When someone asked what my job was, I used to tell them I was a “Consultant”. This was an accurate title. I worked with companies, largely on digital marketing, video, and product planning. I’ve stopped using the title, however, and should have given it up sooner.
A few years ago, a client told me I wasn’t a “consultant” because I was doing work. That may or may not have been true, but I should have changed my branding at that time. I kept the title because, to me, taking a consultative approach meant acting like a doctor.
If someone goes to a doctor, they don’t just say “give me chemo”. Good, heck, even mediocre doctors diagnose patients and give them possible treatment options. My goal was separating myself from the service provider whose proverbial service hammer causes everything to look like a nail.
Yes, if someone called me and said they wanted YouTube marketing, I was always happy to provide the service. But what I aspired to be was someone a company could call when they needed to know what services they should use.
The part of Miracle on 34th Street when the Macy’s Santa Claus is sending people to Gimbels rubbed off on me. An aspect of my career I’m proudest of is how many times I told someone they didn’t need a service they called me about. I felt the consultant moniker was the best way to convey the message of what I aspired to be professionally.
The word consultant has taken a hit recently with people on YouTube selling classes to teach everyone how to be a “consultant”. But honestly, it was never the best part of the business world. Even with all my analogies, appealing to authority of medical professionals, Kris Kringle and classic films, my experiences with consultants have been largely negative.
Often, I’ve worked on projects with a “consultant” who adds no real value and injects themselves into operations in ways that even hinder success. I joke that I will someday write a satirical book called “Sandbagging with a Smile: The Guide to Appearing Important by Forcing Everyone to Play a Game of Telephone.”
Here’s an example of the bad side of consulting behavior. After I’d spent a few months designing and documenting this product I needed to hire a developer. I didn’t need design, or product management, just a programmer. When I asked around for introductions, my mind was blown by how many non-developers wouldn’t just make intros, wanting me to hire them to manage a developer they know.
The behavior I’m describing was purely parasitic. In only one case did the person trying to inject themselves into a 10-15 hour ruby project, have any background in product or project management. It was people who realized the referral fee on 15 hours of development would come to a lot less than adding 10 hours of “product management” trying to make a quick buck. No one was concerned about creating value or building good will.
I was so aware of the parasitic folks in consulting, that my branding at one point was that I was a “real consultant” not someone who’s only skillset was outsourcing work at a markup and holding account logins hostage. Basically, the same marketing play of used car lots, “used car salespeople are bad, but we’re different.” I should have given up the title sooner.
I’m still not sure what to call myself. I’ve used terms like “digital strategist” and “growth hacker” (I really went after the growth hacker branding) but those terms are unclear. Someday, I’ll figure out my own branding. For now, I am not a consultant.