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Raghu had completed a year or so as an independent HR consultant. He helped companies put together policies relating to people management as also as a third party administer some of their administrative processes relating to comp. and ben.

He had consulted me before he started off on his own, and now he was meeting for a chat. In the course of our conversation he asked me, what I thought was a very important question: “What were the mistakes you made when you began your career ?” he asked.

Learning from mistakes is key to success. Here are a few I share for the benefit of others beginning their careers as independent consultants:-

  1. Very early when I started off as an independent management consultant, I was invited to make a joint bid for a contract with another professional. He had contacts in a large FMCG organisation. We met the contact manager who gave us his requirements. In my initial enthusiasm, I did not stop to check the terms of enagagement. I went ahead and invested time and energy to put together all they wanted. Later I found that the manager concerned was reluctant to meet us. There were excuses -at first that his superiors were studying the project, later that they were busy with other projects. To cut a long story short, one day I discovered that the manager had left that organisation. I never got paid for my work and what was worse, had given him a lot of my thoughts and ideas for free.
  2. A friend asked me to provide specialist services in a project for a large client of his firm’s. From his description it appeared that he had the contract in the bag and it was a now a matter of implementation. We had a series of meetings with the client executives. Only after I spent two days in meetings, did I realize that the order for the assignment had not been got by my friend. The days we spent were really in preparing the ground and establishing what we could do for the client.

My lessons from this are obvious:

  • In both cases, I got into a mess because I “partnered” with others. None of this would have happened if I had gone it on my own. If someone asks you to join them : clarify the relationship, commercial terms etc before accepting and carrying out any professional work for them.
  • Your work may be part of their pre-sales effort but you have invested time and effort and should be paid for that, unless the terms specifically say that it is a joint bid. In this case you are not the sub-contractor but an equal partner.
  • Time and effort on a sub-contract basis are very different from that of being an equal partner. I once invested in making a video for use in the training programs I facilitated. I contracted with a videographer to help make the film. Once the training film was made, he had to be paid. I couldn’t possibly tell him that I would pay him only after I sold the training film to my clients. He had done some sub-contract work for me, he was not partnering me in this business.

As I told Raghu, you learn with experience. You learn from your mistakes.

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This is the 132 nd of the “A Step A Day” series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success