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consulting certifications

Consulting Certifications: The Uncomfortable Truth (& What To Focus On Instead)

By Michael Zipursky
24 Comments

Do consulting certifications really matter?

The other day, a consultant sent me an email.

They asked…

“What type of consulting certification should I get to become a more successful consultant?”

“You don’t need any consulting certification to be successful in this business,” I responded.

I was speaking with another consultant in Australia. He told me he was part of a few different consulting associations. Despite that, his business was struggling.

My dear consultant, let’s make one thing clear.

Consulting certifications do not equal a successful consulting business.

Not even close.

However, they do have their benefits.

By the end of this article, you’ll understand the pros and cons of investing your time, energy, and effort to get consulting certifications — and what to focus on instead if you want to grow a successful consulting business.

Let’s dive in.

The Pros Of Consulting Certifications

So, if consulting certifications don’t equal a successful consulting business, what are they good for?

Let me first explain the value of consulting certifications:

  • You’ll learn systems and processes to work with clients, improving your project delivery and the work you do
  • You’ll network and speak with other consultants
  • You’ll gain confidence in doing consulting work (if you aren’t confident already)

In a nutshell, consulting certifications make you better at doing consulting work.

But any entrepreneurial consultant will tell you that when it comes to running a consulting business…

…the consulting work is only 40-50% of what you’ll be doing.

If you think that all you need to do is get better at your craft to increase your firm’s revenue, you’re mistaken.

More on that next…

The Cons Of Consulting Certifications

Both consultants I mentioned above spent a lot of time and money getting certifications.

They believed it would help them build more successful consulting businesses.

In both cases, it didn’t.

Getting a certification isn’t hard. Anyone can do it.

And just like having a degree from a college or university, it’s not the paper or letters that you receive upon graduation that is valuable.

It’s the routines, principles, thought processes, and relationships that you develop that matter.

For example, let’s say you invest in a Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification.

Earning this certification demonstrates that you know a lot about your field. You’ll gain confidence in your ability to do project management work.

It can help you land a higher salary if you’re an employee…

But I know plenty of project management consultants with PMPs who are struggling in their business.

Here’s the problem with consulting certifications: they don’t help you GROW your business.

As consultants, we’re not just in the consulting business.

We’re in the marketing business.

And marketing/sales — attracting consulting clients and successfully pitching them on paid consulting work — are the number one challenges for consultants.

It doesn’t matter how many certifications or letters you have after your name.

If you can’t consistently acquire consulting clients, you don’t have a consulting business.

That’s the bottom line.

What You Should Focus On Instead Of Consulting Certifications

Now that you understand that consulting certifications don’t equal success…

…I’ll give you some alternatives to consulting certifications when it comes to investing your money and focusing your attention.

1. Sales & Marketing

Marketing is attracting the attention of your ideal clients.

Sales is converting them into paying clients.

According to our How To Become A Consultant Study, marketing and sales are the top challenges for consultants.

biggest challenge for new consultants

Why?

They’re difficult.

They’re uncomfortable.

They require you to put yourself out there and face rejection.

But they’re the # 1 thing to invest in if you want to get clients and grow your consulting business.

So, if you’re not happy with how many clients you have, then focus on improving your sales & marketing skills.

We have plenty of articles, books, and programs to help you do just that.

2. Systemization

Systemization is creating step-by-step documentation for the tasks that make up your business.

And very few consultants take the time to do this.

Without systemization, you’ve built yourself another job.

It will be nearly impossible to hire, train, and manage a team without systemizing your business.

You can start to systemize your business today with the very next task you do.

For example, let’s say you’re sending an invoice to a client.

Use screen recording software like Loom to record yourself doing it.

Do this for EVERY task that you do.

Then, hire a freelance writer to write documentation for each video.

You can do it yourself, but you’re much more likely to get it done by delegating the task.

Systemization is KEY to making your business more efficient and stress-free.

Speaking of delegation…

3. Delegation

Delegation is assigning tasks you don’t need to do to a freelancer, contractor, or team member.

Why would you delegate instead of doing everything yourself?

Because your time is best spent on higher-value tasks.

Higher-value tasks are tasks that provide a greater impact on your business.

For example, which task do you think will help you generate more income:

1. Running a sales call with a high-value client.

2. Spending an hour formatting a PowerPoint presentation.

The former is what we call a $1000/h task.

The latter is what we call a $10/h task.

As a consultant, your time is worth FAR more than $10/h.

So, if you’re spending your time on $10/h tasks, you’re LOSING money.

By delegating $10/h tasks, you’ll free yourself up time to work on $1000/h tasks.

And you’ll generate much more revenue as a result.

Without delegation, it’s extremely difficult to grow and scale your consulting business.

Next Steps to Grow Your Consulting Business

If acquiring the certification helps you gain confidence, great.

If acquiring the certification grows your network and leads to meaningful relationships, fantastic.

But if you want to land more clients, increase your income, and build a sustainable consulting business, most certifications won’t help.

You need to learn the process and system to consistently attract clients and how to effectively sell consulting services — even if you don’t like the idea of selling.

For some, that may sound difficult and uncomfortable. It doesn’t have to be.

But it is essential to your long-term success as a consultant.

If you’re serious about a program to help you BUILD and GROW your consulting business — and not just acquire essential consulting skills — here’s how we can help.

1. Clarity Coaching Program – If you’re committed and serious about growing your consulting business then this customized coaching program is for you. We’ll work hands-on with you to develop a strategic plan and then dive deep and work through your ideal client clarity, strategic messaging, consulting offers, fees, and pricing, business model optimization, and help you to set up your marketing engine and lead generation system to consistently attract ideal clients. Schedule a FREE growth session today to apply for our limited capacity Clarity Coaching Program by clicking here.

2. Momentum Video Training & Implementation Course – If you’re just getting going in consulting then Momentum is a great place to start. In this self-study program, you’ll get a solid foundation in place for your consulting business. Through videos, action plan emails, checklists, proven templates, and more we teach you in detail, our time-tested and proven framework for consulting success. We cover messaging, specialization strategies, pricing and fees, branding and website considerations, marketing and so much more. Learn more about the Momentum Course by clicking here.

24 thoughts on “Consulting Certifications: The Uncomfortable Truth (& What To Focus On Instead)

  1. George Opiyo says:

    Michael, you have this unique talent of shaking every deeply ingrained mindsets and beliefs and make them so ridiculous until ,most of the times l find myself just laughing at my own deeply-held foolish beliefs! This certification thing was a heated subject in one of our local professional body gathering.Those with “Certified Consultant” titled bragged here and there. The irony is,and which you just brought to the fore, they are struggling to get clients while colleagues without the “certification” are doing real big-time business and charging intimidating fees and getting paid. Did l tell you how reading your articles made me change my title on the business card from “CEO” to “Strategy Partner” and has won more clients than ever before?

    Stay blessed Mike

  2. Sandra Ganis says:

    I was going to take a certification class just in case if I was missing something. Glad I didn’t. Thank you. Im just waiting for the consultant success system to go on sale again.

      • Sandra Ganis says:

        Thanks. Thought it was $100 discount. I must have read something else.

        • Sandra Ganis says:

          Just ordered the consulting success kit. Im excited.

          • Sandra Ganis says:

            I just opened up the email. I did not know it was a download kit. I only have an Ipad and not enough space. This wont work for me. How do i get a refund?

  3. anthonyctaylor says:

    I think consulting certifications have their merit for several reasons.
    It distinguishes from consultants that don’t have the certification.
    and some companies require the certification (so do certain government contracts)

    A certification wont make you a good consultant and in large part wont make people find you, but if you’re competing with other consultants, then It’s a nice extra to have.
    http://www.smestrategy.net

    • Anthony – good comment and thoughts. As I wrote to Sandra above, it all depends what you want the certification for. If you’re in an industry that requires them, it makes sense. If you want to gain more knowledge and confidence, it can ‘sometimes’ make sense. If however, and many consultants make this mistake, you believe that having a certification will land you more clients or grow your revenues – that rarely happens. Most clients don’t care about certifications, they care about value and results.

      • anthonyctaylor says:

        100%

        Gotta know what you’re doing and deliver what your clients need.

  4. John says:

    Hi Michael, I couldn’t agree more. I have a Ph.D. in applied economics and a CPA certification and I provide financial modeling, risk management and valuation consulting services (and I have about 20 years of total professional experience). I can (sadly) say that the Ph.D. and CPA haven’t helped me at all in getting clients, other than meeting some basic criterion that a potential client has. But I have lost a lot of opportunities to people without the credentials and experience, mainly because of marketing and selling skills and, to a lesser extent, my propensity to sell clients what I think they need rather than what they want. Thanks, as always, for the insights! Cheers, JMc

  5. Michael, this is one of the rare occasions I disagree with your advice. I don’t think it has to be an either-or situation. What you teach consultants to get more business is definitely important because most consultants are unable to market and sell, whether they are certified or not. True professionals get credentialed – there’s a difference between an accountant and a CPA – and there’s a difference between a consultant and a CMC. You set yourself apart from the consultant masses hanging a shingle between jobs. Like John, my CMC hasn’t gotten me new clients, but has provided many referrals from peers, opens me up to government work (who are now writing this into more proposals) and given me a confidence that I stand out among the 99% who don’t have a CMC. It was an arduous process and I’m proud I set the goal and achieved it.

    • Jennifer – Great addition to the discussion. The message I’ve chosen to share here isn’t that certifications don’t provide value. They certainly do, most often when it comes to skill building, learning how to WORK as a consultant, and building self-confidence. Those are all valuable. The challenge many consultants find, and I see as as I speak with 40-60 consultants each month, is that even those with certifications find themselves struggling to generate more business and attract more clients. They may be good or even great at what they do, but if they don’t have enough clients they can’t do the work they are so well prepared to do.

      • Totally agree with you … they are terrible at telling prospects what they do for them or the problem they solve, and hate the concept of selling. So is it any surprise they have no clients?

  6. Trécera Lee Williams says:

    I saw a link to this article on Twitter. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Great post!

  7. Rodrigo Beckhauser says:

    Correct me if I am wrong but I strongly agree when you wrote about the value of certifications to your craft specifically. I mean, you already have a “CONSULTING LLC” but you feel that you wanna improve your technical skills (Hard skills) and you don’t want to throw away time spending resources in obscure or doubtful knowledge. Then I believe the certification is actually important for your proven Hard skills. But, when it comes to your soft skills and entrepreneurial knowledge ability, then it is not that much of a “must-have”, totaly being disregarded.

    • Thanks for the comment Rodrigo. See my reply to Felix’s post for my thinking on this.

  8. Michael, you’re the best. After 30 as a US Postal Inspector and Postal Police Officer with no intentions of ever working in retirement, 9/11/2001 changed that thinking . My first project was an incredibly high 5 figure project. I toyed with the notion of the ASIS CPP certifications, but noticed solving problems, creating programs and training were the areas my Clients hired me for. My confidence got the best of me and convinced myself, I had sufficient technical knowledge from my Postal career. I decided that the IAPSC CSC (certified security consultant) would fill the gap in learning a host of skill sets needed to run my consulting business, marketing and operations and it’s worked 20 years later. The only other certification on my bucket list is the IMC CMC. According to my Client testimonials, I have done well. Does having a CPP help? I would think so if one doesn’t have the experience and expertise going in. Does it make a difference? Only the RFP can answer that question. To avoid the issue, I never competed on projects requiring the ASIS CPP, but I do recall being invited on projects following CPPs. Whether you do or not, I wish you much success in all you do.

    • Appreciate your thoughtful comment Felix. To be clear, certifications are valuable. They can help in many ways. In some industries clients look for them. They signal a certain level of knowledge.

      That said, there are many consultants with certifications that don’t have a successful business.

      And it’s because they haven’t learned how to effectively market their business. Certifications don’t help you with that.

      In addition, when you do a great job of creating valuable content and IP that demonstrates your expertise and provides value, clients won’t look or care much about an acronym at the end of your name.

      Because clients aren’t paying for that, they are paying for results.

  9. Hi Michael,
    I want to add to the robust discussion and build on Jennifer’s comments. I am a Certified Management Consultant – yes I have a bias. I had to get this certification years ago when I worked for one of the big 6 (now big 4). There was something important about being part of a profession at that time. I left consulting for a number of years and was happy to have maintained my certification over those years for when I started my own practice. Has it led directly to work? Not directly, but here are the reasons it has supported me in doing the best for my clients:
    Legally recognized designation (In Canada, each province has legislation about the CMC)
    Clear body of knowledge – a must have
    Repeatable processes and methodologies – this is what makes a good management consultant
    Experience requirements – a junior person cannot become a CMC until they have a certain amount of client engagement experience
    Formal evaluation of qualifications – every profession has this
    Requirement for ongoing professional development – this ensures CMCs will be up to date on PD
    Code of conduct – protection for clients
    And this last point is the most important regarding the CMC. I believe this provides protection and confidence for clients. There have been many dubious consulting studies that have made it to the front page of the paper, not in a good way. There is no easy recourse for the public. There is if a CMC was hired.
    Thanks for letting me add additional perspective. Whatever you do, it must serve your clients best – certification or not.

    • Tim, CMC does great work. I’ve had the pleasure of delivering presentations, workshops and webinars for several chapters around the world. Appreciate your thoughtful comment.

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