Collected writings on Theory & Practice for Independent Consultants

A book outline

The Strategic Independent will eventually become a book Mid-2020 if all goes to plan. . For now, I’ve collected my writing within the broad themes the book will cover. Plenty of gaps and more to write. If you see sections or ideas not currently addressed I’d love to hear from you: [email protected]

The latest post from this series is: Yes! and... Chapter 3 - Blocking & Unblocking Clients written on 6 December 2019.

There’s also an annotated version of this outline with 70+ comments and notes here.

Right now - the book will cover the following broad topics:

Intro & Overview

What does it mean to be a strategic independent - the core thesis and audience for the book is that it’s not just for consultants, but rather a slightly broader set of “strategic independents”. I explain what this and show how this model can lead to better paid, more interesting and more effective work in my post: the strategic independent

Importantly - this will not be a “get rich quick” book. There’s nothing in this book about escaping from the work or building passive referral incomes For the record - there’s nothing wrong with passive income streams. But I find if you go looking for advice or support there’s a ton of people that will discount the actual work and try and push directly to the passive income stream as ‘the answer’. I disagree and think there is a stimulating, rewarding and engaging practice to be built about consulting and I am attempting to write a practical book on the topic. . Rather this is about building a sustainable independent practice. Yes, that requires understanding pricing and billing and attempting to charge enough to sustain yourself through feast and famine. But it is mostly about the practice of doing the work and being the thing. Not escaping being the thing.

1. From Networking to Networked

This chapter will cover building your own network and generating leads.

Based off my theory of small b blogging I’ll explore some of the same themes - that you don’t need to be famous to generate leads. A small network that you consistently communicate with and educate on the work you do is all you need.

Strange Attraction - landing referrals from your network can feel random, and while it’s unpredictable you can still play system-level games to help generate the right kinds of work.

2. Designing Client Engagements

This chapter will cover designing client engagement that set you up for success and for long term retainers (which are the lifeblood of a sustainable practice). From designing the engagement to the nuts and bolts of pricing and contract review.

Workshops as trust builders. A lot of my work starts with relatively modest workshops with the key stakeholders in the room. One of the benefits of this is being able to structure much more open ended and broad stroke engagements (and scopes) off the back of it. Read more in the post workshops as portals.

Designing pricing and proposals. Lots of things to be written here. For now - a great resource is the sample proposals [pdf] from Alan Weiss.

I’ll draw on the concept of strategy & stewardship to think about retainers and long-term work embedded with your clients and how to transition between them.

3. Effective Strategy Work

I’m obsessed with doing effective strategy work. Work beyond powerpoints and documents - work that actually transforms and changes organizations. This chapter will explore how to do good work for clients.

Zero hour consulting - this concept is building confidence and techniques for walking into a client’s office on day 1 and being effective. This is a post not yet written.

High fidelity consulting - this concept is all about moving beyond documents to a higher fidelity of work to enable you to be more provocative and useful with your outputs. I’ve touched on this with the post here but there’s more to be written. “Ideas without details and details without ideas are both risky”

How to get things done - there’s a few provocative ideas in this post that need exploring and expanding. Most notably the deck linked here that really gets into the heart of the idea that “Amateurs talk about strategy. Professionals talk about logistics”.

Yes! and… - this is a series in progress all inspired by Impro by Keith Johnstone and the foundational idea that consultants need to think on their feet like improv actors.

Strategy is the organic flow of ideas and people - here we start to expand our idea of what kind of work we’re hired for in the first place and recognize that it’s all about people. The title of this post is taken from an excellent paper by Stripe Partners and there’s tons to explore here.

The consultant’s grain - this piece is grounded in the insight that “(their) culture eats (your) strategy for breakfast”. It’s crucial to recognize which recommendations and strategies will go with the organization’s grain and which will go against the grain. Very different approaches are needed for each situation.

Ways of seeing - this is perhaps my most polished piece of long form writing and pairs perfectly with the consultant’s grain above. This covers how you actually understand and recognize an organization’s culture and embraces the idea that perhaps the pinnacle of consulting work is to help your clients to see in new ways.

How (and why) to roll your own frameworks in consulting engagements - if teaching clients ways of seeing is important, this post shows you how to do it and walks through some pitfalls I’ve fallen into in my own work trying to rely on off the shelf frameworks.

4. The Inner Life of Independents

This chapter covers the emotional roller-coaster that comes with being independent, attempting to jump in and out of different clients and deal with the ebbs and flows of client work.

Drawing heavily on my personal experiences I’ll tease out stories and thinking around how to deal with the journey - 2 years on the road, 3 years on the road, 4 years on the road.

Labels, naming and identity are crucial components of your inner life as a consultant. Two posts laid the foundations here: the power of labels and a personal exploration of why I chose not to create a brand for my consulting. Then the real exploration takes place in my latest post I, consultant that really explores the inner angst of making labels but also looks at the benefits of making a capitalist label to do the charging for you.

“The full-time question” - every independent consultant I know has come across the question at some time or another. A client wants to pull you in full-time for a salaried position. It instantly causes a chain-reaction of emotions that touch on your personal identity, financial stability and more. This is explored in the section The “question” & the identity crisis of the I, consultant piece.

Biking on tuesdays - the best advice I ever got when I first headed out on my own was to embrace the busy times and the slow times. If you’re able - head out for a bike ride Tuesday 11am. Because you can. And it’s the whole point. And it’ll keep you sane. This post is not yet written but I’ve touched on it a fair amount in my yearly roundups…

This blog is written by Tom Critchlow and this piece is part of an ongoing strategy series. If you like what you read please leave a comment below or sign up for my Tinyletter.