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Confessions of a Business Consultant: 14 Surprising Truths About The Work

I’ve been consulting for over 20 years, and that’s about the right window to have enough scars, humbling war stories, and some wins to talk about the real work. You stick to the gig and you’re weathered and refined into patience, humility, and hopefully good humor. In this post, we’ll go over some confessions and truths about the job, at least from the Heroik perspective.

1. The Real Value of Consultation: Value Based vs. Hourly.

Hourly rates? That's old school. Value-based fees are where the real magic happens. When you're clock-watching, you're not value-watching. Let's shift the focus from hours to outcomes.

Hourly billing removes focus from value delivered on problems addressed, and shifts focus to time management. Think about it. Clients will stare at the clock and ignore the conversation, when the conversation is the point. This helps nobody. Clients will stare at the clock and ignore the conversation. This nukes the engagement and helps nobody. Don’t stalk the clock, stalk the outcome.

2. The Time Management Trap

Many clients struggle with time management. And the biggest consulting firms exploit this to no end, letting you ramble on while they cash in. But do you want to chat or change? A results-driven consultant will steer the ship, even if it means cutting you off mid-sentence.

It’s important to understand what an hourly rate means: ANY and I emphasize the word “ANY” time spent on the client’s behalf is billable time, including the brilliant ideas in the shower. If their mind is on your situation, you can bet the meter is running. Do you want to attempt to fight the meter, or measure what matters?

3. The Therapy Misconception

You're here for solutions, not a therapy session. While a listening ear is valuable, it's the actionable insights and strategies that you're likely really after. It’s important that clients distinguish their goals with consultants, so engagements can be designed accordingly. Peace of mind is a good outcome, but there’s probably more desired than the calm after a 5 hour word vomit session.

4. The Modern Consultant's Arsenal

Think of us as the Army Rangers of the business world. We're not just communicators; we're organizers, operators, and educators. And our skill stack? It's diverse and deep:

  • Communication: Fluent in corporate lingo, tech talk, and straight-shooting street speak.
  • Collaboration: Digital literacy, data analysis, hyperlearning and real-time synchronous and asynchronous collaboration skills across many tools and methods is a must.
  • Organization & Management: Where data meets narrative, and chaos turns to clarity.
  • Tech Expertise: The geeky side of us you hired for.
  • Teaching: We don't just do; we empower others to do.

5. The Language Paradox

Clear communication should be a premium, right? Wrong. The corporate world often pays more for ambiguity than clarity. But remember, clarity drives results, not jargon.

Oftentimes language in the enterprise is culturally and intentionally soft, vague, duplicitous and obfuscatory. That’s putting it nicely I’m well aware, people will swear up and down that they don’t do this, but there is decades of data on this subject, people pay to be told what they want to hear, to a tune and melody that they want to hear. How we feel or what we claim is often at odds with how we actually behave.

6. The Corporate Douchebag Tax

Vague language to avoid  pinpointing the what and who at the root cause of the situation? That costs extra. Directness saves time, money, and misunderstandings. If you want sugar-coated tales that give the opportunity to defer blame and responsibility, expect a hefty bill, because writing that kind of fiction involves heaps of mental gymnastics.

A savvy consultant will size a client up in the blink of an eye. If there’s an aptitude to defer and deflect, or to hide among vague language, then the odds are, there’s low operational integrity, and this is a huge determining factor in the overall success of the engagement. Bottom line, you get a lot further, faster, and more economical, with sincerity and ownership. This is commonly said but not commonly practiced.

7. Kindness Over Niceness

I'm here to give it to you straight, even if it stings. In the wild world of business, it's the raw truths that propel us forward. The market doesn’t care about nice or fair, it feasts on opportunity and leverage. I’m your river boat captain, and helping you survive is more important than helping you feel good about yourself. It’s not that the rest doesn’t matter, it’s super important to know that my first job is to bring the big brother or dad energy to the situation. And that means helping you choose the road less stupid, smacking your hand before it touches the hot stove top, or to get you not to stick your tongue in the desk fan, so be it. Stupid should hurt, so that you learn, but I’m trying to prevent catastrophic damage.

Consultants want the engagement to be fun and engaging, but we have to deal with priorities first – like keeping things operational and surviving. Surprisingly, there’s a good swath of people who prefer to feel good over performing well. Watch the discovery channel and you’ll get an idea of what happens to them.

8. Beyond PowerPoints : You Need Intervention Not Performance Art.

You need actionable strategies, not just pretty presentations. More often than not, you need a “Scotty” from Star Trek  in Engineering, who knows the machines inside and out, knows how data and people lie, where, and how. They know where to take a hammer and bang on the machine to get it working, or to MacGyver what you’ve got to get it to be an acceptable mitigated solution.

There’s a rise of the cult of celebrity motivational speakers who also claim to be consultants. They are hired with reckless abandon to give PowerPoints, presentations and sell more books. Then the movie ends, the fairy dust wears off, and you’re right where you started: Nowhere. Don’t get me wrong, I am a sucker for a Navy Seal who wants to talk about kicking ass in the business world, but the reality is, there’s more to the world of business than motivation and military metaphors. There’s real mechanics in play. So be sure to balance the performing artists with the performers. They’re not the same.

9. The Driver's Seat Dilemma:

You might want to take the wheel, but sometimes it's best to let the expert drive. We guide you to make informed decisions without getting lost in the weeds. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s better to offer managed services over dragging you into the trenches with me shoulder to shoulder to show you the ropes of the new program we’re building. There’s just a balancing point  that allows you to take full advantage and credit for good decisions, as opposed to being neck deep in the stack. You want to make solid, data-driven, and informed decisions, not muck up the process and execution.

10. The Hidden Cost of Learning

Education is invaluable, but it comes with a price: the cost of failure. If you're diving headfirst without guidance, be prepared for some bumps along the way. Even with guidance, if learning on the fly is part of the program, you absolutely need to budget for failures and learning curves along the way. How important is learning topic X to you? The real learning happens when you recover from a failure of some kind. Sadly, what tends to happen, if a client is in a trial by fire, instead of failing forward and getting back on the horse, they quit and abandon their own efforts.

Don’t let this happen to you. Quitters never win. Study, review, analyze and refine your efforts, don’t quit.  Make sure your resources and budgets aren’t based on getting everything right the first time. It’s not going to happen. There are always SNAFUs.

11. It’s Rarely Rocket Science – It’s Usually Application of Effort and Discipline

You’d expect the majority of a consultant’s gigs to be centered around their subject matter expertise. But far more often than not, it’s the fundamentals that are fundamental. It’s not fancy technology, it’s learning the fundamentals that proves to be the centerpiece of the engagement. Don’t get me wrong, we get engaged to thread some very small needles and do rocket surgery on the back of a bouncing Humvee screaming through the desert, or the business equivalent. The basic broad strokes are usually the starting points, because the bug guts (finer details) don't offer as high a yield, until you’re competent enough to use them properly.

12. The Reality of Change – We’re Going to Be Here a While

Transformation isn't an overnight affair. On average, interventions span 22 months. Quick fixes are myths and marketing ploys. Real change demands time and commitment. Many situations did not appear overnight and won’t be solved overnight either. Many took years of multiple contributing factors to create that tangled crow’s nest and clusterf*** a client may be wrestling with, and they take a while to untangle.

Almost every “fast” option you’ll be offered will be far more expensive and far more risky. The consulting world absolutely knows the masses are addicted to the idea of instant results. Solutions are priced accordingly. Band-aids are fast, teaching a toddler not to touch the stove when it's hot (and assume it’s always hot), is more valuable. Consultants sell both – but ultimately you choose.

13. The Decision-making Formula:

With Heroik engagements, and managed services, we try to streamline decision-making down to one problem, three solution options, one final choice. We set the stage for your success. The confession here is there is no trick. It’s not a trap. These are the viable options and they have their costs and benefits. We really want you to win, so we can move on to the next problem or next stage. What happens here though, is clients like to call audibles; they try to come up with a 4th or 5th option with no basis in understanding of the implications, and that hasn’t been analyzed for cost/benefit, and they force a play that can make things a lot worse. There is a simple fix to avoid negative outcomes here: have your consultant analyze your added options. If it’s not worth vetting, it’s probably not worth doing. The ready-fire-aim crowd (usually younger or less experienced) hate this filter, but it’s how we save their bacon.

14. Information Isn't Enough

Identifying a problem is just the beginning. Real consultants, like Heroik, don't just point out issues; they roll up their sleeves and get to work, guiding you from challenge to triumph. Here’s the thing, you can read, hear and listen to someone present a roadmap, but think it is simple or straightforward. It’s really like looking at a satellite view of the Saharan desert – seems pretty straightforward, but walking it, doing it, and surviving, let alone succeeding is a different thing entirely.

Relaying the roadmap often sounds either overly simplistic or overly complicated. We try to limit complexity in our plans but sometimes it’s necessary.  There are always known unknowns and unknown unknowns you have to plan to encounter and rely on the training and capability of the team you’re working with. If you watch closely, you’ll notice when your consulting crew encounters the unexpected, and has to improvise, adapt and overcome. Those moments are exactly why you engage consultants like Heroik on the ride in the first place.

Conclusion

In the world of business consultancy, there's more than meets the eye. It's a realm of truths, half-truths, and some surprising revelations. With Heroik by your side, you're not just getting a consultant; you're partnering with a game-changer.

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