How to Make It Big as a Consultant
Author: William A. Cohen, Ph.D.
Pub Date: June 2009
Print Edition: $18.95
Print ISBN: 9780814410325
Page Count: 352
Format: Paper or Softback
Edition: Fourth Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814410332
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THE WORLD’S FOREMOST CONSULTANT
AND HIS IMPACT ON THIS BOOK
IT HAS BEEN ONLY LAST YEAR that my book A Class with
Drucker: The Lost Lessons of the World’s Greatest Management
Teacher (AMACOM, 2008) was published. I had the very great
honor of being Peter Drucker’s first executive PhD student and
of maintaining a relationship with him over a 30-year period.
This is significant because Peter Drucker was not only the
greatest management teacher, but was also known as The Father
of Modern Management. Moreover, he was also the most celebrated
management consultant worldwide. Drucker Societies
have sprung up all over the world to continue his ideas and his
legacy. And no wonder: His ideas were not just fluff. Consider
just one of his clients and one engagement.
Jack Welch, the legendary former General Electric CEO, sat
down with management consultant Drucker shortly after
01-HMBC-FM-2 3/4/09 2:32 PM Page xiii
becoming CEO of GE. Drucker posed only two questions, but they
changed the course of GE’s future.Those two questions were worth billions
of dollars over the course of Welch’s tenure as CEO. The first
question was, “If GE weren’t already in a business, would you enter it
today?” Then he followed up with, “If the answer is no, what are you
going to do about it?”Welch decided that if GE could not be number
one or number two in a market, the business would have to be fixed,
sold, or closed. According to Welch, that strategy, which was based on
his consultation with Drucker and the questions Drucker asked, was at
the core of GE’s success.1
Yet Drucker did not consult for just large corporations. He consulted
for small businesses, nonprofits, governments all over the world,
the military, and churches.Yet he had no giant consulting firm to back
him up. He was a sole practitioner who even answered his own phone.
He did not even have a secretary.
Many of the techniques and concepts in this book originated with
Peter Drucker. I just did not realize their origins until I sat down with
my notes from my time as his student and reflected on what he taught.
So I am doubly enthusiastic about updating this book. Its errors, if any,
are mine. But the debt I owe Peter—and that’s what he asked all of his
students to call him—for pushing me in the right direction and showering
me with his wisdom, ideas, and friendship is significant.The incubation
of many of the concepts and techniques contained in this book
are surely his, and I am happy not only to acknowledge this, but to dedicate
this edition, the fourth since 1985, to him.
HOW CONSULTANTS GET STARTED
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of consulting, you need to understand
one thing. Like many others, I did not start out in life with a burning
desire to become a consultant. I know that I am not alone in this
regard, for I have talked to hundreds of other consultants, both full and
part time, and very few started out with that intention. Most of them
must have had an early experience like mine. Because my entrance into
the consulting field was unplanned, the first time I performed consulting
services I had no one to ask for advice.
This is true even of Peter Drucker. Drucker did not plan on
becoming a consultant. I know this because Peter said that his first
experience in consulting started not long after arriving in this country.
Previously, he had been a newspaper correspondent and journalist as
well as an economic analyst for a bank and an insurance company.
However, because he had a doctorate (in international law, not in management),
Peter’s services were mobilized for World War II. Peter was
told that he was to serve as a management consultant. Drucker said that
he had no idea what a management consultant was. He checked a dictionary
but could not find the term. He said he went to the library and
the bookstore. “Today,” he told us, “you will find shelves of titles. In
those days, there was almost nothing.”The few books on management
did not include the term, much less explain it. He asked several colleagues
and had no better luck.They did not know either.
On the appointed time and date, Drucker proceeded to the
colonel’s office, wondering all the way exactly what he was getting
into. A receptionist asked him to wait, and an unsmiling sergeant came
to escort him to the colonel.This must have been a little intimidating
for a young immigrant who not too many years earlier had fled
from the military dictatorship of Nazi Germany, most of whose party
members wore one sort of uniform or another.
Peter was led into the office by yet another stern-faced assistant.
The colonel glanced at Peter’s orders and invited him to be seated. He
asked Peter to tell him about himself. He questioned Drucker at some
length about his background and education. But though they seemed
to talk on and on, Drucker did not learn what the colonel’s office was
responsible for, nor was he given any understanding of what he would
be doing for the colonel as a management consultant. It seemed as if
they were talking round and round to no purpose.
Drucker was more than a little uncomfortable in dealing with the
colonel. He hoped that the officer would soon get to the point and tell
him exactly what kind of work he would be doing. He was growing
increasingly frustrated. Finally, Drucker could take it no longer.“Please
sir, can you tell me what a management consultant does?” he asked
The colonel glared at him for what seemed like a long time and
then responded: “Young man, don’t be impertinent.” “By which,”
Drucker told us,“I knew that he didn’t know what a management consultant
Drucker knew that someone who did know what was expected of
a management consultant had made this assignment. Having lived in
England and having read Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes,
Drucker knew what a consulting detective did.With that knowledge
and the insight that the colonel did not know anything about management
consulting, Drucker asked direct questions about the colonel’s
responsibilities and problems. Peter then laid out some options about
what should be done and the work that he, Drucker, should do. The
colonel was interested and clearly relieved. He accepted Peter’s proposals
in their entirety.This proved to be Drucker’s first successful consulting
engagement. So Peter Drucker was not only the father of modern
management; he may have been the father of modern management
consulting as well.
MY INITIAL IGNORANCE ABOUT CONSULTING
Experience in other fields had taught me that whenever I lacked
knowledge about something,my first step should be to find a book on
the subject. Like Peter, I did just that. I visited several bookstores, and I
checked with the libraries. But I found no books with the information
I needed in 1973 when I became a consultant for the first time.The few
books on consulting were all about consulting by the large consulting
firms.They contained none of the specifics on what to do. It was only
slightly better than when Drucker became a consultant.At least I knew
what a consultant did.
But there was much I did not know. How much should I charge?
Was a contract absolutely necessary? Did I need a business license or
some other kind of license? What could I do as a part-time consultant
without running into a conflict of interest with my full-time employer?
How much could I make if I decided to devote myself full time to
consulting? Also, if I consulted full time, how much time would I need
to spend marketing my services versus actually consulting, and how
should I go about marketing my services anyway? These and numerous
other questions plagued me, but I had no single volume to turn to for
Eventually I learned, but mainly it was the hard way: through experience.
I made numerous mistakes, which in some cases cost me a lot of
money and in all cases wasted time and brought frustration. However, I
did finally learn what to do and how to do it, and I began to make
money. I consulted for Fortune 500 companies, for small businesses, for
start-up companies, and for the government.
Then in 1979, I received my doctorate and became a full-time university
professor. (By the way, becoming a successful business consultant
in most specialties does not require a PhD, an MBA, or in fact any business
degree at all. More about that later.) In any case, becoming a business
professor did not curtail my consulting activities. If anything, it
AN ACADEMIC COURSE IN CONSULTING
At my university, I noticed that many students had a tremendous interest
in business consulting—and not just business students. I was persuaded
to develop an interdisciplinary course at California State
University at Los Angeles on the subject of consulting for business. As
the course developed, we did not stop at theory; every quarter I invited
practicing consultants from many fields to share their experiences.
The speakers ranged from those in small, one-person operations to staff
consultants employed by multimillion-dollar corporations. My speakers
included full- and part-time consultants, and both men and women.
So popular did this course become that it attracted not only business
students from all disciplines but also psychologists, chemists, anthropologists,
attorneys, and English majors. Many of those who took the course
were older students from outside the university, including engineers,
pilots, and many company executives and professionals who wanted to
leave their corporate jobs or to consult part time.We even attracted a
number of professors, who sat in on these lectures at various times to pick
up what they could and some students from the prestigious graduate
schools in the Los Angeles area.
Partially due to the success of the business consulting course, anoth-
er program for which I had responsibility also prospered.This was the
Small Business Institute at the university, for which I became the director.
The Small Business Institute program, conducted at universities
around the country under the sponsorship of the U.S. Small Business
Administration, furnished consulting services to small businesses.
Business students, supervised by professors, did the consulting. Over a
period of years, we developed one of the largest Small Business
Institutes in the country and several times won district, regional, and
national awards for the top performance among all participating universities.
The Small Business Institute program allowed students in the
consulting course to do hands-on projects as a part of their education.
Unfortunately, this fine program fell victim to budget cuts in the federal
government in 1994. However, many universities continue it, asking
small business clients to pay for the consulting work accomplished.
I have to say, even when small businesses must pay, the program is still
a bargain for the businesses that choose to participate.
Meanwhile, the success of our program led to many requests for
help from outside the university. To make this program mobile, we
developed a consulting seminar that I gave several times a year. These
seminars were attended not only by neophyte and would-be consultants
but also by many consultants with considerable experience in their
professions. They generously shared their experiences and knowledge
with other seminar students and with me. Eventually I taught the consulting
course at other well-known universities, including the
University of California, Los Angeles, and Drucker’s School, Claremont
Graduate University. Sometimes I taught the course as part of an MBA
program and at other times in seminar form for the general public.
I left my first university to become president of a small graduate
school, and eventually I decided to go full time to devote myself to the
Institute of Leader Arts (www.stuffofheroes.com), into which my original
consulting practice has evolved.
THE INFORMATION IN THIS BOOK
As a result, this book is based not only on my own experience but also
on that of many others, including numerous guest lecturers, professors,
and students who have accomplished more than 500 different consulting
engagements for many different small businesses. It is also based on
the face-to-face interchange of ideas from consultants in many different
fields and geographic locations, and many consulting clients all over
the world, some of whom are in the government or military.
Had I had this book in my hands when I first started out, I would
have saved myself thousands of wasted hours and much frustration. I
would have avoided countless blunders, including journeys down blind
alleys, while I struggled to learn how to promote my practice, develop
long-term client relationships, and, in one case, get paid for services
already performed. This book contains the collective experiences of
hundreds who have endeavored to earn their livelihood through the
practice, either full or part time, of business consulting as well as ideas
that I developed based on Drucker’s concepts. Its aim is to help you to
build a successful and rewarding business consultancy.
But the book is practical, not theoretical. If I have done it right, you
should have all the tools necessary and know how to apply them to start
and build a successful management consulting practice. I don’t know
whether you will make it big. As Peter said,“Without action, nothing
gets done,” and the action part is up to you. But in the almost 30 years
since the first edition has appeared, literally thousands have used it to
help build a successful practice—and you can, too. So let’s get started!
1. John A. Byrne,“The Man Who Invented Management,” BusinessWeek
(November 28, 2005), accessed at http://www.businessweek.com
/magazine/content/05_48/b3961001.htm on November 19, 2007.
Excerpted from HOW TO MAKE IT BIG AS A CONSULTANT, FOURTH EDITION by William A.
Cohen. Copyright © 2009 William A. Cohen. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of
American Management Association, New York, NY. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
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