Technically, What is a Consultant?

I recently bought a new (used) car.   After 3 long days of testing vehicles—and many hours doing online research– success! But, the buying process is horrid. It should be joyful to buy something expensive that you want and need, but it can be dreadful. And most people I have talked to echoed these sentiments.

At the dealer where we finally bought from my Jeep, the sales associate we were assigned to gave us his business card, which listed his title as “Sales Consultant.”

Dictionary.com lists the definition of consultant as:

1.a person who gives professional or expert advice:

a consultant on business methods.

2.a person who consults someone or something.

I don’t use the title Consultant lightly. It’s what I do every single day at work, and I am proud of the knowledge I have to do my job. My role is to help organizations solve a problem.

All consultants have an area of expertise. If someone comes to me with a project that veers far outside my knowledge base, I will try to refer her to another firm or person who can help them.

The dealer’s “consultant” Vern (not his real name) was unable to help us fix ANYTHING. He couldn’t tell us anything about the Jeep that was not written down, help us negotiate price, give us the interest loan %, or even clean up the car.

Every question had to be referred to someone else, who was of course not standing in his glass-enclosed cubicle. I didn’t want or need to hear his unrelated stories—I just wanted to buy the car and get back to my life. Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with Vern again.

His use of the title “Consultant” was insulting to me and perpetuates the assumption that all consultants don’t offer value. Not true.

If you are looking for a consultant to work with to help you with your database and/or audience development needs , be sure that she can communicate well, stay relevant, and most importantly—collaborate and offer solutions. Hopefully the process will be smoother than what I recently experienced buying a car.

If you are looking to hire a consultant, here is a post I wrote who-what-how to start your process.

The journey continues.  C

The Importance of Attending Events

Working for myself, by myself most days, it is often a welcome change to visit clients, meet with colleagues, and attend industry events.

Whether I am attending an event as a speaker or an attendee, I appreciate the change in venue and routine. Events can be a great way to broaden my knowledge of some aspect of the direct marketing/database management industry, expose me to a new subject or technology, introduce me to vendors and industry leaders, and keep in touch with contacts.

I consider a meeting worthwhile if I end up with 3 takeaways. These can be innovative ideas, learning something new, or starting a business relationship with one new person.

Networking is a needed but sometimes dreaded part of these meetings. It is not easy for me to introduce myself to others, but I think other people have similar feelings.  However, events are an excellent time to meet potential clients or have open dialogue with colleagues.  I have made some lasting acquaintances over a glass of wine, who I can now bounce ideas off of.

So step out from behind your desk, swallow those nerves, and go learn and interact a little. It can truly help your career.  And hopefully you might have a bit of fun.

The journey continues.

C

Audience Development Roles in Media Companies Today

Having worked in audience development in the publishing/media/information services world for most of my career, people still don’t know what I do every day. Frankly, it’s hard to me to categorize what I do it changes so often! Rotating projects, technology, and departments that I interact with keep this job challenging and interesting.

For a media-related brand, here are a few of the major responsibilities that audience development professionals have today:

  • Achieve BPA/AAM goals for audited brands.
  • Maintain USPS goals for any magazines that mail at periodicals rates.
  • Ferret out and consolidate customer data into a central location, where possible.
  • Help other departments with marketing efforts to achieve attendance or participation goals. Can include helping to make list selects, research outside lists, marketing vendors, or execute marketing efforts.
  • Assist the publishers in flushing out a comprehensive sales strategy.
  • Identify “hot” areas on database that can help identify new products.
  • Keep database current and with demos where possible. Helps to market smarter and for lead gen.
  • Review customer touch points to 1—make sure our online web page flow is logical and correct. 2-ensure we have consistent, current brand messages.
  • Manage the issue close process, including getting files to the printer and/or digital file sender.

Knowing the audience development responsibilities vary at different organizations, feel free to add other roles you handle in the comment section. All the items listed above are topics I will continue to explore on this blog, as well as the critical importance of the audience development specialist on your team.

The journey continues.

C

Hiring a Consultant

When should you hire a consultant? Simple–when you need to solve a problem that your staff cannot fix. A consultant can help you train current staff, give you a temporary extra body during busy times, give an outsiders’ view of current work, give you an expert to help you when you need someone to oversee a project or departmental area, help you review an area of business if you are expecting change, help you get a new area of business off the ground for a couple years while training internal staff how to handle the work long-term after phasing out (or staying on in an overseeing capacity).

It can be helpful to see a consultant as outsourced personnel, bringing you expertise and helping you fill a role in which no one in your organization has knowledge. Consultants can work on a project basis, hourly or on a monthly retainer. The billing will  depend on the type of work you embark on. From a consultant with 15 years experience, I think that when starting work together, the consultant should:

  1. Be honest about her experience in a new project. Take on challenging work, but know that is okay to say “no” to a project completely outside her area of knowledge.
  2. Clearly outline the project, the expectations, the deliverables and the costs in the proposal.
  3. At the start of a project, it is important to agree how best to communicate progress with the client. A weekly email, monthly report, in-person or phone meetings–various clients may have different needs, but they should be reasonable.
  4. Be timely and thorough in communications throughout the project.
  5. Be fair and impartial in assessments of reviewing current work, if that is the assignment. I know from experience that it can be intimidating to have a consultant review current work and business practices. An less-than-ethical consultant could shade the results with a clear intent to phase someone out and insert themselves into the role, but this is wrong.
  6. If hours or time will exceed the original proposal, let the client know so there are no surprises. Be prepared to give your client a breakout of the time and work spent on any project.
  7. Be honest with yourself about the bandwith of work you can take on. A harried, overworked consultant who cannot focus enough time on each client is a sure way to make mistakes, lose clients.

I think that the client has responsibilities throughout the project as well.

  1. Be clear in stating the goals at the front-end of a project, which will allow the consultant to be as thorough as possible in her proposal.
  2. Reply to requests for information in a timely basis.
  3. Know that the scope of a project can change. Once a consultant starts delving into a project, there may be underlying issues that need to also be addressed. The consultant and client should discuss if the work might need additional time, expense, or breadth.

Both the consultant and clients should work together as a team to complete your project. Forming a partnership and building trust will ensure that goals are met on schedule. And know that occasionally a relationship doesn’t work. End those smoothly and professionally when needed. Your paths may cross again.

C