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Personal Qualities

Okay, you've got breadth and depth in the knowledge and skills in your chosen practice area. You have a good grasp of the process skills specific to consulting (but you continue to learn). You have experience and contacts. Is that it? No. Successful consultants tend to have certain personal qualities that stand them in good stead in a tough, competitive industry. What are those personal characteristics?

Willingness to Take Risks

Just making the decision to commit to a consulting business, with its potentially unstable income and hours, requires risk taking. But beyond that, you need to be comfortable with taking risks, making mistakes, and having to pay the price when things go wrong. The success or failure of your business is almost entirely up to you. You are responsible for it. If you are uncomfortable living with risk and errors, running your own consulting business is not going to work for you. There is no net to fall into.

Consultant Crashing

Don't underestimate the importance of the fit between your attitudes and values and the realities of the consulting business. Do a realistic assessment of yourself and what you want from your life, and compare it to the life you anticipate as a consultant.

Apart from your attitude about risk, you need to have the resources to recover when things go wrong. If you are flat broke and have to provide food for your children, you can't afford the risk if your consulting endeavor fails. That kind of pressure causes bad decisions, and bad decisions cause failed businesses.

Ability to Tolerate Insecurity

Can you live with the idea of having your professional and financial life "ride the roller coaster"? If you can't, you'd better choose another profession. You will have lean times and good times. You'll have elated times and depressed times. Above all, you will rarely know whether the next six months will be lean or good. Until you are well established, there is no security except that which you generate.

Desire to Learn Continuously

One key to successful consulting is to slowly and cautiously add more services and exper-tise to your "inventory." That requires continuous learning of new things.

Learning in an ongoing way is also critical because most consulting projects are going to put you face-to-face with situations or contexts in which you must learn (and learn fast) in order to succeed.

Your curiosity and desire to learn will be essential for long-term success.

Strong Interpersonal Skills

No matter what your field of expertise, your most important set of skills and knowledge has to do with people. The essence of consulting is about communicating, generating trust, and getting information from people who don't even know they have it. You must have the necessary interpersonal skills to know when to press, to be aggressive, to just listen, and much more. And above all, you need to get along well with people. That includes being comfortable with conflict and being able to deal with it when it occurs.

People Orientation

I've met a number of people working in the technical areas (notably computers and Internet specialties) who have huge amounts of technical skill. Some of them are people- oriented. Others would just as soon be left alone to fiddle on their computers and would prefer not to talk to anyone at all.

A solitary personality in an employee who is relied upon for his or her technical wizardry will be tolerated, but this kind of personality will not work if you want to run your own consulting business. No matter how technical your field, if you don't like working with people, and lack the required people skills, you'll have an uphill battle in the consulting business.

Strong Support System in Place

Running your own consulting business can be an isolating endeavor. You'll do a lot of your work (for example, thinking and analysis) on your own. To counteract the possibility of becoming socially and professionally isolated, you need a good support system. A support system involves people whom you can meet, talk to, consult for advice, or even just complain to about life.

Between Colleagues

Whether you realize it or not, your spouse is an important part of your consulting business. Spouses offer valuable support. They are also asked to tolerate the uncertainties of your business, including the need to travel. Include your spouse in decision making.

And speaking of support systems, let's not understate the importance of a spouse who is supportive of your endeavors and who can live with the in-security and ambiguity of your new career.

Commitment to Personal and Professional Integrity

For some reason our society seems to undervalue qualities such as integrity, ethical be-havior, and a commitment to honesty. Remember this: Your consulting lifeblood is your reputation. Your reputation is built on your integrity, honesty, and ethics. If you aren't prepared to set the highest standards for yourself, your customers and prospective customers will find out. Cut corners to make a few bucks, and eventually you won't have any clients.

In consulting, integrity is much more than a nicety. Honesty isn't optional. Your integrity and honesty have profound implications on your bottom line.

Accepting a consulting contract for which you are ill-prepared is an action lacking in integrity. Making promises you can't possibly keep to a client is a dishonest action. Don't kid yourself. Do these things at your own risk. Your reputation is your lifeblood. Protect it even if you must turn down a project.

Working "with" People

Some people work best when they work for someone else. They are most comfortable being told what to do. Some people work best when they feel above others in authority or skill. Others (and I hope you're one) like to work with people, as relatively equal partners. Working "with" means respecting and valuing the abilities and perceptions of your partners (that is, your customers). It means not appearing to place yourself above them, and not waiting for them to tell you what to do. Consulting requires that you deal with your clients as partners in a process.

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