Useful tips, but guide won't make you rich

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 December, 2008, 12:00am

If you read The Global Consultant just for its rare direct references to China, the mainland would appear to be populated by pragmatic Confucians hosting the Olympic Games and beset by nightmarish airports and environmental problems. The book seems to mention Bangkok and Sri Lanka more often than the world's fourth-largest economy.

With that in mind, would-be global consultants with an interest in the mainland are better off looking at the general ideas instead of the specifics Alan Weiss and Omar Khan have to offer.

The book's aim is to give people with a 'passion' for consulting, whether it is in aviation or accounting, the tools to work around the world and make a million dollars while they are at it. A lot of the examples border on cheesy, and it is hard to imagine many people translating the principles into a really lucrative career, but there are some useful pointers to take away.

The most constructive chapter is the section on value-based fees, the idea that a consultant charges for his or her contribution to a client's business outcomes. Rather than billing a client for time units or labour, the authors recommend that consultants charge according to results, which can include lower stress, sales increases, fewer customer complaints and improved reputation. Buyers can be resistant to this kind of approach, and consultants need to follow a few rules for overcoming objections.

Among the points to keep in mind are not quoting a daily rate, always presenting various options for the buyer and emphasising the need for individual rather than cookie-cutter solutions. Billers also have to make sure that they are never delegated to anybody other than the strategic decision-maker, because lower-level staff members are paid to conserve budgets rather than achieve results.

The authors suggest that by not charging by the time unit or workshop, consultants can avoid becoming a commodity and lumped into the same deliverable category as other service providers. It is also the only way to reap major financial rewards from the sector.

Consultants can try to set themselves apart and establish their credentials as 'sole source' suppliers by writing books on their topic, creating unique intellectual property for their project and by demonstrating distinctive working or educational credentials.

Weiss and Khan also win points for refusing to attach any value to post-workshop 'happy sheets', the feedback papers filled in by participants at the end of a session. The authors are less interested in whether the participants enjoyed the workshop than their impact on outcomes. 'Invite feedback from those you respect,' they say, and do not 'become an absorbent for everyone's point of view being dumped on you'.

As with many 'how-to' business books, the advice in The Global Consultant varies from the mundane to the potentially useful. The breakout nuggets of guidance on the sides of most pages swing from the homespun - 'If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of others' - to the genuinely helpful tactic of offering a 10 per cent fee reduction for full advance payment to organisations that demand an up-front discount. The latter is the kind of information that really travels across borders.