Ever had one of those days? You know, when the phone, the magazines, and your email seem to be constantly clamouring for your attention, and everybody in town is trying to get your time and money? When all you wanted was a trusted supplier to guide you the most relevant solution, preferably without you having to take out a mortgage to fund it? Ever wondered if there was any one in town who actually understood your problem BEFORE they tried to sell you their solution?
What if there was a foolproof way to obtain relevant, professional, knowledgeable, cost-effective advice from qualified and experienced practitioners? Would you go there? Of course you would! And the good news is that there is a way – you have already worked out how to solve this problem in your personal life, and you can apply the solution to your business.
When you need a problem fixing in your home, you seek out the advice of friends who have had the same issue and who can recommend a trusted professional. The same is true of business issues. Very few problems are unique (although we do sometimes feel as if we are the only ones this deep in the mud!), and the recommendation of a good friend or colleague can be a lifesaver. But how did your friend find this paragon of professional virtue to recommend to you? Sometimes it’s dumb luck or painful experience – the type you are trying to avoid! Sometimes though, it is because they were also able to call on a colleague who had been through a similar problem and who had had the foresight to ask some useful questions about the market.
I have an answer, what’s your problem?
The first trap in finding your valid solution is the supplier who has a library of solutions. The international groups can get away with this, sometimes because they have years of experience and hundreds of professional consultants. This does not however mean that their very expensive case studies, carefully researched and solved in Cape Town, or London, or New York, or wherever, are relevant to your local problem. And all the glitzy advertising in the world does not make up for this glaring mismatch.
The second trap is the “I’ve been doing this for XX years” statement. Doing the same thing for 10 years is not the same as having 10 years’ experience. Ten years of fixing petrol engines may make you a mechanic, but it is not a lot of use if my problem is a diesel engine! So, you must examine the relevance of the supplier’s experience to your specific issue, and “consultant” is just another word until you know exactly what they are capable of consulting on.
The third trap is the paper curtain. Ask for the supplier’s theoretical or professional qualifications and you may be pleasantly surprised at the high academic or institutional level they appear to have achieved. Look carefully at the names on the pieces of paper though, and you could be looking into the murky world of degree-mills – places where paper is sold and qualifications appear overnight, or worse, outright counterfeit documents. There is a way out.
The Consultant – Clever or Wise?
A quote I carry with me translates loosely as, “You can tell if a man is clever by his answers, but you can tell if a man is wise by his questions” (Mahfouz, 2012). Start learning (if you have not already!) to ask questions, lots of them, and pay attention to the supplier who asks detailed, relevant questions without any pretense of already having the answers to hand. Experience is a good thing, and the experienced consultant or trainer will be humble enough to admit they do not yet have your answer but that they have the ability to guide you to your required goal.
The last time I checked (some time ago), the Dubai Chamber of Commerce alone had over a thousand members registered as consultants or trainers. The recent economic times may have altered that number, but there is no substitute for knowing the market and for having valid and relevant practical exposure to it. People believe people: people believe people who live or have lived here; people believe people who can offer a local track record; people believe people that they feel they can trust; people believe people who other people recommend.
Serving, not selling
So, how do you market your business? It takes, I’m told, about five years to become an overnight success. Be prepared to earn the right to an opinion, the right to advise a local client by understanding the local conditions. Keep your work current, with provable development of everyone employed in your organization – even at the most senior level, the world’s most prestigious professional institutes insist upon their members showing clear evidence of continuous professional development annually. Above all, avoid the ego trap of thinking that just because you made it work in (insert here any city/country you wish), you can automatically replicate that success here. Build a relationship or buy a ticket home.