The Strategic Independent
Collected writings on Theory & Practice for Independent Consultants [a book outline]
The Strategic Independent will eventually become a book Sometime in 2019 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: Strange Attraction written on 12 March 2019.
Right now - the book will cover the following broad topics:
Intro & Overview
Why “strategic independent”? - there’s a core idea here that if you want to build a sustainable practice for yourself you need to think about becoming strategic. Even if you’re not doing “strategy” work. There will be a section here exploring some of these terms and foundational ideas.
“Only let clients in the strategy door” - this is a concept from David Barker’s book Expertise. Essentially, there’s nothing wrong with execution work but it doesn’t work out in your favor to lead with it for new projects. I haven’t written about this yet but if you ponder this diagram for long enough you should get the picture!
The Inferno of Independence - this is a powerful piece of writing and I’ll reference this to explain that this book is not just about doing the work but also the lived experience of being an 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. This post is not yet written.
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… - I’ve got an analogy in my head around why improv comedy is much like consulting. Thinking on your feet, making things up without resorting to outright bullshit, keeping the focus of a room and more. This post is not yet written.
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.
4. The Inner Life of Consultants
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.