We connected with Alan Waldman PhD to hear his story of becoming a consultant and what it’s like consulting all around the world. Alan is the head of Waldman Biomedical Consultancy and author of Adventures in Global Consulting and Discovered Global Wisdom.
1. What were your biggest challenges getting started as a consultant?
I began consulting initially as a second, part-time addition to my full-time position with a major not-for profit medical institution. This was done not only for added income, but also to help make sure that it was understood by industry what the products we (my company and field) needed.
In that sense, obtaining permission to do this, and finding time to do it, were the biggest initial challenge.
When I decided to become a full-time consultant, the biggest challenge was to learn how to do this as a business, how to bill, how to put together proposals, and, of course, how to find clients, and how to meet their needs.
2. How did you overcome those challenges?
There were several different steps I took to overcome the challenges.
One major step was to contact colleagues who had already become consultants, something not as common for people in the biomedical field then as it is now. From one of them, I was guided to advice she had received during courses on consulting—and to the realization, based on the information shared, that I both could and should double my rate from the one I used when it was a part-time job.
The other major step was actually to read books that were available, particularly Consulting by Robert Kelley, which provided excellent guidance on how to approach consulting as a profession, including self-examination, how to calculate rates, bid on projects, and, importantly, how to shift gears, as needed, from being the marketer to being the consultant to being the biller
3. Does being a consultant give you more freedom or are you working more than a 9-5 job?
Being a consultant does provide, along with a lack of security, opportunities for more freedom, and even for substantial income.
But, as a heading in the New York Times once said about consultants, it is easy to fall into the “Why Sleep, There Is No Money In It?” frame of mind, constantly trying to maximize income by working longer and longer (even when there is not a stressed client demanding you do it)
4. How would you recommend those new to consulting go about getting new clients?
From my experience, there are only a few methods that seem to be consistently successful with regard to finding, and equally important, getting work from, possible clients.
The first and basic method is to keep in full and constant contact with your colleagues and contacts within your field, reminding them, as noted in my books, Adventures in Global Consulting and in Discovered Global Wisdom, what you can do to help them, and also to help anyone they know who needs help.
Within that framework, being a good support to others is very important—one of our largest clients grew out of our efforts to help a friend who was trying to obtain products form Company X for sale, and who in turn recommended us when Company X had needs.
The concept, both with known colleagues and contacts, and with ones met through the second method, attending conventions and meetings in your field, is what I call “soggy bread”—throw your “bread” (in this case, help and knowledge) upon the waters, and while you usually will get back only soggy bread, sometimes you will be rewarded with new clients and projects,
5. Once you had a few clients how did begin to grow your business? What marketing or promotion worked best for you?
We did try, once or twice, to grow our business through actual booths at conventions; from our experience, this was not necessarily useful.
Other attempts that were not very productive, even if expensive, were:
a. making a major, but essentially “cold”, outreach to all other members of some professional societies (please note this is in advance of the internet groups, such as Linked In)
b. joining a Company that promised, for substantial membership fees, to collect projects of interest, on which one could bid (it developed that client companies tended to use the site mostly to check prices).
What has seemed to work for us, in addition to keeping in touch with everyone we ever worked with, mentioned above, is Google Adwords.
As the cost is related directly to follow up by users, we do find that there is a constant flow, as reasonable cost, of interested parties. While, of course, some of the traffic is individuals looking for positions with our group, we have been successful in obtaining projects from other contacts.
6. How big a role does online or offline networking play in your business success?
As noted above, it is imperative that you maintain a network, and constantly tend it.
We have had several instances where people we have worked with before have moved to other companies, and recommended us, something they would not have done if we had not kept in touch.
Plus, one of the great experiences of being a consultant is meeting people one would not otherwise have met—keeping in touch with them is a pleasure.
7. You’ve worked with clients in many countries around the world. Can you share the most surprising or culturally shocking event you’ve experienced over the years? (could be good, bad, or just plain scary).
The most culturally shocking event was having the young female Chinese secretary from one of the companies I was visiting as a possible source of materials showing up at my hotel door early one morning.
When I finally understood what was being offered, and politely said no, she indicated that the response by other visitors was usually more welcoming, and that her being on offer was in no way unexpected as part of the discussions.
I never mentioned this to the hosts; as I noted in Discovered Global Wisdom, one has to be very aware of different cultural customs, and move carefully.
8. For any consultants interested in doing consulting work globally do you have any tips for them on how to get into that?
While this may come across as simplistic, I can suggest that the best way to do consulting work globally is to develop and maintain core competencies that are valuable to companies in many places, including the United States, and are broad enough to protect you as the field develops.
For me, the core competence is what was required to develop and produce new biomedical products in a manner that was acceptable to regulatory authorities and would allow the products to come to market, particularly in the United States.
As can be seen on my company’s website, (Ed. www.waldmanbiomed.com is no longer active), this broad competence could then be placed on offer to support start-ups or major players, and anything from a very specific issue to a complete project.
9. What was the biggest factor in helping you increase your fees or grow your business? And what would you recommend to others that want to do the same?
While we have taken different approaches to billing, as described in Adventures in Global Consulting, our core approach has been to set reasonable pricing, and to hold to this, with modest increases over time.
In our experience, jumps in pricing are best with new clients, gathered as noted above, rather than with loyal existing companies.
What has been successful with regard to increasing income from ongoing clients has been to approach the relationship as a true collaboration, and loyally trying to help to identify areas requiring our help, whether problems in other areas, or the development of new products.
I can recommend the above approaches to everyone.
10. If you could offer one piece of advice to a consultant, something that you believe is a key to your success, what would it be?
I cannot stress too strongly, or over-recommend to others, combining competence with the development and maintenance of good, honest and helpful relationships with the client staff at all levels, not only with senior management and immediate reports.
There you have it. We hope you enjoyed this interview with Alan Waldman and if you have any questions hit us up in the comments and we’ll be sure to pass them on to Alan.