I could do that.” It might even help if you are a little megalomaniacal about your thinking; for example: “I can do anything, given enough time and information.” Now that we live in an era in which information is almost always only a google away, the question becomes, “Do I have enough time to master this?” Most of the spectacular failures of consulting engagements probably result from a false positive answer to that question — stemming from the very hubris that makes it possible to be successful.
#2: Problem solverYou need to be passionate about solving problems, because that is what you’ll be doing all day. Whether it’s a problem with computers, logistics, or personnel, your clients want you to solve it. Consulting may be for you if you like math and word problems; find problems in daily life more of a challenge in optimization than a drag; and enjoy playing a difficult game or solving a tough puzzle.
#3: MotivatedYou have to be able to keep yourself on task, especially if you work from a remote office. If you can’t control your tendency to procrastinate, you’ll never get anything done — and if you never get anything done, you won’t keep your clients.
#4: ObsessiveMany of the problems you encounter will take a lot of mental juice to solve, which means that you need to be able to focus your attention for long periods of time. You also need to be able to continue to process a problem in the background when you’re not giving it full attention. Some of my best solutions come to me in my sleep, in the shower, while taking a walk, or while engaged in some other activity.
#5: Lateral thinkerWhile it’s important to focus on a specific problem, you should also be able to see beyond the task at hand and question the assumptions that led to the problem; this can help you predict problems and find opportunities that your client hasn’t considered.
#6: PersonableYou’ll be involved in more than one company’s culture, and in each case, you’ll be seen as an outsider at the beginning. You need to be able to win the confidence of strangers who may beinitially threatened by your presence. A big dose of humor works wonders, especially when you direct it at yourself.
#7: FlexibleYou will have to accommodate the priorities of multiple clients, as well as be flexible about managing your time and money. For instance, you might get an emergency phone call in the middle of the night that you can’t put off until morning; your monthly income will wax and wane as projects come and go; and sometimes you might have trouble collecting your money on time.
#8: AssertiveAlthough you try to be flexible on most things, you must stand your ground on the things that matter — like getting paid and maintaining your integrity. You have to be willing to lose your client in order to defend your position in both of those cases.
#9: HonestIn the long run, it is always best to speak the truth. Your integrity is your most valuable asset; once you lose it, it’s hard to get back.
#10: RealisticThis one seems to conflict with the others, but it actually tempers the other nine traits. You have to realize that you can’t work 24/7. You must give yourself a life outside consulting, so you don’t burn out. You can’t start thinking about all your outside activities in terms of how much potential billable time they’re costing you. And you have to be willing to admit when you make a mistake or need someone’s help. You’re not Superman… you’re a consultant.
By Chip Camden