Do you possess the consulting skills that make clients want to hire you?
Your core expertise — like environmental or sales consulting — form the basis of your consulting business
However, you’ll also need to cultivate a broad range of consulting skills.
These other consulting skills complement and reinforce your core expertise while dealing with clients and running your consulting business.
In this post, you’ll learn about the 6 essential consulting skills that will turn you into a better, more in-demand consultant.
Consultants engage in a lot of oral and written communication with clients before, during, and after projects. Whether it’s…
- Asking your client meaningful questions during sales conversations
- Presenting your analysis during a project
- Following up and asking for a referral
Your communications skills determine how your clients view you. Whether they trust and like you, as well as whether or not they see you as a real authority and expert.
However, good oral communication skills are not enough.
You also need the ability to communicate your value through your writing skills, including your…
- Marketing and sales materials
- Your consulting website copy
- And blog content
If you can’t communicate the value you bring or the results you’ve created — you’ll have a tough time marketing your consulting business.
How to Demonstrate Your Communication Skills
Learning how to carry on a meaningful conversation with your consulting clients and asking great questions is key to demonstrating your communication skills.
But don’t forget that listening is just as important to your communication skills as the ability to speak and write.
If you don’t listen closely to what your clients are saying, you’ll be focused on just talking and offering ideas — like an inexperienced consultant:
(Chart taken from our article Best Questions to Ask Consulting Clients: Updated Playbook)
Elite consultants let their clients do most of the talking.
As a result, they ask better questions — questions that make their clients think and see different perspectives and opportunities. Questions that position the consultant as an expert and trusted advisor.
How to Improve Your Communication Skills
The best way to improve your consulting skills is to write.
Here’s an exercise Andrew Sobel introduced me to that you can use to improve your writing skills — and create tremendous value for your clients:
- Bring up a blank document. Write a list of 30 of the major topics, problems, and questions currently facing your industry.
- Every day, spend 30 minutes writing a 1-page article on each topic, problem, or question — adding your insight and value to the discussion.
- By the end of 30 days, you’ll have a 30-page document adding your insight to the most important topics in your industry.
Don’t write to make yourself sound smart. Write so that clients easily grasp your ideas, points of view, and insights.
In Momentum, our flagship program for early-stage consultants, we have an entire module on how to write thought-leadership content that attracts clients:
From Momentum, our early-stage program for consultants.
Communication Skills Example
Nancy Duarte, communication expert and CEO of Duarte, Inc, is an expert on giving presentations and using data to tell stories.
Here’s an example of how she communicates suggested actions directly and confidently to a client:
“Some people would say, “The data speaks for itself,” but somebody has to form a perspective around it. Technically, artificial intelligence can read data and tee up an observation from the data. In this case, somebody has to form a point of view about it.
You wanted an example of a point of view. You’re making a claim that if we do this action our data could transform in the future.
Here’s a little example: “changing the shopping cart experience and our shipping policies could increase sales by 40%.”
There’s an action — changing our cart and shipping policies — and what’s at stake is a 40% increase in sales. It’s super tight. It’s one sentence. It’s not super complex but doing it as a tight lockup where it’s like, “Here’s my point of view. Here’s the payoff,” or “Here’s my point of view, and here’s the problem.” It makes it clear.”
2. Observation Skills
As a consultant, you’ll often play the role of the observer.
You’ll be focused on whatever part of your client’s organization you are engaged with. And, you must be able to notice, analyze, and provide feedback on any areas of concern or interest.
It’s difficult for your clients to assess their own business because they are so close to it. They hire you to provide an outsider’s view. You help them make more objective and informed decisions. More on this in #6.
How To Demonstrate Your Observation Skills
Demonstrating your observation skills involves every other skill on this list.
By using your skills in problem-solving, objectivity, and communication skills together, you analyze and present your findings to your client — which demonstrates your skills as a keen observer.
Powerful observation skills highlight areas in the client’s business they’ve never seen or considered before.
How To Improve Your Observation Skills
The more projects, businesses, and clients you work with, the better your observation skills will become.
Practice your observation skills by learning to watch and listen carefully.
Learn how to take smart notes. Note-taking is an essential part of observation, and notes give you material to work with in your consulting projects.
Try and see the “bigger picture.” Connect the dots in the client’s business. Highlight patterns and trends. Communicate them to your client.
Observation Skills Example
Many years ago in Japan, I was sitting down in a design meeting with a design firm and the president of a multi-billion dollar company.
We were discussing how to re-brand the company.
The designers were hurling ideas across the table about how the visual brand should look.
The president was hearing a lot of different ideas and opinions, but nobody was giving him direction.
Leaders value direction — someone who can give them answers based on their expertise.
Even though I was the sole foreigner at the table — and younger than everyone — I decided to speak up.
“If you want to grow the brand in an international market, I would go with this option.”
“OK, let’s do it.” the president responded.
After a discussion that lasted a few hours, his quick response surprised everyone in the room.
And I learned a valuable lesson: being a keen observer who can observe and suggest action is a fundamental consulting skill.
3. Problem-Solving Skills
Problem-solving is a core part of consulting.
It’s what you do for a living: applying your skills and expertise to a particular problem that your clients have and help them achieve their desired result.
Armed with a high level of skill and experience in your field, your ability to solve your client’s problems is a big part of why they hire you.
How to Demonstrate Your Problem Solving Skills
One of the best ways to demonstrate your problem-solving skills is by writing case studies.
- Pick a successful project that you completed for a client.
- Create four headers for the case study: Overview, The Problem, Actions, The Result
- In the Overview section, describe the situation the client was in, what they wanted to accomplish, and the challenge they were facing. Keep this brief.
- In The Problem section, write a detailed description of the problem your client was facing before they hired you.
- In the Actions section, write a detailed description of how you solved the problem.
- In The Results section, write a detailed description of the outcome your Actions created for the client.
Clients reading your case studies will pay close attention to the problem you helped your client solved.
If it’s similar to the problems they are (or may in the future) experience in their business, they’ll want to have a meaningful conversation with you about how you can help them solve their problem.
How To Improve Your Problem Solving Skills
The best way to improve your problem-solving skills as a consultant is by solving your client’s problems through project work, reading and studying deeply to understand different situations, cause and effect, and gain new perspectives.
The bigger the problem you solve for your clients, the better you’ll get at problem-solving.
There are no real shortcuts to improve your problem-solving skills. Solve difficult problems, study, learn, and you’ll become a master problem-solver — one your clients can’t afford to lose.
Problem Solving Example
Check out our consulting case studies that show how we’ve helped consultants solve problems in their businesses.
- How we helped nonprofit consultant Nic Campbell double her number of clients within a few weeks
- How we helped software consultant Sam Schutte increase revenue by 60% and win a $250K project
- How we helped marketing consultant Donna Bates win 11 new clients, 10X her fees, and gain a new sense of confidence
4. People Skills
Developing and sustaining good relationships with your client, their employees, and other key players is paramount. The success of your consulting projects depends on these relationships.
If you have good people skills, people like, trust, and respect you more. When clients like, trust, and respect you, your projects will run smoothly.
How To Demonstrate Your People Skills
One of the best ways to demonstrate your people skills is to practice being empathetic and being someone they know they can trust.
In the context of consulting, one of the best ways to practice being empathetic and gain trust — and thus, demonstrate your people skills — is to add value.
- Do what you say you will do
- Deliver results to your client
- Don’t just meet, but exceed expectations
- Be consistent and show them you understand their situation
- Listen attentively
- Always look for new opportunities to add value
Adding value to client’s lives shows that you are listening to them, understanding them, and are taking time out of your day to make their life better.
How To Improve Your People Skills
Improving your “people skills” might seem like an abstract idea.
To improve your people skills, focus on building relationships.
Here’s something you can do every day to build relationships and improve your people skills.
- Every day, reach out to 1 new potential client.
- Learn a little about them, their business, and their interests.
- When you message them, lead with empathy — make the message more about them, what they are likely thinking about and feeling, and their interests instead of you and your business.
- Don’t pitch. Instead, use this as an opportunity to learn about the pains and desires of this ideal client.
- Once you understand their pains and desires, look to add value to their lives by sharing content to help them.
Not only will this habit help you improve your people skills, but you’ll be “in the flow”: continually connecting with and building relationships with the clients in the industry you serve.
People Skills Example
In our 2021 February Mastermind Group, we invited Jason Bay, founder of Blissful Prospecting.
He gave a talk about prospecting. And for consultants, good prospecting takes good people skills.
Jason Bay teaches the REPLY method:
- Relevant Results. Showing the prospect results you’ve created that are akin to the results they want.
- Empathy. Showing prospects you understand their pains and desires.
- Personalization. Showing prospects that you are not using automated messages, but know a bit about them.
- Laser-focus. Showing prospects that you respect their time with a short, clear message.
- You-oriented. Showing prospects that you’re interested in them, not pitching yourself.
Here’s an example of a real email that successfully landed a meeting using these principles:
Learning to send outreach messages like this requires solid people skills.
The best way to get better at them? Practice.
With good people skills, you’ll have a much easier time winning and completing consulting projects.
5. Organization & Time Management Skills
If you’re a freelance consultant, you’ll wear many hats and have many tasks to accomplish. In the early days, you are the business.
In the morning you might have a sales call. During the afternoon, you’re working on a project. Later that evening, you’re sending invoices and following up with clients.
It’s critical that you learn to manage your time well. Otherwise, you risk falling behind.
By staying organized, productive, and practicing good time management, you’ll be able to systematically and methodically complete your tasks.
How To Demonstrate Your Organization & Time Management Skills
Clients are always assessing you based on how organized you are and how you manage your time. If you are methodical in how you organize your work and your time, they’ll see you as being more organized and therefore, trust you more.
To demonstrate your organization & time management skills…
- Make plans and stick to them
- Use efficient methodologies (ex: Agile, Lean) that allow you to get results in a quicker time frame.
- Be punctual, submit your work on time, and respond quickly to clients quickly.
- When clients need a reminder about specific dates or details, be the one who reminds them.
How To Improve Your Organization & Time Management Skills
To improve your organization skills, don’t rely so much on your memory.
Instead, use note-taking tools like Asana, Evernote, Notion, or Roam to store key details. Keep your notes handy whenever you are speaking with a client so that you always have the key details on hand.
To improve your time management skills, create schedules for yourself and use a calendar.
Make a daily plan for yourself: what you will do, and when. And a tool like Google Calendar will help you organize your time effectively.
Using these tools to keep you organized and manage your time frees up your brain to focus on tasks that demand more attention and focus.
Organization & Time Management Skills Example
At Consulting Success®, we made the shift to using Asana to manage our meetings and various projects.
Prior to using Asana, we used a collection of Google Docs. It took us time to track down the Google Docs we needed.
With Asana, we’ve organized much of the business into a centralized system. This makes it easy for us to see who’s working on what, when it’s due, and how to do it.
It has helped everyone become more organized — and, as a result, frees up time for everyone to focus on deeper, more meaningful work.
6. Objectivity & Independence Skills
Clients need more than just your skills and experience. They need an unbiased and objective analysis of their situation. As a consultant, you are brought in as a third-party observer to provide your unbiased and objective opinions.
Don’t get too personally invested in your projects. What matters most is providing your client with the right solution to their problem. If that means telling them an uncomfortable truth, it’s your duty to tell them the truth.
Your clients are surrounded by “yes-men” and “yes-women.”
You need to be the one who can tell them “no” and given them a sound reason when appropriate.
How To Demonstrate Your Objectivity & Independence Skills
The best way to demonstrate your objectivity & independence skills is to be a source of truth to your client.
When they come to you for help, you need to tell them the truth.
This is easier said than done. Telling the truth often requires you to be harsh, blunt, or even disagreeable.
Being straightforward and telling the truth can also cause some short-term pain.
However, if you are truly looking out for your client, you’ll tell them the truth — or do the best you can to give them an accurate, objective analysis from your point of view.
Short-term pain is worth it if it improves your client’s condition in the long run.
How To Improve Your Objectivity & Independence Skills
To improve your objectivity & independence skills, practice being more direct & honest with your clients.
If they ask you if something is a good idea, and you don’t think it’s a good idea, tell them. Don’t beat around the bush: tell them “no” and give them reasons why.
“No” is an appropriate answer to give your client as long as you think it’s in their best interest.
If you’re afraid of coming across as mean or unpleasant, use the hamburger technique:
Start your feedback with a compliment. “I like where your head is at with this idea.”
Then, offer your criticism. “However, in this case, I don’t think that would work. Here’s why.”
Finish your feedback with another compliment: “But you’re on the right track. What do you think about doing this instead?”
This technique helps you cushion the blow and guide the client towards a better action.
Objectivity & Independence Skills Example
I was working with a consulting client who understood the importance of marketing — of doing outreach and follow-up — but they weren’t doing it.
They created “busyness” for themselves to avoid the uncomfortable work of growing your business.
During a coaching call with them, I asked:
“When you look back, how will you feel? Will you regret that you didn’t put in the effort? Will you regret not doing a bit more marketing and follow-up? Even though it’s uncomfortable, do you think you might regret it?”
“Yes, I probably would,” the client responded.
Then, I created an action plan to help the client with their marketing.
I could have avoided asking the uncomfortable question and playing it safe. But the client needed a push in the right direction.
Sometimes, your clients will need that same push. But you can’t give them a push in the right direction if you are afraid of telling them the issues that you see.
However, if you are being honest, you’ll have uncomfortable conversations that might hurt in the short-term, but help in the long term.
Imperfect Action: Work On Your Weakest Consulting Skill
Being a consultant requires more than subject matter expertise.
If you want to be successful, you must develop skills in…
- interpersonal relations
Take time each week to work on the consulting skills where you’re lacking
Working on your weaknesses is frustrating, but it’s one of the best things you can do as a consultant.
The more consulting skills you have in your toolbox, the more value you’ll create for your clients — and, as a result, the more value you’ll capture for yourself.
What consulting skills have you found to be the most important?
Which consulting skills are you currently working on?
Leave a comment in the comments section below and join the discussion.