I recently interviewed Jill Dyché (see Jill Dyché Interview: Data Governance and Data Quality Advice for Practitioners and Leaders). It was a great experience to finally meet her away from the virtual world we normally frequent.
As ever Jill imparted knowledge and wisdom with effortless ease but one of the questions I most wanted to ask came along right at the end of our session. I asked Jill to share advice for consultants looking to go solo and break into the market under their own brand as this is a prime goal for Data Quality Pro in 2012, giving individuals an opportunity to develop a career outside of the normal employer environment.
Jill came up with 3 great tips that I want to expand on.
Tip #1: “Have a unique point of view that becomes a part of your brand”
Jill commented that at Baseline Consulting (now owned by DataFlux) one of their main “points of view” was that IT should be aligned with the business, they used to create a distinctive message and competitive differentiator in the marketplace.
This is a major problem I feel in our profession, people often refuse to take a stance. This could be because they don’t want to be seen upsetting their potential prospect marketplace with strongly head views but the reality is that if you passionately believe in something and make that cause known then it’s hard for prospects to get passionate about you.
Jim Harris of OCDQ Blog is a great example of this.
His blog is incredibly popular because he puts his beliefs out there. He’s not afraid to dissect public opinion because he believes in what he writes and it’s why people keep coming back to his site time and time again. It’s also the reason why he’s in such demand for his writing services, people like to read his content and vendors need to get this kind of attention to their own white papers, blogs and webinars.
Figure out what you’re strongly held beliefs are as a consultant. What makes you unique? Why are you so different to others that you meet? Are your views at odds to the rest of the world?
Focus on one of the core opinions that you hold dear and make that part of your brand. Yes, it may alienate a large part of the market but at least you will get attention and in a sea of “so-so” consultants and consulting firms you desperately need to stand out.
Jill has built a career on delivering great value and being outspoken about what she believes in, so should you.
Tip #2: “Have the Stories to Tell”
Fantastic advice, probably the single most powerful tool any consultant can possess is the ability to tell stories. As Jill comments:
“Nothing clinches a new client like a success story or a case study and I think the reason my books have done so well is because we have got real life client examples in those books that talk about how people have deployed data governance successfully…”
Jill is spot on here and after learning storytelling techniques from resident experts like Richard White (please read “How to Create Data Quality Business Success Through Storytelling“) I found that I got far more clients. The key is to link together your introduction to a neatly crafted story.
Of course you can use this approach in lots of other situations. Management workshops, webinars, on your website – the list is endless. Importantly, you can use storytelling to affirm your point of view, demonstrating that not only is your view valid but also demonstrable.
Stories give social proof to your experience and I’m amazed how many people fail to use this simple technique during networking events and even writing on their blogs.
Tip #3: “…put your backpack on and get ready to hit the road…”
This is one of the biggest decisions a consultant has to make. It’s not easy juggling a family and commitments with the demand of clients in locations far from home but to progress as a consultant it is essential. No two companies are alike and just because you have delivered data quality or data governance to the highest levels in your retail company doesn’t mean you’ll be an instant hero when you walk into that telco or pharma organisation.
Variety really is the spice of consulting life. For many, it sucks being away from home and I understand that, it’s the main reason I quit full-time consulting in 2008 to concentrate on Data Quality Pro and be near my family but as Jill points out you must “…be ready to travel because if you are any good you are going to be in demand”
One thing I would advise here though is to be wary of taking any gig, just to satisfy your cashflow. I know many people who cover the full data quality spectrum in a bid to pick up the maximum amount of work available. I would actually offer the opposite advice. Focus on your core niche. Are you a retail data governance or data quality expert? Build up your network in this area, drive incredible value into this network with killer content and build relationships as an expert in this niche. It’s far easier to push your rates up and up as a niche expert as opposed to a good all around generalist.
What other tips would you add for budding solo consultants entering the data governance or data quality arena? Welcome your views.