Design Thinking for independent consultants: defining your uniqueness.
While defining your Unique Value Proposition can be challenging for independent consultants, Design Thinking might reveal quite a helpful method in building up the proposal that makes you stand from the crowd. As it is, of course, to co-create innovative solutions with (potential) clients. Here's how we did it.
As an independent consultant, how do you define your unique value proposition? That's the challenge that I've addressed last week when creating an experimental exercise with a group of consultants using Design Thinking.
Relying on the generous Skills Exchange space, created by Impact Consulting Hub, I had the chance to encounter a number of independent consultants with whom we applied this method to try to define (or to redefine) the uniqueness of each one's professional proposal. Something that in marketing is frequently referred to as "Unique Value Proposition" or even "Unique Selling Proposition", but that for independent consultants might be a little more difficult to grasp.
Consultants often need to define their own practice by themselves, with almost no guidance nor colleagues' feedback whatsoever. But while working with a team can mean receiving constant external reflection on our own work, or testing yourselves in everyday professional life according to institutional or organizational processes, independents tend to be more isolated, even playing it as some sort of outsider. In other terms, consultants might need to trust themselves "only" and learn from their own practice in order to define their specificity on the road: as advancing in the consulting journey. It's always important to remember that we learn about who we are by doing, not by thinking about it. It is, therefore, an always-evolving process.
However, at one point one has to make concrete, plain, choices. Either the decision is to specialize in a thematic area or around a skills' universe, as consultants, we need to present ourselves as holding a unique proposition that makes us stand among the crowd. The aim of all this is to excel in what we do in order to help others to excel as well (companies, other consultants, organizations, governments and so on).
Of course, one can always choose to be "one more" among the crowd of consultants working, let's say, in migration issues, or in communications. But today's world is so competitive, and the rhythm is so fast that it is almost like vertigo! Not to mention that this competition means one have to prove really effective in others to obtain mandates and then to form a continuum of professional appointments that make sense. Because who we are, that's something that can change. But, if you take the snapshot of the moment, a definition, a clear proposal: and event better, an innovative proposal, can go a long way.
And, while Design Thinking is frequently associated with group dynamics, while receiving the training to learn how to apply this method I realize how useful it was to help in better defining the services proposed. And also to state clear paths of action on how to thrive as a professional.
The method has a theory and a practice, but its appropriation is really effective when applied practically. Design Thinking is also an experimental method, which entails a liberation that is auspicious for innovative thinking. This power is disregarded in what consultancy practice concerns, but it has proven to be useful. Even if you end up turning around ideas that you already thought about it, its implementation can be improved when making it a part of a process. The iterative nature of the method can add to the freedom of thinking and its practice, as well as to its pragmatic effectiveness.
Design Thinking consists in applying these five steps or stages, and iterating them as needed:
During our workshop (skills exchange), explaining and applying the first three stages of the method online and in an hour was quite a challenge. As it was conducted remotely, we used a shared digital presentation and a shared digital mural with sticky notes or digital post-it to advance on the process. We were able to share this way our ideas about what each one of us thinks might be useful for defining each one's consulting practice, define our specificity, and being more visible. At the same time, produce these thoughts with pairs might have been a unique chance to understand other people's feelings about working as a consultant, and even stimulate ideas that could then be applied individually as well. The two last stages (prototype and test) were to be done afterwards, individually.
If by now you are thinking that you want to try the method, find new ideas, defy the status quo, or boost a process or a project, I encourage you to try Design Thinking any time. Having a method is always better than having no method at all. And even more, if it's a flexible a formula that, instead of making processes and ideas fit into rigid or unadopted cases, promotes innovation.
As noted at the beginning, the method can of course be used as well to define the products or services with the client or to kick-start a big project.
You can always contact us at MAG agency to found some guidance or if you have any questions about these ideas. Are you ready to try it?
In the photo: some participants in the Skills Exchange by Impact Consulting Hub. August 2021. Image courtesy of Impact Consulting Hub.