The term consultant is bandied about so much in this new economy that it has lost it’s meaning. Wikipedia defines a consultant as

A consultant (from the Latin consultare means “to discuss” from which we also derive words such as consul and counsel) is a professional who provides advice in a particular area of expertise….

A consultant is usually an expert or a professional in a specific field and has a wide knowledge of the subject matter. A consultant usually works for a consultancy firm or is self-employed, and engages with multiple and changing clients. Thus, clients have access to deeper levels of expertise than would be feasible for them to retain in-house, and to purchase only as much service from the outside consultant as desired.

What this definition misses is that a good consultant, especially in a small firm, is not simply a person with specific subject-matter expertise and therefore a subject-matter expert (SME), a consultant is a jack-of-all-trades.
A simple list of skills needed by a good consultant include:

  • Sales
  • Project Management
  • Product Management
  • Educator
  • Trainer
  • Mentor and Coach
  • Business Manager
  • Subject-Matter Expert

In large consulting organizations, these functions are broken out into specific team members. In a small consultancy, everyone has to be able to manage all of these items.

Then there is another leap: How does a consultant move to being an evangelist? These two roles are substantially different.

While both are SMEs, an evangelist takes that one final step from being a functional expert who is able to make things happen and work in a product to a place where they can stand in front of any audience and make the product sing. It is not just able the abilty to do anymore; it is about the ability to show.

Go through the list of people that you or your organization work with. Do you work with true consultants, SMEs, or evangelists? Which group is most effective in helping your organization get better? Are you using consultants as expert problem-solvers, or are you simply using them as staff augmentation?

To draw on my experience, I am learning to be a better small-firm consultant. I have developed my skills as a SME and Evangelist over the last decade, but I have not had to be worried about any of the things listed above until the last two years when I started working in a more structured consulting/Professional Services environment.

What has your experience been? Did you start as a SME and become a consultant?

Or did you come out of B-school and then develop into a SME?

How has your development as a consultant affected the clients you have worked with and experiences you have had?