It’s always good to know what challenges await you in a new career, and as rewarding as independent consulting is, you will face your share of challenges once your new business gets under way.
In this post, I’d like to help you prepare for just one of those challenges—keeping up to date with consulting trends and knowledge, and staying connected with your peers and network contacts (actually, that’s two challenges, but let’s explore them anyway).
The Nature of the Challenge
You might be wondering at this point why staying connected and up to date should be challenging. Quite simply, it’s because as a solo consultant, you won’t be spoon-fed with information in the same way as consultants who work for a firm.
Similarly, while you will of course have opportunities to interact with other consultants, clients, and their employees, these interactions will typically be focused only on the projects you’re assigned to.
When you aren’t engaged in projects, you’ll spend a lot of time working alone. Ultimately, it’s just not an environment that makes it easy to stay connected and updated. Of course doing so is not impossible, but you have to work at it and that’s what makes it a challenge, especially if business is good and you’re always busy with client engagements.
How to Meet the Challenge: Staying up to Date
When you know a challenge exists, you can make plans to meet it. The following four ideas are intended to help you keep yourself up to date with trends and information pertinent to your profession as a consultant and to the industry in which you’ll be working.
Subscribe to trade journals: Just about every industry has one or more trade journals or magazines, all of which will provide valuable up-to-date information to keep you informed. You can also find a few trade journals for the consulting profession too. Examples include Consultant News, McKinsey Quarterly, and Journal of Management Consulting.
Make learning a habit: Everything, but everything comes more easily if you develop it into a habit. Staying up to date with your industry and the consulting profession are important strategic activities that benefit your business. So whether it’s by taking one day out per month for study or just reading every day over coffee for half an hour, try to work regular periods of “updating time” into your routine.
Join and participate in online forums/groups: The beauty of online groups and forums is that you jump in and read, post, or comment whenever you have a few spare minutes. There is nothing quite like professional social media for keeping in touch with the latest buzz about your profession and industry.
Follow relevant blogs: It’s a good idea to bookmark a number of the most trustworthy blogs related to your industry or to your consulting career. While the quality and reliability of blogs can vary, it’s worth regularly scanning the most popular ones. Topics or issues being simultaneously covered by a number of writers might indicate a trending development that you should be on top of.
The Other Challenge: Staying Connected
You might have noticed that reading is a common theme appearing in the suggestions listed above. That’s because reading is something that’s relatively easy to do whenever you have a few moments.
But while invaluable for staying up to date, reading won’t do much to keep you connected with others in your profession and industry.
There are ways and means to beat the solitude of life as an independent consultant though. For starters, you can make an extra effort to stay in touch with clients and prospects. Aside from keeping yourself on their radar, networking with clients can be a great way to gain important industry insights.
Attend Events and conferences
Attending industry events is another approach you can employ to stay connected. The most popular conferences and similar events are likely to be attended by professionals in your network and in any case, present opportunities to make new connections.
Actually, events provide a double benefit, because as well as offering networking possibilities, they are also excellent sources of knowledge and insight into industry trends and developments.
Life as an independent consultant can be strangely lonely, especially if your previous career was spent working as part of a permanent team, so attending the occasional conference can help to ease the sense of disconnectedness and remind you that you are part of a professional community.
Connect with a Mentor
For the same reason, I recommend you find yourself a professional mentor. Ideally this should be somebody who works in the industry you serve or perhaps another consultant. For example, if you specialise in management consulting, try to find a mentor who is a business leader.
A mentor can help you in many ways, not least by being accessible as a regular contact with whom to share your highs and lows and discuss industry news.
Your mentor may also be able to help you expand your network of connections, by introducing you to knowledgeable people in your industry or (if your mentor is a consultant) in the consulting field.
Keep Your Head Above the Parapet
I hope the ideas presented here will prove helpful. I certainly found some of them worked for me when I first set out on my consulting career (although some of them, like blogs and online groups didn’t even exist back then).
There’s no doubt that as an independent consultant, keeping abreast of trends and staying in touch with your peers can be more difficult than when you’re part of a corporate organisation.
But as challenging as it may be, you can’t afford to ignore the need…
Don’t let your head get so far down in project detail that you miss what’s going on in the wider world. Your relevance and credibility as a consultant will depend upon your industry awareness, so make that extra effort to keep yourself connected and constantly up to date.