Last week I celebrated a decade of consultancy with you. And like all life experiences, there are lessons you learn. Some to grow you others to wake you up. Here are just a few of some of the lessons I have learnt over the past decade.
- Growth is deliberate – You grow or you stagnate. You have to make a deliberate effort to fight yourself. Because we all do get complacent. Growth is painful sometimes, but it is necessary if you want to realise your complete potential.
- Choose your clients not the other way round – In the life of a consultant, you go through cycles of personal and client evolution. Should I charge more, or offer more services, should I try something new altogether, revise my packages? It’s an endless self-evaluation that normally may determine who you want to keep working with. Some clients grow with you, others stagnate because they are comfortable or are too stubborn to put in the work. At times the new growth comes with a new direction which will mean you have to make the deliberate choice of letting go of clients. I made a deliberate choice to not work with clients who dream small for their organisations, I worked with them long enough to know they will make me hate what I do.
- Revise your prices annually – with each year, you get more experience, which means, like government taxes, you need to revise your rates commensurate to your experience, offering and yes, inflation. This at times may defy industry standard prices. I realise for most industries in the creative space there are no cut and dry rates, it’s more of a buyers market. But you have to be deliberate in choosing how to set yourself apart. Sure, you will lose clients, but who wants to run around chasing a cheque for eight months? Not me.
- Do not compromise on contracts – I learnt fairly quickly that anyone or an institution slow to sign a contract, will be slow to commit to work and even slower to pay. The litmus test after a discussion with a client is the speed with which they either provide a contract or sign the one I have prepared.
- The customer isn’t always right – I know some may disagree, but from my experience, 95% of clients I have worked with over the past decade didn’t fully understand what they needed or wanted. I spent more time educating them first and in some cases, the problem wasn’t communication it was their lack of vision or poor operations ( I will be writing more about this in the coming weeks).
- Be willing to teach – You are an expert in your field, don’t assume everyone fully understands the intricacy of your work. By teaching people and providing a more in-depth understanding, they will value your work and time better. And with that, they will be willing to pay your worth. I admit it isn’t easy, it is a labour of love.
- Be willing to learn – this goes hand in hand with growth. Don’t assume you always know what problem the client has. Every business has it’s nuances which you need to take time to understand and even research.
- Never start with Price – most Kenyans always start with the costing of your work because they automatically think they know what they need. Sometimes they may be spot on with the need. But most of the time, what I have realised is the client assumes the scope of work to solve their problem may be simple and assume it’s cheap. Even if all you need is website copy, it’s not just about writing things; you need to understand the organisation, its clients and what sets the organisation’s solution apart to create content that suits those needs. That will cost more than 10 or 20,000 shillings people demand. As in point six, you constantly have to teach people, so they understand why you do what you do and how you do it. That way they will understand your costing when it emerges to be much higher than the client anticipates. I always tell my clients that communication for their organisations is an investment in who they are, not what they do, and it’s not a task to be accomplished for likes and internet trends.
- Be very clear on your work scope before you get started – As consultants, you generally operate with clear work plans with clients to ensure you offer value for money. But as a general cultural practice in this market what starts as a clear 4 services or tasks, will turn in to a laundry list of things. In other words, Kenyan clients don’t respect work scope at ALL! People fight the concept of what you pay for is what you get. You pay for Ala Carte you don’t get a buffet. You have to reinforce the boundaries or you will tire and become resentful. And when that happens you get put off the work you do.
- Skill Diversification is essential – This doesn’t necessarily mean you are a jack of literally all trades on earth. In your industry of expertise converse yourself with as much as you can. I am a communication consultant; but I am conversant in organisational strategy and development, operations, fundraising, human resources, communication strategy development, graphic design, web development and management, brand development, print production, advertising, journalism, public relations, media relations, videography, photography, sound production, various writing styles (copywriting, fiction, news), event planning and management etc. I don’t do them all, but I know what all these various people and areas of expertise do. That allows me to know what the finished product my client needs from all these areas of expertise and I can offer more solutions to my clients’ needs. That makes me more valuable than if I only was a copywriter for example.
- Don’t Give Up – Keep Pushing – It is so sexy when you call yourself a consultant of some kind. But it really isn’t easy. It is easier to work for someone and be guaranteed a paycheck; and for some people, that is the perfect option. If you are more of the consultant type like myself, that means constant reinvention. You need to keep at it. Keep reading, keep researching, meet and network with people it always offers fresh ideas to improve yourself and your offering.
- Expand your Horizons – Kenya is a great country and it boasts the largest economy in East and Central Africa. But let’s be honest here. On the scale of things, it is a very small market. Purchasing power is low, and general business practise is constant budget tightening. It’s time to start thinking cross-border and continents. The internet offers some solutions there. But you can also find other avenues of partnerships and if you are daring enough to dream and go big enough venture capital is a way to go. We love Kenya, but as we look at some metrics it’s a very small pond to play in. We are whales, let’s swim in the ocean of the world.
- Take a break – if you don’t you will die. I kid you not. I have been ill and bedridden so many times as a result of working insanely. You need to figure out a work schedule that works for you and allows you to find rest and recuperation. Your mind needs it as much as your body. You can’t create anything if your brain is dying from exhaustion. I have fought and succeeded in having my weekends and holidays. And if I am burning up faster because of the workload, I am learning to listen to my body and I take a break, even if it’s for a week. That’s a luxury of consultancy. As long as you communicate to clients in good time, they will understand.
Here’s a toast to another decade of consultancy!