By Scott A. Mason, DPA, FACHE
The opportunity for consultants in healthcare to make a difference has never been greater than it is today. Regardless of motivation or career stage, consulting can be an exciting career path for those interested in leading and supporting the transformation of healthcare.
With more than 40 years of experience as a strategy consultant to healthcare organizations, I have had the opportunity to look back and make several observations about this line of work that may be helpful for leaders contemplating a career change.
Here are just a few considerations to keep in mind:
- People come to consulting at different times in their careers. U.S. News & World Report ranked consulting No. 2 on its 2017 list of “Top Jobs for MBA Grads in Health Care.” While consulting has always been a popular option for recent graduates and early careerists, senior executives seem to be increasingly interested in this career path. The motivations can be quite different, however. Because consulting comes in many forms, it can meet the unique needs of the variety of people. There is even a boomerang phenomenon now where leaders come in and out of consulting over the course of a healthcare career.
- Consultants need clients. There is no consulting without clients. This point seems obvious but, in my experience, most new consultants who struggle to succeed are the ones who underestimate the challenge of securing and maintaining clients. Having a network of people who value your expertise and seek your input is wonderful; convincing those individuals or organizations that the value you can offer is worth the cost can be the challenging part for newcomers. For example, it has been my experience that friends do not buy consulting services from friends; they are simply too used to getting advice for free. Clients must be willing to pay for your services.
- Consulting firms come in many shapes and sizes. Consulting is among the few options left for people who like being self-employed. Solo consulting focused on specialized expertise will forever be in demand. Likewise, some organizations will always prefer to find consulting services through larger firms. Different types of firms represent a plethora of options for those looking to land in the profession. For example, some firms feature consulting as their core business, whereas other organizations offer consulting as a support service to their products and other services. It is also worth noting that firms differ in their resources and what they can offer the new consultant in the way of training and access to clients. For some consultants, finding the right firm can be a lifelong pursuit.
- Establishing your brand is key.Just as organizations focus on branding to differentiate themselves, so should individuals. Consultants must be intentional about their brand. What is your area of expertise? What does your body of work say about you? How is that relevant to potential clients? Whether a solo consultant or part of a firm, it is important to make your own mark. If you work for a firm, it’s important that your brand aligns with their general values.
Gain other insights into the challenges and opportunities that come with working as a trusted adviser to healthcare organizations, and examine the critical business components of working as a consultant during the brand new Healthcare Consultants Boot Camp or the panel discussion, “So You Want to Be a Healthcare Consultant,” during the 2020 Congress on Healthcare Leadership in Chicago.
Scott A. Mason, DPA, FACHE, is the managing partner of SKM Enterprises and a faculty of ACHE. He is also authoring a new Health Administration Press book on the consulting experience for healthcare organizations, with an expected release of May 2020.