Consulting – Getting to know the Learning & Development Consulting Occupation


The May ASTD Chapter meeting was about getting familiar with being a consultant in the Learning and Development space. The host of the event was Seema Rafay of Spectrum Performance Services. She specializes in Performance Management and is strategic partners with Profiles International.


There was quite an interesting discussion as to what a consultant actually was. Two of the definitions that came out were:

  • Someone who has to influence thoughts and actions of others without control.
  • Someone who is a motivator and understands the needs of a company. They affect outcomes and they are familiar with who the players are in a within an organization. It is all about relationships.
    Essentially, what we ended up with was a three-point definition.

A consultant is someone that:

  • Professionally counsels to advise, guide, and inform.
  • Is qualified to engage in this type of activity.
  • Delivers solutions to the stated problems.

There are many of us that have no real desire to be an private consultant for one reason or another, but, it is important to realize that you have the capability to be a consultant within your own organization. If you assist in solving problems, are qualified to do so, and making recommendations that meet the problems, you are a consultant.

The one thing we also agreed to was that consultants do NOT tell people what to do.


Seema shared her journey from corporate America to being a private consultant.

Here are some of the lessons and challenges she shared with us:

  • Learning how to manage work and marketing. When you are working, you aren’t typically marketing, so you may not have the next job lined up.
  • The availability of money to run the business. You are an independent owner, so the funding and income is all on your shoulders.
  • Social Media can be a key source of leads and clients. She uses LinkedIn, word of mouth, and writing for other blogs and magazines.
  • It is vital to develop multiple streams of income.
  • It was tough to get corporations to see the value in using a consultantStorytelling, including videos are important to getting her message across.
  • If you are an external consultant, following through and getting clients to actually implement your recommendations is very tough. It is easier if you are an internal consultant, because you are an employee of the organization.


There are several types of income sources. The primary source is getting payment from your client. If you are a consultant, you need to consider how to take advantage of all of these:

  • Passive income – This is an audio CD or a DVD of some sort. This is a course or something people will buy. You make it once and sell it over and over. For that, you receive a percentage of the profits – more, if it is a digital product.
  • Leverage-based income – This is the creation of articles or other content that you can use to drive income in some manner
  • Residual income – This comes from products that continuously drive payments from customers. This is a product similar to a membership site. Essentially, you automatically bill a customer a fee every month ($25-$50 or so) for access to your library of content or something else of interest.


There are two types of consulting – internal and external. An internal consultant has one employer. An external consultant has many employers (each client is an employer).
We will review an internal consultant first.

The pros of an internal consultant are:

  • Security
  • Structure
  • Branding
  • Support
  • Resources
  • Growth opportunity
  • Defined roles

The cons of being an internal consult are:

  • Lack of control – you may not be able to determine which problems you attempt to solve
  • Contradictions – your directives can change regularly
  • Bureaucracy – solutions can get bogged down in layers of management
  • Lack of freedom – your time is not your own
  • Limited Scope – you may only be able to work on solutions that impact your role or business unit
  • Politics
  • Stagnation of projects


Interestingly, the pros and cons of this type of consultant are almost polar opposites from an internal consultant.

Some of the pros of external consultants are:

  • Freedom
  • Autonomy
  • Creativity
  • Independent
  • Self-reliant
  • Evolving
  • Fluid or dynamic

Some of the cons of being an external consultant are:

  • Risk
  • Lack of structure
  • You need to build credibility
  • Alienation
  • Lack of resources
  • Constant reinvention of your business
  • Uncertainty


Before you make the jump to become a consultant, it is important to remember that the grass ALWAYS seems greener on the other side. You should have yourself assessed to determine if your personality traits match that of a professional consultant. Also, be aware that every choice you make in life has a pricetag. What is important is if you and your family are willing to pay that price. If you decide to become a consultant, you may be without income for a few months or you may have to travel more than you expect. These realities affect more than just the person becoming a consultant, assuming there is a family involved.

You should probably take time to read E-Myth Revisited before you make the decision to be a consultant. You don’t want to leave a job to create another job that doesn’t give you the freedom you are trying to accomplish.

As such, you need to have a level of optimism. This is not just having a positive outlook on life. This means expecting positive results and acting in the same manner.

Essentially, you need to identify what it is that you do. Don’t try to be all things to all people…but, you need to OFFER all things to all people. This means being able to create strategic partnerships that allow you to generate income without actually doing the physical work involved or having the necessary knowledge. You just need to have the ability to offer a service when you find a matching need.

If you expect to be a consultant, here are some traits that you must have:

  • Confidence
  • Optimism
  • Vision
  • Drive
  • Action – you must actually do SOMETHING
  • Work Ethic and Tenacity – don’t give up. Keep at it!
  • Business Acumen – Have enough knowledge to do enough for your clients
  • Mult-skill set – be able to learn something or find people that have what you need
  • Networking and ability to build solid relationships
  • Immunity to rejection – Consulting is sales. Sales is a numbers game.
  • Self-development
  • Enterprising
  • Self-Improvemen
  • Have a desire to see results
  • Give Forward – give freely with no expectation of a response. It eventually comes back around.

If you are going to succeed as a consultant, you need to focus on results, not the process it takes to get the results.


Don’t be a peg. Be different and willing to go outside the normal expectation.

You need to have some of these skills:

  • Strategic mindset – look at the organization from a higher level
  • Business skills and know the language – you have to be able to talk to executives
  • Foster partnership and collaborative experiences
  • You must be discreet and trustworthy. You want people to be willing to share information with you.
  • Humility
  • Listening skills
  • Persuasive – you need to be able to get people to buy into your recommendations
  • Negotiating skills
  • Closing skills – there is still an element of sales with being an internal consultant.


First and foremost, it is a question of economics. Is there a need for the service you want to offer? If there isn’t, you probably should not take the leap and become an independent.

You need to perform a SWOT Analysis on yourself and on your business. This includes defining your strengths, challenges you face, the perceived opportunity, and your biggest threat.

Ask lots of questions. Make sure you know who can help you and what resources are available to you.
Remember, YOU are the opportunity. You are what you make of your situation. In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try…” You can’t succeed if you don’t commit to the path.

One of the most successful paths in consulting is Niche Consulting. Find a small market and service it completely.

Make sure to keep an eye on workforce trends. Some industries with projected growth include:

  • Business consulting
  • HR/Outsourcing
  • Healthcare
  • Hospitality
  • Education


There are only two real ways to increase your productivity or your organization’s productivity.
Cutting costs is the primary one you see in the corporate world. This is a very short-term solution. A company lays off employees because they need to “meet numbers”. In the end, the remaining employees get burnt out and when new budgets roll around, they end up re-hiring people to fill the roles they removed from payroll. Typically, this results in bonuses for upper management because they met their budget goals.

The other way is to increase output (units/labor). Essentially this means that if you do more, you demand more revenue.

You can increase output by:

  • Developing partnerships
  • Offering multiple products
  • Offer samples to increase customer base
  • Work in multiple growth markets
  • Identify referral partners – vendors/clients/other consultants
  • Develop multiple marketing efforts – networking, offering webinars, speaking engagements, and writing for blogs or magazines
  • Use interns to handle extra work
  • Expand your options through new product lines and by cultivating referrals


  • You can change your focus – be creative and brainstorm new or different angles or ways to hit your market
  • Reconsider your marketing budget. If more prospects see your marketing efforts you have a better chance of getting a new client
  • Sales is a numbers game. If you increase your numbers, you will increase your sales.
  • Cross-sell/up-sell/multiple-sell – McDonald’s was phenomenal with “Would you like fries with that?”. How can you incorporate this into your program?
  • Add a value-based menu to your services
  • Give outstanding service. Clients appreciate this and will come back for more.


Some things that all of us can learn from this:

  • Your culture and values will affect your approaches and beliefs. How you were raised and what you think about yourself will determine the way you approach consulting and your success in that occupation.
  • Always offer samples. Let potential customers have a way of sampling the benefits you offer. If they believe in the benefits after the sample, it is likely that they will eventually purchase from you.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. This is a lesson many of us learn early in life. This is the reason for multiple streams of income. If one fails, you have others that supplement.
  • Use what you recommend to others. This is also known as “drink your own Kool-Aid”. If you sell consultancy, it would be wise for you to receive consultancy from others that can help you. This will make you a better consultant. If you know how others work, you will both learn from it and be better or you will have experiences you don’t want to inflict on your customers. You learn something positive either way.
  • You should outline your personal experiences to develop your personal philosophy. This philosophy will determine the type of consultant you become.



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