NEWS + ADVICE
Three Ways to Act Like a Consultant for Career Success
Note: This article is adapted from the author’s book, Going 1099: How to become a solo federal sub-contractor and gain control of your working life, earn more money, and unlock more free time.
If you want to become a solo 1099 sub-contractor or improve your value as an employee, it’s important to adopt the mindset and behaviors of a consultant. No, I’m not saying you should become a PowerPoint warrior and get really good at making slides.
What I am suggesting is that instead of being more passive about your work and waiting for your boss or government customer to tell you what to do, you should become more proactive and do what you can to drive projects forward.
There are several benefits to acting like a consultant:
- Your boss or government client will love you (leading to promotions or referrals)
- You’ll be trusted to make more decisions autonomously
- You’ll feel better about your work
While it may take a while to fully adopt the consultant mindset, you can implement these three techniques now and begin seeing results.
[Note: When I use “client” this could either be the government customer, a primary stakeholder, or even your boss.]
Use the “three options and one recommendation” technique
There will be many times when a client wants to do something but may not have a clear idea on how to do it. They may even say they want something but then later change their mind entirely!
That’s one of the annoying parts about being a consultant.
However, when the client asks for something and they aren’t sure how to proceed, or they want to proceed in a certain way but you think it’s a bad idea, you need to give them options.
Clients love options because people in general like to be able to choose things. They especially like to choose things when all the hard thinking is done for them and they simply have to make a choice.
Here’s how you do it. The next time the client asks you to figure something out, don’t just begin. Instead, brainstorm three ways you could accomplish the task. Let’s call them options A, B, and C.
Then, figure out for each option:
- The amount of effort and time it will take
- The positive results you will get
- The results you won’t get
Then, figure out which you would recommend and how you think they should be implemented.
After you go through this exercise you’re just going to write this up in an e-mail and send it to the client.
It will sound something like this:
I’m working on your request to blah blah blah and have come up with three options: A, B, and C.
A will take 2 weeks and will get certain results but not these results.
B will take 4 weeks and will get certain results but not the results from A.
C will take 6 weeks and will get all results of A and B but could potentially be delayed due to reasons 1, 2, and 3.
I recommend option B because blah blah blah.
Let me know which option you’d like to choose or if you’d like to discuss them further.
Your 1099 consultant”
Okay you can leave out the “love” bit but write something similar to that e-mail. It shows you are taking the client’s work seriously, that you have thought it through, analyzed the courses of actions, and made a recommendation. Now, all the client has to do is choose.
This will seriously impress the clients. In fact, you should probably start doing this as an employee if you haven’t become a 1099 yet.
Always make forward progress
Many employees, maybe even yourself in your past life, will complain when they hit obstacles and use the obstacles as an excuse for not getting their jobs done.
“Oh Bob never gave me account access because he’s out on vacation for a month so I couldn’t finish that report.”
You know what clients hate? Excuses. It just means they have to go to their bosses and sheepishly explain that because Bob took a vacation, his team of contractors couldn’t do their jobs.
As a 1099 consultant, you can really shine by figuring out ways through or around obstacles. In this hypothetical scenario for example, you could try e-mailing one of Bob’s coworkers or his boss. When they ignore you, give them a call. Tell them what you need and ask them what the best way to get it is.
When you’re just trying to get information, you should always be pulling the thread. If person A doesn’t have the answer, get them to refer you to person B, and then person C. Eventually you’ll get somewhere.
You won’t always succeed, but if you consistently attempt to make forward progress, you’ll do way better on average than most of your colleagues.
If you fail at getting something done, the worst case is you can explain all the things you tried. You want to be able to say you left no stone unturned.
Do it for them
Last summer I had my car inspected at a shop nearby. I had been procrastinating on replacing my windshield wiper blades for a long time. It’s easy to do, but they were just sitting in my trunk.
I asked the mechanic if he’d be willing to just replace the blades for me. It’s a two-minute task, and he said “yup, no problem.” No extra charge.
It is such a good feeling to have an annoying task taken care of by someone competent, especially when they didn’t have to.
Well, as a consultant, you should try to be like that shop mechanic and give your client that same feeling.
I learned this from a guy named Ramit Sethi who runs a site called “I Will Teach You to Be Rich.” It sounds scammy I know, but he has some really good content on there for freelancers/consultants.
One of the techniques he advocates is appropriately named “do it for them.” While you are of course responsible for doing the job the client hired you for, you can always win major points by just taking care of a lot of the annoying stuff adjacent to your core duties.
For example, in my projects, I periodically need the client to e-mail another government person to get something I need to do my work. It could be certain account permissions, information, whatever. It doesn’t matter.
If I just asked the client to send the e-mail, it becomes another annoying task on his to-do list.
But, if instead, I ghost-write the e-mail for him, meaning, I write the whole e-mail as if it was written by him, and just ask the client “hey could you ask X for account permissions? Here is his e-mail address and the e-mail text you can send him. Of course, feel free to edit.”
Instead of having to draft the entire e-mail and figure out what you need, the client can just copy and paste the e-mail you wrote and send it in 30 seconds to the guy you need stuff from.
It’s a small thing, but the more you take away these small, annoying tasks from your client, the more they will love you.
Now, don’t start getting the client’s coffee. The tasks should be relevant to your work. But there are lots of little things you can do for the client that they will appreciate. Coordination and administrative tasks are always good candidates.
If you need to get 5 people to a meeting, you can pro-actively find a time that works for everyone, schedule the meeting, book a conference room, and send out all the documentation or meeting materials. Be the one to take the notes and send out a summary of the meeting highlights.
Another opportunity to “do it for them” is to take ownership of a task. How many times have you come out of a meeting and no one owns the action items? Those action items never get done.
You can either volunteer to take those on or find ways to take ownership and then assign them to the appropriate people. Act like a project manager and move things forward.
There is a risk that the client or prime just starts expecting you to do these things, but if you’re providing high value on the core work you should be able to fend off unreasonable requests for trivial things.
If you implement these consultant techniques, you’ll increase your success as an employee or as a 1099 solo sub-contractor and get to enjoy the resulting praise, promotions, and income.
Dale Davidson is the author of Going 1099: How to become a solo federal sub-contractor and gain control of your working life, earn more money and unlock more free time. You can e-mail him directly at [email protected].This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 11:20 am