This marks my 16th year of being a consultant. Spare me from the consultant jokes like, “a consultant is someone who takes your watch to tell you what time it is.” I have heard them all.
Consulting has been the most intense, rewarding, frustrating, challenging, enjoyable, stressful, happy and confusing time of my work career. After nearly 16 years of consulting, I can honestly say that I have met some of the finest people in the world and made hundreds of true friendships in casinos and gaming jurisdictions too numerous to mention.
But I have also had to chase down payments for services, as well as not been paid at all. I have had new leadership take over a client property and been given the “royal boot” without any discussion. I have watched clients attempt to hire our project consultants for themselves. I have had project consultants campaign for senior positions with the client.
Yes, this consulting profession can be a tricky business.
I have often been asked by active consultants, wannabe consultants and former consultants for advice on how to be successful in gaming consulting. I share with you now the summary of the same main points that I have given to these colleagues over the years:
• Consulting takes commitment and resources. I have seen numerous out-of-work casino executives over the years get a business card with “Consultant” on it. Most of them have had very little success and finally settled for the next available job. Consulting takes commitment, time and resources. I committed a six-figure sum to start Raving—it was almost all gone in a year and a half.
• Be sure that you have professional consulting skills that are in demand and that a potential client will actually pay for. “Hot” consulting areas come and go (right now, analytics, player development, technology and database management are top areas of demand) and if you are going to make it in consulting, you need to make sure you have skills that a client doesn’t already have among its management team, and for which it would be willing to “write a check.” Just because you may have had a very senior role or an illustrious career doesn’t mean that you have a saleable skill.
• You need to have a quality professional network to get started as a consultant, but even then it is no guarantee of success. I was pretty “piped in” when I started consulting, having done much writing and speaking, and having had senior company roles that involved interacting with numerous senior executives across the organizations for which I worked. These friends were all helpful when I started consulting, but don’t assume your “friends” will start buying your services, no matter how highly they think of you, just because you have hung out your consulting shingle.
• Prepare for incredibly busy times and incredibly slow times, and understand that you will have to always be hunting for consulting work while you are actually doing consulting work.Unless you can join a consulting group that will effectively market your consulting services, you will always need to be “bird-dogging.” This can be hard to do when you are busy, on the road, or otherwise engaged. But if you don’t do it, your dry consulting periods will be drier and longer.
• Get straight with your family and never underestimate how much travel is involved in consulting.This single factor alone trips up many potential consultants. Unless you are one of the fortunate few consultants who can do the bulk of their work in a home or local office, you will be traveling—a lot.
• Understand all of the pieces there are to a consulting practice. Let’s see, there are accounts payable, accounts receivable, marketing, office administration, proposal writing, sales, production work, field work, etc., etc., etc. And if you are a “one-person show,” you get to do all of them!
• It’s all about relationships. Those you have, those you create, and those you fall into.Remember, it’s easier to be successful if you build long-term relationships instead of short-term paying gigs.
So, there you have it, a little insight into being a consultant. And I didn’t even mention the requests to support client charities, or state taxes, or trade show involvement, or regulatory agencies, or …
But if you do it right, consulting is the best job you’ll ever love.