19 secrets of consulting that changed my life

fortune teller 1233035451_8214d41282_oYou may not think of yourself as a consultant, but you probably are. Peter Block, in his classic book Flawless Consulting, defines a consultant as someone who has influence but not the authority to make changes. While some, like myself, are full-time independent consultants, a much larger number of people are internal consultants: people who are employed by an organization that, at times, puts them in a role of giving advice without the power to implement it.

So, how do we learn how to consult well? I’ve written before about Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust and his ten laws of pricing, taken from his brilliant book, published in 1985 and still in print: The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving & Getting Advice Successfully. If these laws didn’t inspire you to rush out and buy the book, perhaps this selection of some of his (100+) other laws, rules, and principles will. I consider this book and the sequel, More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultant’s Tool Kit, essential reading (and rereading) for anyone who consults.

Here are nineteen of my favorite pieces of wisdom from Jerry, followed by the names he gives them and brief commentary from me.

You’ll never accomplish anything if you care who gets the credit. (The Credit Rule.) Check your ego at the door.

In spite of what your client may tell you, there’s always a problem. (The First Law of Consulting.) Yes, most people have a hard time admitting they have a problem.

No matter how it looks at first, it’s always a people problem. (The Second Law of Consulting.) I learned this after about five years of being engaged as a technical consultant and repeatedly having CEOs confiding to me their non-technical woes…

If they didn’t hire you, don’t solve their problem. (The Fourth Law of Consulting.) A common occupational disease of consultants: we rush to help people who haven’t asked for help.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (The First Law of Engineering.) Must. Not. Unscrew the tiny screws just to check what’s inside.

Clients always know how to solve their problems, and always tell you the solution in the first five minutes. (The Five-Minute Rule.) Unbelievably, this is true—the hard part is listening well enough to notice.

If you can’t accept failure, you’ll never succeed as a consultant. (The Hard Law.) Everyone makes mistakes, and that can be a good thing.

Helping myself is even harder than helping others. (The Hardest Law.) The hardest things to notice are things about myself.

The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets. (The Law of Raspberry Jam.) Or, as Jerry rephrases it: Influence or affluence; take your choice.

When the clients don’t show their appreciation, pretend that they’re stunned by your performance—but never forget that it’s your fantasy, not theirs. (The Lone Ranger Fantasy.) “Who was that masked man, anyway?”

The most important act in consulting is setting the right fee. (Marvin’s Fifth Great Secret.) Setting the right fee takes a huge burden off your shoulders.

“We can do it—and this is how much it will cost.” (The Orange Juice Test.) Jerry uses an example straight from the meetings world for this one—event professionals will recognize the situation, and appreciate the insight.

Cucumbers get more pickled than brine gets cucumbered. (Prescott’s Pickle Principle.) Sadly, the longer you work with a client, the less effective you get.

It may look like a crisis, but it’s only the ending of an illusion. (Rhonda’s First Revelation.) A positive way to think about unpleasant change.

When you create an illusion, to prevent or soften change, the change becomes more likely—and harder to take. (Rhonda’s Third Revelation.) Notice and challenge your illusions before they turn into crises.

If you can’t think of three things that might go wrong with your plans, then there’s something wrong with your thinking. (The Rule of Three.) The perfect antidote to complacency about your plans.

The best marketing tool is a satisfied client. (The Sixth Law of Marketing.) Word of mouth is the best channel for new work; being able to satisfy my clients led me to a successful, twenty-two year IT consulting career without using advertising or agents.

Give away your best ideas. (The Seventh Law of Marketing.) When you teach your clients to handle future similar problems themselves, they’ll appreciate your generosity and are more likely to give you further work or good word of mouth to others.

Spend at least one-fourth of your time doing nothing. (The Ninth Law of Marketing.) There are many good reasons for doing this—for some, read Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency by Tom DeMarco.

Well, there they are, some of my favorite consulting gems of wisdom, as penned by Jerry. What do you think of my choices? Are there others that speak to you?

Photo attribution: Flickr user sanspareille