Out of the blue I got this call from a friend who I remember was doing quite well as CIO of a large company where he had spent more than a decade. He had decided to hang up his boots and get off the corporate rat race and treadmill to become his own master. Curiosity getting better of me, I asked him about his decision and what prompted him to leave his well-settled and visible corporate avatar? When did the entrepreneur bug bite him? How had the first few months been ? He promised to meet and catch up.
We met over a cuppa; he had been asked this so many times that he started narrating his story. His planning had started almost a decade back with financial goals and family commitments post which he had his succession plan executed and made a clean break. I admired his long-term planning; consciously he took no extensions, no being a consultant and lingering on, no special assignments and no burnt bridges too. He wanted to pursue his passion and thus took the plunge; early results had been a mixed bag.
His new venture focused on a vertical which did not have too many people focusing or investing on; his early meetings got him good traction and agreement to work together with almost every stakeholder he met. He had chosen well and used his expertise and knowledge to create options and solutions. He had also thought of offering his experience as CIO to work with other CIOs towards research and analysis, benchmarking, and KPI review or aid any other activity where CIOs needed additional capacity or bandwidth.
Most CIOs he met knew him or knew of him and the success he had created; they would hear him out, agree they needed help but were reluctant to sign him up. The story repeated itself with the same outcome until one CIO candidly mentioned to him: I know you and I know the quality of work you can deliver; but how do I convince my team and management of the value proposition? They need a credible brand which can withstand scrutiny from any quarters. It is not about where you have been or what you have done or can do.
Many moons later I met another CIO who had trained to become an executive coach; he too had sold his Ferrari and followed his desire to coach and mentor people. He was successful as a CIO and being highly vocal about his views, it made him a popular fixture in conferences. He was getting along with some training, workshops and coaching for aspirant leaders for a couple of companies. His branding was strong and as a mascot for his chosen industry, he wanted to encash the branding. He too had met with similar fate.
Quickly he realized the reasons behind the lack of conversions from proposal to projects. His CIO brand was well known, his consultant skills not so; his potential customers wanted a management consultancy or a research organization to provide the required respectability and branding. Most of them took his inputs and then went along to the tier one providers to provide the slideware that they could use within their organizations. He was disheartened and was mulling the option to join hands with one such firm; if you can’t beat them, join them!
Is branded advice such a big thing that differentiates it from what an independent consultant would offer? Is the person offering his/her expertise reduced when there is no stamp of endorsement? The reality is in almost all cases is yes! Consulting and research houses have wealth of knowledge gained over hundreds if not thousands of engagements available to all their consultants. They are able to use this and also bounce ideas of a group of experts that gives them an edge over a lone ranger. This cannot be replicated by the individual.
If the strategic parts were to be separated with the operational, tactical and execution, there could be some traction that individual professionals branching into consulting could leverage. Collectively some individuals representing a company, their own outfit has a story, alone it’s a nonstarter. There are some who have done this and are gaining traction in the small and medium enterprises; they are not pitching to big enterprises. If you are on your own, think about joining hands with someone.