VocationVillage.com interviewed Susan Melchert about her work as a Business Consultant. Here is what she had to say.
How would you describe the main functions of your work?
I train business owners how to maximize their resources with technology. For example, how to master computer software like Microsoft Office or SharePoint (an internal Web site where people from the same organization can share files).
What does a typical day look like as a Business Consultant?
The “typical day” changes a lot. It is easier to describe a typical week: one day for internal training to stay up-to-date, one day doing bookkeeping and invoicing and accepting payments, two to three days on the road visiting clients as needs arise. Sometimes into the evening as emergencies arise. Sometimes out the door in ten minutes when someone’s server has gone down. I am always ready to go. I’ll take a motorcycle in rush hour traffic. I do most of my training 1-1 but sometimes in small group training.
What do you like best about being a Business Consultant?
I enjoy empowering female professionals by teaching them how to use business and technology. I like to help people to feel more comfortable with technology. I also enjoy being appreciated for my listening skills and I love the teaching part of my job. Also, this job is fairly recession-proof. When budgets are lean, people will spend money to learn how to use the software they have rather than spend money on new software.
I also enjoy that people will give me their old computers when they upgrade or I will buy computer equipment from companies going out of business. I clean the computers and fix them up and sell them to worthwhile organizations for a reasonable price. This is not a big moneymaker, but a form of public service for me.
What are the most challenging things about your work?
Recruiting is hard, meaning it is difficult to find someone who can help me to deliver to the customer in a way that meets both my expectations and that of the customer. It is sometimes tough to find someone who can talk the language of business to the customer and also understand the technology.
How did you choose this particular type of work?
Back in the 1990’s while in graduate school to get an MBA, I held a job as a Library Research Assistant and I learned how to use the library database system. I also had a job in a school computer lab and helped instructors put together Web pages. These jobs evolved into my current business.
What was your professional background before you became a Business Consultant?
Before I went back to school to get an MBA, I was selling photographic equipment. I wanted to help photographers with their businesses so that’s why I enrolled in business school. While in school, other students and faculty were asking me for technical assistance and therefore I discovered the technology niche by observing the strong demand for it. Typically men are more protective of their knowledge and are condescending; however I was willing to share and now focus on helping other women.
What is your educational background?
MBA from Washington State University and Associates in Software Programming from Cascadia Community College.
What skills are most important to succeed as a Business Consultant?
Active listening and delivering what the customer expects, technical aptitude, willingness to invest time to stay current, ability to master new material, and willingness to ask questions of others.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a Business Consultant?
Admit when you do not know the answers to client questions and provide references as to where they can find the answers or offer to do the research yourself.
Remind your customer that we are all on the same path, only some have started before others and now it is our turn to help those starting after us.
If an experienced professional decided he/she wanted to make a career change to become a Business Consultant, what are the steps he/she should take to make a successful transition?
Surprisingly enough, there is a lot of information online; the trick is to find it, compile it into the functional areas of business and then read through it to the point you can explain it. For example, Microsoft offers a lot of free online training that you can complete. Find someone who already does this type of work and ask their advice. Offer to help them with whatever they might need in exchange for advice and mentoring. This way you could learn by observing and doing. Ask yourself what keeps you up at night and what makes you jump out of bed excited to start the day. What do you find yourself doing in your spare time, where time flies because you are so involved in what you are doing? Now find the need for that gift you possess.
Are there any commonly held misperceptions about your work that you would like to clarify?
People underestimate the amount of time it takes to prepare for a client – it takes more time than people realize. You may have a lot of prep time if you are learning something new. It may take three hours to prepare for a one hour meeting. Also, the wardrobe and presentation of one’s self are all part of the package. Many people in high tech wear jeans and a T-shirt. I wear business casual unless it is a weekend job where I will be crawling around dealing with the technology.
What is the income range for Business Consultants?
As much as one can manage. Typically when working for someone else, the hourly rate may vary between $30-$50. If you are an independent consultant, the hourly rate is $150, which takes into account all the prep time for that ONE hour.
What are your long-term career goals?
Doing more business coaching on functional elements like improving customer service processes, learning better time management, and utilizing the calendar in Microsoft Outlook for short and long-term planning. Also technical training, e.g. the most recent version of Microsoft Office and SharePoint.
Any other comments?
I love what I do because I get to be a hero and make someone’s life easier. My clients really appreciate my demeanor because I am patient and I encourage questions. I enjoy the public aspect as well as the process of preparing materials for handouts. This is my way of leaving others more empowered and building their self-esteem with business operations.
Thank you, Susan!
If you would like to read more about Susan Melchert and her company, please visit her website at SBACoach.com.
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