Over my nearly decade long career in analytics , I have spent almost half of it in corporate orld ad the other half as an independent consultant. Based on these experiences , I have summarized my learnings on consulting in analytics as follows-
1) It is not just what you know, it is whom you know, and who all know you.
Analytics consulting requires a certain amount of domain knowledge, technical expertise , broad awareness of multiple options , tools and techniques. But to get initial business, you need to depend on your circle of ex-colleagues , ex-bosses, professors, friends and anyone who is willing to trust you with their precious data , money and time.
Having an active social media and online presence can increase awareness about your personal brand, and attending conferences and seminars are good avenues for networking. But overall, people should come back to repeat business and your customers should refer you to others. That can happen only if you balance with integrity the technical requirements of the project and the softer aspects of relationship management with any and all stakeholders in that analytics project.
2) Customer Delight is a cliche but it works- It is impossible to spend any amount of time doing anything without making a mistake. As an independent consultant, you have to strike a balance between trying new things and being too cautious and stuck with safe but obsolete things. When you create a mess, or just happen to be caught in a messy project, try and damage control the blowback else simply apologize and rectify. Offer discounts to customers whose expectations have been let down. Customer delight is like a fragrance, it will spread far beyond those who were your initial customer base. The delight of your customer is more important than the ego of the consultant without of course diluting or compromising on its own brand integrity.
3) Know your boundaries- Technical , financial and geographic boundaries should limit the in-scope and out-scope of your consulting project. It is better to under commit and over-deliver even though it takes longer to take off your sales. Avoid conflict of interests especially between two clients in the same domain.
4) Plan your exits-In a project and even in your consulting business, it is always better to plan and forecast how you will exit leaving with maximum returns for everyone and minimum costs to stakeholders. This is particularly true because project scope creep, or project drift can severely impact your planning , your availability to other clients and even your own reputation. Ideally you should exit the project when you have done the maximum positive impact for your client, and are ready to transition it in a steady state.
5) Consulting is a privilege – Your customers as an analytics consultant are essentially paying you to think, work with exciting new domains, with a wide variety of tools. Consulting offers you the best of intellectual stimulation and if properly handled, monetary value creation for both you and your clients. Respecting your own brand, your boundaries, your own biases and being mindful of customer delight can enable you to work ,survive and thrive in this career as an independent analytics consultant.