Consulting: What does this mean to you?

By Bepsy Strasburg

Consulting is defined as professional advice to a client in varying disciplines and capacities. A consultant can choose to focus on a specific area of expertise or can bring their combined experience for the overall improvement in the company, utilizing their functional, operational and management expertise. Irrespective of the approach, I think we will all agree that certain soft skills are essential to successful execution. Skills like service orientation, teaming with others, communications, problem-solving, marketing (yes, marketing but that’s another topic), will make you successful but proving your value to the client comes through leadership skills, idea generation and critical thinking.

As a consultant, you were hired to bring your immense inventory of ideas that are reasonable, cost-effective, and useful to drive overarching performance goals for the organization and generate shareholder value. An experienced consultant, through their many years of work and life experiences, can bring this wealth of intelligence to the project, best practices that have tested and proven in a similar circumstance or industry.

What about leadership skills and critical thinking? In my opinion, this is the make or break of a long-term trusted advisor relationship with the client company, and beyond, in the client’s professional network. As a consultant, it is your responsibility to take charge, demonstrate the leadership skills to resource what is needed, anticipate and resolve issues proactively; take a holistic approach to improve the operations of the client and bring sustainable value. No one has the roadmap to make this happen. You have to take the lead in this effort.

A recent engagement with a client brought these leadership skills and critical thinking into focus. In an audit of utility bills to verify whether credits due to the company were accurately and completely given by the vendor, we asked this question: Had the optimal utility billing rate been applied to client locations that varied in usage (i.e., retail, office, manufacturing and warehouse) or by time of day or month? Other questions were related to the profitability of programs previously selected or allocation of costs among joint tenants in owned versus leased premises.

These inquiries identified opportunities outside the scope of the initial engagement; the value-add to the client was potential optimization of processes and cost structure which became evident when taking the client perspective, critical thinking and also in taking a leadership role. This is the differentiation expected of a consultant and one who will become a trusted advisor to the client.

Bepsy Strasburg is a Senior Director, Accounting and Finance at Accretive Solutions. Experienced in leading operational improvements that generate revenue, streamline infrastructure, contain costs, manage risk and achieve compliance. Bepsy has held the position of Chief Financial Officer /Vice President Finance of a private industrial company, Corporate Controller of Saybrook University, Corporate Controller of a fast paced Internet start-up retail company, and the Practice leader of a Risk Consulting and Advisory Services Practice of a national public accounting organization.