If you are working as a consultant, you probably thrive on finding and spotting opportunities which others don’t see. However, many consultants (including me), struggle with finding the right balance between networking, pitching and attracting business but not giving away too much valuable IP and ideas at the beginning of a new business relationship. I have heard stories (and have firsthand experience) of project ideas being taken and used without the consultant’s consent, loss of IP and worst of all, loss of reputation.
So how do you promote and sell your offering and skills but avoid giving away your professional value too early? Some thoughts:
1. Analyse and understand the opportunity
Many self-starters see opportunity everywhere, and see EVERY opportunity as exciting, valuable and potentially huge! This prevents us from exercising judgement as to which opportunities are real and which openings or introductions will never actually convert into work. It is worth looking at how the opportunity was created, what the track record of the buyer is around use of consultants and whether there is a framework already established for a consultant to come on board, to get an idea of what the true likelihood of engagement is.
2. Discuss practicalities early
There can be a tendency for a casual coffee meeting with a potential client to turn into a string of casual coffee meetings and catch-ups, leaving you with no clarity around timeframe, costs or roles and essentially wasting your time. If you are serious about your pitch to an organisation, have the confidence to raise basic questions around budget, timing and management support for the initiative at the outset. Set out your terms of further engagement and try to stick to them.
3. Beware of people picking your brains
“Having a coffee” is not an excuse for a potential business partner to blatantly pick your brains and then use your knowledge. A mutual sharing and building of trust is important before you divulge your best ideas and essentially give away your skills for free. Make sure any written proposals contain a statement that the IP belongs to you and that every exchange of information is kept confidential until the deal is done!
Above all, trust your gut! If you feel you are being compromised, you probably are. Don’t be afraid of politely and firmly saying you are unable to commit more time until you are on the books.