As a consultant, you need to know your sellable skill set, or knowledge base. Just as importantly, you have to be able to package yourself in a way that the people who are buying your services will be comfortable engaging you.
I decided to write this particular post as a result of being asked the same question by several consultants over the last two years.
When you change the marketplace in which you offer your services, when do you really experience the risk of the decision? When I pose that question to consultants who are considering taking up a new area of expertise, they don’t seem to have a clear idea what I’m talking about. So, let me explain . . .
To highlight the issue, I’ll give an example of a specific conversation I had with a consultant I’ve known for five years. This consultant is a pharmacist who’s very experienced with Cerner Millinium applications. She’s worked for two different hospital systems that have used Cerner solutions and has, most recently, been working in the consulting world. Overall, she has worked on five different Cerner implementations around Cerner Pharmacy Solutions (PharmNet, CPOE, eMAR, etc.).
So, this consultant asked for my opinion regarding an opportunity she was considering: to be a part of an EPIC implementation. EPIC is a very hot marketplace right now, as it has been for the last few years. For that matter, it probably will continue to be hot for at least the next couple of years. She told me that she had an organization offering her the opportunity to come in as a consultant on the EPIC project, primarily working with Willow. She considered it a great move and sought out my opinion.
Here’s what I told her: “If you have an organization that’s going to hire you as a consultant because they see value in your knowledge and will give you exposure to a new application, and they’re willing to pay you an amount of money you’re comfortable with, then today you have absolutely nothing to lose by joining that project. You’re going to be part of an exciting project, make good money in the process, and come out at the end with a new skill set and an expanded knowledge base. But you will not know if you lost anything until you look for your next project.”
At this point the consultant asked, “What do you mean?”
Me: “At this time, if you have an organization that, knowing what you know and don’t know, wants to hire you and give you exposure to new things, you have nothing whatsoever to lose today.”
Consultant: “I agree. But what do you mean by today?”
Me: “The only time you may have something to lose is when you’re looking for your next project — the one right after this one is completed. And since this organization is planning to keep you for six months to a year, you may not know until a year from now.”
Consultant: “Dave, I still don’t get it.”
Me: “One year from now, you will begin to look for a new project, right?”
Me: “Will you look to stay in the EPIC market or go back to the Cerner market?”
Consultant: “Either one. Whichever has the best opportunity for me.”
Me: “Well, let’s look at both scenarios a year from now: If you look at another EPIC project, you will be presenting yourself with the experience of one EPIC implementation against other consultants who have participated in many. And if you decide to get back to the Cerner projects, you will be presenting yourself in a marketplace where you have not worked in a year.
“So, if you have an organization that’s going to hire you right now and give you exposure to something new, you have absolutely nothing to lose today by accepting it. Whether you have something to lose in the longer term, we’ll know only a year from now, and we won’t know that until we know what the demand is like then. If demand is like it is today [in a future post, I’ll get into how to forecast future demand for your skills], you will be fine or better then fine. But if the market tightens up, how will you fare in one market with the experience of one project and in the other in which you have multiple projects yet have not worked in it during the past year.”
Consultant: “OK, now I see the point!”
My point here is not to say that you should not change markets, as most people will have to reinvent themselves at least once, if not multiple times, if they want to have a long and successful career in the consulting world. The point is to make sure that you’re evaluating all aspects when making a good decision not only for today, but also for the future.
As a consultant, this is one of the top factors you should consider when changing your marketable and sellable skill set.
You may also like: What Kind Of Contractor Are You?