09 April 2010

FAQ on My Consulting Business Model

Here are a bunch of frequently asked questions (FAQ) about me and my work as an independent Consultant contracted by consulting firms. Hope this saves interview time for potential consulting associates who are considering hiring me for their next client. Some of the commonly asked questions will be clear when my business website is up and running. If there are any additional questions please add them in the comment box! Here goes..


1. What is your way-of-doing-business model?

Currently based in Dubai (UAE), I am an independent a.k.a freelance Consultant in the field of Organisation Change and HR Development. I work with local and global consulting firms that outsource project assignments for me to lead and execute for their clients. My consulting services are geared toward business organisations but my "client" or "associate" is the consulting company that contracts me for project work. In addition to on-site corporate consulting, I independently manage web-based virtual consulting services geared toward overseas-based clients and consulting agents.

Many consulting companies hire independents such as myself for reasons of cost-effectiveness, specialist expertise, client location, and the need for an extra pair of eyes and hands! This unique business model is based on my career growth strategy, which is predominantly about the quality of management consulting experience I am looking for. It has been hugely successful for both my clients and myself ever since I started my consulting practice in 2003.

2. Why have you chosen to stay independent rather than work full-time for one consulting firm?

Based on my career growth strategy, my goal is to do high-quality work where I can make a significant difference to organisations and enhance the reputation of firms I work with. I receive full-time job offers from companies on almost a daily basis but I do not accept this style of traditional work for many reasons. My core beliefs as a person make me have quite a unique set of motivations. For me, it is not as much about securing a steady income as much as it is about:

Deliberately choosing the kind of work that excites me as a professional; Utilizing all of my skills and competencies as a change agent to full effect. Working with a few exclusive consulting firms has allowed me to do those projects that I freely choose to be involved with. The option to be able to choose my projects is invaluable to me because I need to offer my total attention, dedication, and commitment to work and for that to happen I must love what I am doing. And so by associating with a range of consultancies I get to broaden my assignment pool and select how and where I can offer my special skills. Also, many consulting requests by clients sadly set you up for failure. Therefore I make sure that the client is 100% into the change process with me and the consulting team. If they are not, I do not take up the project. Due to this work ethic, the range and significance of my consulting practice has grown exponentially in a very short time.

Bringing variety in terms of people, environment, and situational challenges. I thrive on experiencing variety and diversity with many types of work styles, cultures, and team members. Working with different clients and consulting teams gives me a new perspective every single time I am engaged in a project. New learning always enhances my consulting methodology and practice, and will continue to do so for years to come. Operating independently has directly contributed to my ability to flow with clients / associates of highly variable structures, policies, decision-making processes, and work arrangements. I want to be available for the best work that comes my way, creating the biggest impact I can for organisations that are ready to receive transformation. I choose 100% quality and enjoyment in my work experience as a direct result of this belief.

Managing my calendar to pursue my personal interests. Developing my sense of self is one of my highest values, and as a freelancer I take the liberty to invest my own training and development. I strive to be a well-rounded person and choose not to let work consume the other parts of my living. Devoting time to pursuits such as painting, karate, spiritual practice, and reading impacts my work to bring change to organisations. My status as independent creates options for me to invest in myself more so than if I was committed to a Company full-time. Many of my colleagues ask me how I manage to sustain myself financially and emotionally being an independent. It's a fairly simple formula. I have goals for the year and manage my work around those goals. When I first started out it was tough, but fortunately over the years as I've built up my credibility I rarely find myself out of project work. And if I am on a natural sabbatical, I embrace that time and maybe take a vacation, catch up on reading, paint away on lazy days, connect with friends and family, spend more time at the gym, update my websites and blogs, and anything that brings me to a state of time-flying bliss. There is never a dull moment with or without work.

3. Do you market the products/services of your associate consulting firms?

No. I am not a sales or marketing professional. At most, my associates might bring me to prospective client meetings or presentations if they feel I have an edge for securing a consulting gig. I have however advised my associates on networking strategies, market pricing, website content, proposal/presentation design, and brand logos as benefits of my artistic skills. I do not make revenue out of this advising but if any of it proves to be beneficial to the associate's bottom-line results, they are free to add to my performance bonus if they so choose.

4. What is your working arrangement with the firms you represent?

My contracts with consulting associates are usually for a specific time-period to complete deliverables based on process steps in a consulting proposal. Contracts usually include the following items between myself and the consulting firm:
a. Consulting role and scope
b. Timeline of assignment
c. Process steps
d. Workspace allotment
e. Payment amount, method, time
f. Confidentiality clause
g. Contingency clause

Some associates require me to be at their office full-time, others allow me to work from my own office (except when there are client interactions), many require me to be stationed full-time at the client's project office, some are very happy for me to work virtually through Skype. Any of these conditions suit me fine as long as the work mode does not interfere with the success of the assignment. I do not ever intend to go direct to clients due to the nature and size of consulting assignments I receive. I always need a team for back-end support as well as assistants and throught partners to execute the work. When I associate myself with a company offering services to a client, rest assured that I become part of its culture and adapt my workstyle so that I am responsible to maintain the company's reputation, values, and client confidentiality.

Financial terms with my associates include the following options: 1) per day rates for assignments lasting less than 30 days, or 2) per month retainer for multiple clients/assignments, or 3) lump sum for long-term assignments lasting more than 3 months. The only terms I have is that I would be directly involved in proposal writing, get back-end support, would be allowed to add the projects to my CV and website in exchange for a link to the associate's website, expect to be heard if working with a team, and do not want to be offered a full-time position with the consulting company or client.

5. How do you ensure that there is no conflict of interest between various firms that outsource work to you?

In addition to signing a confidentiality agreement, there are several conditions under which consulting firms may sign me up for contract work. Common conditions include:
a. I do not go direct to clients seeking consulting projects
b. I do not work with clients that come through 3rd party associates for at least one year after an assignment has been formally signed off
c. I do not represent more than one consulting associate at any point
d. I work on multiple assignments with more than one client only if it comes through from the same consulting agency
e. I forward and copy all project communication between me and a client to the consulting company's owner
f. I agree to provide a copy of my mobile phone records if required pertaining to contacts in the client organisation for verification and billing purposes
g. I reserve the right to accept the best offer in case where I am approached by more than one associate bidding for the same client and assignment, if I am not under a per-month retainer contract with any associate
h. I withhold and do not transmit confidential data regarding client contacts, findings, deliverables, and consulting associate details to other associates and clients

6. What is your consulting process and approach?

I have developed a unique process working with established mentors in the OD field and through research and experience, having tested what works in the region with its cultural dynamics. In the Middle East, there is a propensity to consider the external consultant to be an "expert". The definition of Consultant for me does not fit that mould as I consider myself to be a guide and facilitator first and foremost rather than someone who is hired to come in and dictate do's and don'ts. If you have downloaded my Services pdf document from the homepage, I list out a set of guiding principles I abide by during any engagement. Every consulting engagement must support the organisation's major bottom-line goals of profit, customer satisfaction, and sustainability. That is why my consulting approach starts and ends with top management but dives deep in the middle to involve key employees.

Specifically, the approach I am known for involves in-depth facilitation to elicit the feedback of key organisational members representing all layers, and jointly creating solutions in a safe way. In this regard I see myself as a messenger between top management and employees to bring them onto common ground and eventually toward a unified vision and strategic direction. Many consultants prefer to work only for top management benefit in the form of improving business process or creating employer-oriented policies rather than involving those who have to be hands-on no matter how improved these processes and policies become. The world of psychometric testing, surveys many of which are poorly designed, and all sorts of tools that create boxes to label employees with are very popular. In my opinion these off-the-shelf tools would work better with qualitative data collection through an independent source that gets into the hearts and minds of your people who have life goals of their own.

Working on your organisation's quality and efficiency through business process, market research, new technology is wonderful and essential. But the cycle is not complete if your people, customers, and vendors are not valued during the execution of processes and policies. My approach in a nutshell is to complete this cycle for organisations in their quest for business excellence by helping them create fair, valid, effective, and profit-building people management strategies and systems.

7. What industries do you specialize in?

I specialize in people and their interactions at the workplace. This could be any workplace, any industry, any corporation. Any entity that employs human beings to support or conduct business transactions with target customers can approach me. As an external consultant I get asked the "what industries?" question a lot. Continuing on from my definition of what a Change Management / HR / Organisation Development Consultant is, I am not an expert in the trends of every industry. Industry experts are out there, so feel free to listen to the top gurus at your next industry-specific convention. The client is the expert and specialist in their industry. Why have most clients forgotten that they already possess industry-related knowledge? I believe people basically operate from the same plain of emotional and reward-seeking behavior in any workplace, so the industry a client belongs to is pretty irrelevant for the value I create with my service.

If you must know, I have worked with clients in the following industry sectors: agriculture, financial auditing, foods, electronics, property, avionics, education, civil engineering, information technology.

8. How do you manage web-based consulting without personal contact with the client?

My online web-based service is not devoid of personal contact. If the client is present in the UAE a face-to-face kick-off meeting takes place to discuss scope and results required. With overseas clients I have run meetings via Skype and web conferencing so there is always personal contact where clients have instant access to me for project issues. Many of my online services involve deliverables created on MS Office and "shipped" via email. Other online services include individual consultation or group interaction and moderation either through phone or web conferencing. As with my on-site services, I make it a point to schedule regular status meetings with all clients every week to inform them of progress and challenges with project goals.

9. Can I use the free tools and templates with my own clients and/or in my organisation?

Yes. I only ask that you credit me on the tools with: ©2010 Mubeena Mohammed www.mubeena.biz.

10. What psychometric and established survey tools do you use in your consulting practice?

None. I am not a fan of psychometric assessments because they do not capture unique intelligences that every person possesses. I do not believe people need this kind of testing to assess their worth. My focus is on bringing people together to generate their own solutions that are fit for their work environment. Working on the basis of individual only is a slippery slope because at the end of the day people are social beings that need to operate in the context of groups and teams. Assessing individual skills is fine as long as the results are used to compliment the skills and work styles of those they interact with.

Many psychometrics focus on individual "gaps", an orientation I do not encourage as it concentrates on limits and expects an individual to come "in line" with a test's ideal profile. To understand my concept of human intelligence and why psychometrics do not cut it for me, I suggest reading "The Element" by Ken Robinson which talks about the unlimited creative capacity of human beings. The book relates stories of real people who were put into a certain "will not amount to much" type courtesy of popular intelligence/personality/ability tests and how did they actually end up? Take a guess. The point is not about overcoming the barriers of a test but rather how the people in these stories made it in their chosen line of work with a unique self-discovered intelligence undetected in most psychometric and standardized testing today.

With regards to survey tools, I custom-design survey and data collection tools for the client using their cultural lingo and the questions that need to be asked after identifying areas of priority impacting the organisation. I may use established tools as a reference point. And I also do not use surveys as a stand-alone solution for data collection. In my practice, it is a must to include a qualitative methodology in order to generate a story behind the numbers and bar graphs that surveys deliver. I do not recommend creating action plans based solely on survey number data.

11. What HR-related certifications do you have?

None. Surprised? I get this question a lot as you can imagine. What knowledge or experience would HR trainings and certifications provide me with that I do not already have from my Masters' degree in Organisational Psychology and the past 10 years of intense consulting practice? My motto has always been "the knowledge is out there" and I highly recommend reading and researching professional journals on the latest findings rather than investing in certification programs that are somehow supposed to boost the credibility of a Consultant. If you would like to assess my credibility and quality, please feel free to ask me for references who would be happy to speak to you about specific work deliverables, results, and processes I've used to achieve client objectives.

12. What is your personal background?

Born in Mumbai, grew up in Dubai, college in New York. After 6 years of college in the U.S. I returned to Dubai and started looking for jobs in the Human Resource and OD arena but was offered personnel and payroll administration, and Personal Assistant roles. Refusing to get stuck in the administrative world, I fearlessly plunged head-on into the consulting river and thus have never had a permanent job. Personally I am a self-proclaimed philosophy junkie, painter, writer, 1st Dan Black Belt in Karate, total foodie, a die-hard Bollywood and cricket lover, an all-round happy woman who detests daytime TV, avoids news channels, follows everything Google and Apple, and has a hard time resisting apple deserts. Thinker. Dreamer. Spiritualist. Meditation addict. Believer in the idea that we are spiritual beings having a human experience.


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August 23, 2010 11:47 AM  

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