I have been tracking a discussion on one of my PR groups on LinkedIn about ageism and employment. The complaint, which is not new, is that those of us “of a certain age” are being bypassed for choice agency and marcomm jobs as the hiring demographic skews younger. As Randy Block, one of the career coaches who works with my client, NETSHARE, notes, no one wants to hire mom or dad. It’s no wonder that those of use who have the experience and years are being passed over. We are too expensive, and there is the misperception that we don’t “get it” when it comes to newer tactical programs like social media.
So the grumbling oldsters like me are making noises about forming a new Graying Communications type agency to show we still got it, and we still get it. I continue to adopt a different strategy, consulting. One of the other things that Randy says is that while the younger generation of managers are interested in hiring mom or dad, they will pay them for their advice. One of the more interesting things to come to light from the discussion thread on ageism was an column by Karen E. Klein from Bloomberg/BusinessWeek on “Why Self-Employed Consultants Fail.” Having been a serial consultant for more than 20 years, I found the insights right-on and very useful, since I still violate a few of them now and again. Here are some insights from Karen’s column for those of you looking for an alternative to downsizing or early retirement.
First, according to Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting:
There are about 400,000 people in the U.S. calling themselves consultants. My estimate is that only half of them are actually working as consultants. Most enter the profession as a second career or after they’re retired.
What all these people have in common, and few realize, is that consulting is a marketing business, period. It doesn’t matter what your area of expertise is or if you are the best in your industry, unless you have the skills to sell your consulting services, you don’t have a consulting business.
What are the most common mistakes that consultants make? Here’s a list that should look familiar to those who have been there/done that, especially if you have any PR agency experience:
- You bill by the hour. The rule of thumb in the agency world is you bill your time. The problem, of course, is that time is finite; there are only so many hours in the day. And while billable time may work for an economic (read cheap)) client, it doesn’t help you build your consulting business. Better to bill on value. If you can offer a service that saves a company $1 million, then paying $100,000 for that service seems a small prices to pay, whether the task takes 1,000 hours or one hour.
- Dealing with middlemen. I always try to deal with C-level executives. If you deal with the middlemen, they you are subject to their MBOs, and their political problems, and if a project goes awry as the consultant you will be the first one thrown under the bus. You also can’t show your value to those lower down. Better to approach the C-suite and show them what you offer before you start working with the less senior staff.
- You don’t see yourself as peers with the clients. You are working for the client, but you are not an employee.You are providing a service that they value on your terms. That makes you buyer and seller on equal footing. Never forget that. The problem with most consultants is a lack of self-esteem and the confidence to stand behind the value of their service. It may be from working alone or constantly selling yourself and the fact there is no “boss” to front for you, but you can’t be a subordinate. You can’t show up with your hat in your hand; you have to sell your value.
- You don’t offer lasting value. If you can create intellectual property, such as systems or intelligence you can package for reuse, then you become an expert and your value increases exponentially. Better to sell IP than expertise.
Remember, if you can fix the client’s problem, you have value. The amount of pain the client is suffering because of that problem should dictate your fee. If you help them achieve their objectives and build their profits, they will be happy and the price tag doesn’t matter.