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Why You Should Never Round Off The Invoice Amount for Your Client

November 21, 2016 Leave a comment

 

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Top keep for our consulting businesses running, we need to get work, execute that work and then invoice the clients. One of the biggest mistake that consultants make while preparing an invoice for their clients is to ‘round off’ the amount. Say the total amount comes to $1,847, we tend to round it off to $1,800 or $1,850. My advice is, don’t do that.

Let’s agree that most of the clients are always going to be suspicious. They have had consultants who would have ditched them- did not perform to the expected level and felt cheated. Now, for every assignment they want bang for their buck. May be the business guy is friendly with you, the finance guy would love to look at the invoice figures more than the business benefits you brought to the organization- and, he is always suspicious of round figures. So, don’t give him round figures.

Sending an invoice of $1,847 rather than $1,850 gives an indication that you have worked out the perfect math and not thrown an arbitrary amount. An odd figure suggests that you have worked hard and know your trade well. So, next time, you have to send an invoice, keep the numbers odd, don’ t round them off.

About The Author: The writer, Mr. Harshdeep Rapal is the co-founder and CEO of Feelance Co.– an online platform for clients to discover and engage with senior independent consultants and consulting firms for short-term projects and interim roles

Why are organisations moving towards a flexible workforce?

January 16, 2016 Leave a comment

Business data and technology

 

As of today, 34% of the total workforce or approximately 53 million workers in America are working freelance. This number is expected to cross 50% by 2020. The trend is slowly but firmly getting magnified across all industry sectors and all geographies of the globe.

So why are so many consultants opting to go freelance?

I have been closely following up the workforce trends in India and across the globe for about a decade now. There are various reasons that consultants cite which convince them to work independently rather than take up a regular job. Here the top three reasons which consultants cite:

  1. Flexibility: Working freelance helps consultants bring flexibility in their schedule. As a freelancer one can decide on the number of months a year or number of days a week or even number of hours a day he wants to work. The clients are more worried about the results than the time spent by the consultant working on the engagements. As long as the set targets and results are achieved, they are not worried about which part of the day or which day of the week the consultant works.
  1. Richer Industry Experience: A typical freelance consultant would work on multiple projects with different clients during a year. This undoubtedly increases the exposure of the consultant to multiple clients and projects. Over the years, the consultant gains much more diverse experience while working with different clients and industries than his counterpart who would have worked only for a single employer. This addition in diverse experience in turn helps the consultant charge a premium on his services.
  1. Higher Earnings: Not having a regular job is a risk. Working on short-term assignments where the consultants bring in niche skills help them price their services higher than the normal per hour wages of a similar skilled worker in a regular job. If a consultant is very good at his trade, he will ensure a regular flow of work through out the year. This enables him to earn substantially higher income than being in a regular job.

The increase in numbers of flexible workforce is also fuelled by the advantages that it brings for the clients. Some of the key advantages that a freelance consultant brings for a client are:

  1. Access to best the industry talent: Top industry talent is always scarce. Not every organisation has the money and resources to hire it full-time. Hiring freelance consultants gives an opportunity to the organisation to hire top-notch consultants for the period of time they require.
  1. Access to a wider pool of talent: Freelancers have huge networks, which include past clients as well as with other consultants in the same or related trade. They are generally members of associations and clubs to liaison with other fellow consultants. In a situation where the client may require additional expertise in the same or in a related field to make the initiative a success, they can bring in the additional hand(s) from the networks they are a part of. This ensures that the client’s work is completed flawlessly without having to worry about skill gap.
  1. Success of the engagement: One of the biggest worry of freelancers is getting regular work. To ensure they have a healthy pipeline of projects, the freelancers go all out to ensure the success of every project they take up to help them get future projects by referrals. The niche skills of the consultant honed while working with multiple clients and network of other senior consultants always increases the probability of success for an engagement.
  1. External Perspective: Over a period of time, organisations make peace and start living with their problems and don’t even realise the existence of the problem. A freelancer coming from outside the organisation brings an external perspective to the processes and practices and identifying the issues in the organisation. This is an additional advantage which the organisation gets by hiring a freelancer, that too without paying a dime for it.
  1. Cost effective: Organisations prefer to rent rather than acquire the assets that they use for short periods of time. The same principle applies to niche consultants. Even though the per hour fees of a freelance consultant might be much higher than the per hour wages of a similarly skilled full-time hire, in the long run the over all cost comes out to be much cheaper as they are utilised for only for the duration of the engagement. The employer does not have to worry for the benefits that are provided to the full time employees.

Starting an E-Retail Venture in India: Five factors to Keep in Mind

September 9, 2013 1 comment

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Organized retail in India has been a grand success in the last decade-and-a-half. The rapid urbanization in Indian cities gave rise to malls, multi-brand and single brand stores. The increase in income levels across the population as well as double incomes of the new generation nuclear families contributes to the substantial increase in the disposable income of the Indian consumer. Of late, the physical infrastructure is not able to keep pace with the rate of increase in urban population, giving a chance for both the consumers and sellers to explore alternate options.

With the increase in accessibility of the internet in India, the retailers have started going ‘virtual’. The ‘virtual stores’ or the ‘e-stores’ scene is already bustling with activity in India and given the demand there is a huge scope of expansion for established players and also a scope for new entrants. E-retailing scores over traditional retailing in a number of ways. The retailer is spared of the costs related with the brick and mortar set up whereas the consumer gets the benefit of choosing from a wide range of products sitting in the comfort of her home thus saving on travel costs and time.

A country’s prospect for online retail success is closely related to how many people use the internet and how many of them are comfortable purchasing online. There are almost 120 million internet users in India and looking at the 2020 vision it could reach to 1 billion if it continues to grow at this rate. A quick look at the demographics of India reveals that 64% of the Indian population is in the working age group of 15-64 and 35.0% is relatively young, aged 15 to 34. This is the user group readily willing to adopt the e-retail culture.

Given these figures, the Indian e-retail market is a very attractive proposition. There are already many e-retailers in India and many are planning to set up shop here. Even though the market is attractive, every day there are stories of online stores going bust. This is because online retail in India differs in many aspects from the other parts of the world. I have listed below the top five factors which an online retail business needs to pay attention to if it wants to avoid failure in India.

1. The ‘hybrid’ shopping experience: The Indian e-retail market is not a pure-play ‘online retail’ market. It is gradually moving to and will firm up as a ‘hybrid’ model where the customer ‘orders’ the product online but ‘buys’ only after checking it physically at the time of delivery. Although, this happens more in the cases of apparel where the customer needs to try the fitting and size of the product before buying. With the customers already feeling comfortable with the model, it will spread to other product lines such as electronics and even consumables.

2. Reliable delivery and returns: One of the most important factors contributing to the success of an e-retailer is the on-time delivery of the products. It is a known fact that the supply chain infrastructure in India is not up to the global standards. So, an e-retailer has to ensure that either he sets up its own delivery network or partners with a trusted party. The delivery network not only needs to ensure the delivery of the products but also the returns in case of change of mind at the time of paying or in case of faulty goods.

3. Cash-On-Delivery payment mode: The unreliable delivery infrastructure in India helped ‘cash-on-delivery’ option gain popularity. The customers were wary of paying upfront in the wake of uncertainty of delivery. The COD option allayed the fears of the customers as the cash exchanged hands only at the time of delivery. Even with the improvement in delivery infrastructure, cash-on-delivery will always be preferred payment option. Consider the fact that an established e-retailer such as Flipkart, which has a robust delivery network trusted by the customers, receives 60% of its payments as cash-on-delivery of card-on-delivery.

4. Pass on the savings to the customers: The Indian customer is very price sensitive, especially in the case of branded products. She would check the price of the article at multiple websites or stores before buying it. The e-retailers generally save on costs which tradition brick and mortar sellers incur on the physical infrastructure. Majority of the e-retailers are already passing on these savings to the customers. This has helped building a perception that online prices of products are and should be lesser than the store prices. Any new entrant in the market will have to follow the trend.

5. Difficult to fit one size to all: Always remember that India is a country with 1 billion plus population which speaks 20+ major languages and boasts of diverse cultural and demographic characteristics. No organization to have uniform policies and tactics across the country and hope to succeed. Same is the case is with e-retailers. They have to customize the products and services according to the requirements. The mantra here is to be receptive to the feedback, sense the needs of the consumers, tweak your operations and serve the customers.

On a concluding note, although the Indian online retail market presents a great opportunity for retailers to explore, many factors need to be kept in mind before taking the plunge. The entry barriers are low and there are hardly any restrictions from the government agencies to set up an online store. This is bound to increase the competition. Only those who go to market with a customer centric approach will be able to survive and flourish.

MuSigma- The wonder kid of Analytics, raises $108 million.

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

In one of the biggest Private Equity deals for a startup in India, Mu Sigma closed a $108 million investment round lead by General Atlantic.  Earlier in April 2011, Sequoia Capital had invested $25 million, now has $50 million invested in Mu Sigma.

The pattern in which General Atlantic invests in companies (generally it picks up 15-20%), the investment puts the total valuation of the Mu Sigma at about $500 million.

Mu Sigma, started by Dhiraj Rajaram in the year 2004, is in the business of Analytics and Decision Support. The company is touted as the wonder kid of the emerging market of business analytics and research and helps organizations solve high-impact business problems/decisions.  It provides business intelligence, econometric tools and predictive modelling services to help clients such as Microsoft and Dell take major business decisions ranging from new product launches to decoding customer reaction.

Mu Sigma employs 1,500 in Bangalore, Chicago (where it is based) and a few other cities in the US.  The company has grown rapidly since its founding in 2004, in fact, its 2008-2010 revenue growth of 886 percent earned Mu Sigma a spot in the Inc. 500 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies.

The best part here is that Mu Sigma is already profitable and will use the capital to expand its operations and reach in the sunrise market of business analytics.

Company website: http://www.mu-sigma.com/

My Way of Consulting- Part 2

November 25, 2010 2 comments


(Please note, due to job/professional ethics and constraints, I cannot share the names of the clients and the exact details of the engagements. Also, these are purely my own views and my current organization or previous organizations I have worked for are not responsible for these views.)
As detailed in the earlier post, start the ground work for the engagement in the “Pre-Engagement” phase and then collect all data and facts in the “Discover Phase”. Once you have all the data, documents, responses to the questionnaires and templates, it’s time to start with the Analyze Phase.

Analyze Phase:

Analyze and Recommend phase are very subjective and differ from one engagement to another and one client to another. As a generic rule, I analyze the data and facts collected and divide it into three broad categories:

a) Strategic,
b) Operational and
c) Tactical.

The Strategic information gives the overall direction and the roadmap. The operational information gives the overview of the process and the rules that direct the operations and the tactical information gives the details of how each and every step (rules and exceptions) is performed in the processes.

The information/data gathered in the Discover Phase can also be majorly divided into “semantic” data and “non-semantic” data. The semantic data consists of documentation, articles, process charts, job schedules etc. This type of data has to read and interpreted. The interpretations from semantic data will majorly be subjective in nature.

The non-semantic data is generally transaction data. This type of data gives objective type of results. For example: If the client shares the data related to support tickets raised for different processes/ systems, the consultant can play with the data and infer on the volume of tickets for different processes/ systems, severity of these tickets and most important, can apply the 80-20 and/or other rules to arrive at the recommendations.

Recommend Phase:

As stated earlier in the analyze section, the Recommend and Analyze phases overlap and for most of the engagements, by the end of the analyze phase, the consultant should start forming the rudiments of recommendations.

The recommendations should be governed by the following three factors:

a) Goals and Objectives
b) Key drivers to achieve these objectives and
c) Expected results/ benefits

The Goals and Objectives of the exercise are the final state that the client wants to be in. The Key Drivers are the propellants as well as the stepping stones to achieve the stated Goals and Objectives. The consultant should be aware of and explicitly state the results and the benefits which client will avail due to the recommendations.

The recommendations can be based on either extrapolation of existing resources to achieve the future state or bridging the gap between the current state and the future state. More often than not, it is a mix of both Extrapolation and Bridging the Gap.

Extrapolation:
The recommendations in extrapolations mainly consider the available resources and how the client can make use of these resources to achieve the desired results. A few examples of this type of exercise are: Restructuring the present team structure, Optimization of the current processes, redistributions and reallocation of current costs and revenues etc.

Bridging the Gap:
The “Bridging the Gap” scenario requires an analysis of the gap between the current state and the future state. The recommendations should have the steps, resources and the plan to bridge this gap. This might include the use of existing resources or acquisition of new resources.

More often than not, the recommendations are a mix of the above two scenarios. The consultant must keep in mind the Feasibility of the recommendations with respect to scope and budget and the Compatibility of the recommendations with respect to the organizational goals and objectives.

Presentation:

An important (if not the most important) part of a consulting exercise is the presentation of findings and the recommendations. Besides other sections, the recommendations report must consist of the following:

Key Findings:
Present the Key Findings which need the attention of the client. These findings should be the ones tackling which will play an important part in achieving the desired results. It is best to identify a few areas of concern and give the rating of their health status. If possible, back these key findings with data, it gives more credibility to the claims.

Current State and Future State:
Explicitly state the current and the future state of the concern areas. Also state the “delta” in the two states. This will help the client understand the need for the resources required to fill the gap.

Recommendations:
The most important part of the report is the recommendations section. Club the recommendations into logical groups and maintain the flow so that it is easy for the audience to understand.
Segregate the recommendations for Strategic, Operational and Tactical levels of management. If, possible, identify the audience/ resources for each section of the recommendations. This will help in ease of implementation of the recommendations.

Execution Guidelines:
The recommendations section give the “What to do?” part where as the Execution guidelines should give the “How to do?” part of the recommendations. The execution section should give the steps required to implement the recommendations as well as their tentative timelines or durations.

Conclusion:
In the conclusion section give a brief snapshot of the current pain points, the reasons for those pain points and the resolution of these pain areas with the recommendations provided. Also, specify the results or benefits achieved at the end of the implementation of the recommendations. The results should align with the goals and objectives set at the beginning of the exercise.

My Way of Consulting- Part 1

September 23, 2010 2 comments

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I am writing this article for the Enterprise Consulting Blog after a long time. This is because I have been quiet busy on my new job (Five months ago I took a job with HCL Technologies). It’s been five months now into this job and I have my hands full with a few consulting assignments, setting up a new Practice and managing a few ongoing projects. At a recent interaction with students at Great Lakes Institute of Management, I was asked to share some of my consulting experiences. Due to shortage of time, I could not go into the details at that time and promised to share the same sometime later. Here I am with the methodology I follow on these engagements. Among the consulting engagements that I have recently done, two were for Fortune 100 Companies. In this article, I would share my overall strategy of conducting a business consulting engagement. (Please note, due to job/professional ethics constraints, I cannot share the names of the clients and the exact details of the engagement. Also, these are purely my own views and my current organization or previous organizations I have worked for are not responsible for these views.)

When a consultant starts his/her career, he/she is advised to follow a set of rules/ frameworks or the footsteps of established consultants. After a few engagements, each consultant tends to develop his/her unique way of handling engagements. Having started in 2005, I too gradually developed my own style of handling consulting engagements. Every engagement is different in its own right and brings in new challenges. The following sections give a broad overview of the overall strategy I use in handling these assignments. The finer details may differ from one engagement to another.

I always divide the whole exercise into broadly 4 phases: Pre-Engagement, Discover, Analyze and Recommend. The last three phases do not have distinct boundaries as such. The Analyze Phase can overlap with the last part of the Discover Phase and the Recommend Phase overlaps with the last part of the Analyze Phase.

{I have divided this article into two parts: Part 1 covers the Pre-Engagement and the Discover Phase and Part 2 covers the Analyze and Recommend Phase.}

Pre-Engagement Phase:

This phase is generally used to prepare the ground before starting the actual engagement. Always start with the publically available material on the client as well as the industry. Go through the website of the client, public announcements, press releases, Industry news, user groups etc. Once you know enough about the client, his business and industry he operates in; start with the material available on the engagement you are starting. Before signing the SoW (Statement of Work), the client would have shared some information on the engagement. Diligently go through that information. This gives you fair idea on the kind of information and documents that you may need from the client.

Before starting the engagement, I always request the client if he can share the available documents related to the engagement. This helps me in identifying the areas I need to explore and the set of people I would want to interview.

After this phase, you are ready to kick start the actual engagement on the ground.

Discover Phase:

The actual engagement starts with the Discover Phase. This is the phase where you identify the areas to investigate and the POCs (Points of Contact) who have to be interviewed in the first wave (I have discussed about the interview waves in a later section). The recommendations submitted at the end of a consulting exercise have to be backed with facts and data. This data or facts have to be collected in the Discover Phase.  Also, the Discover Phase forms a basis for Analyze Phase which in turn is the basis for Recommendations.

Before starting the actual process of Discovery, have the objectives of the exercise very clear in your mind. This will not only help in keeping you and the team on the track, but also help in moderating the discussions and interviews.

I divide the interaction for gathering information into the following:

Interviews: I generally divide the interviews into two phases, Wave 1 and Wave 2. The Wave 1 interviews are with the key stakeholders of the engagement. It is always best to start with the Sponsor or the Champion selected for the engagement. This is to understand his/her expectations and align it to the objective of the engagement. The other key stakeholders should be spread evenly across the key areas that the engagement intends to cover. From the Wave 1 interactions, try to come up with a list of SMEs that can give more granular information.

In the Wave 2, get to specifics of the information you want. By this time you would have indentified the SMEs you want to interact with. These SMEs will be able to share much more information than the stakeholders and they have been closer to the ground.

What, How and Why?

The interview process should be an interrogation disguised as interview. This is because the first answer the client/SME gives not the exact answer that we want. It will never lead us to the root cause. A lot goes into getting to the depth of issues being faced by the client. Always prepare an interview guide. Structure the questions well making sure that all areas are covered well and there are no repetitions.

Start with What…. Always start with asking the interviewee with what he/she does? What process he/she follows? What are the SLAs etc. This will gives a complete understanding on the As-Is situation. Please note that the answer to WHAT? might not give an understanding on the problem being faced by the client and nor will it help in identifying a solution for the problem. This will only help in giving an overview on the current situation.

…go through How.… After we are clear on the business area/ process the interviewee is in, try to gain further information on how exactly does he/she carries out his/her business? This gives me a ground to think on whether this is the best way to do it? Can it be improved further? How will I do it if given the responsibilities? Some of these questions might get answered by the next question: WHY? And the rest should (must) be a part of your recommendations.

…and end with Why…. This is the most important part of the interview and might make many an interviewee uncomfortable. By the time you come to this question, you already know what the interviewee does and how he/she does it. As mentioned above, I also have a few questions in my mind on the current state of his functioning. Asking him why he does so what he does, gives me a new dimension to think on. A single “WHY” might not lead to the exact reason. I ask a string on “WHYs” to lead to the core issue or the problem area. Believe me; it is very tough to ask so many whys without making the interviewee uncomfortable.

Questionnaires/ Templates: A consultant mush have (and develop over a period of time) a set of questionnaires and templates to gather information in a structured way. This does not mean that in every interview use the same template or questionnaire. Modify the template according to the client’s industry or even the area of work or the designation/role of the interviewee in the same organization. Structured information produces the best results in the analysis phase.

Caution: Do not try to force your framework/ templates on to the client. Adjust according to the needs of the client.

Documents/ Data dumps: Ask every interviewee if he/she can share the documents related to the discussion. Also ask for data on the transactions (preferably for a few years). The documents as well as the interview alone will not give the complete picture, but complement each other so as to cover the area in entirety.

I collect as much data and documents as possible. Then keep discarding whatever I do not need. Never say No to inflow of information. You may find the answers in an unsuspecting corner. 

Follow-Up Clarifications: Once you have collected all the required information, gone through the responses to the questionnaires and templates and started connecting the dots, you will always find some gaps. It may require a few follow up sessions with the same (or new) set of interviewees or e-mail exchanges to fill these gaps and seek clarifications. The follow up session can also be useful to cross check that all the information I have is complete and correct.

Never hesitate for seeking a clarification. Whenever in doubt, it is better to clarify than to carry wrong information into the analysis phase.

{To be continued in Part 2}

How LinkedIn leveraged the benefits of Salesforce.com?


We have heard a lot of (success) stories of organizations implementing salesforce.com and how it helped their businesses. Here is another story of implementation of SFDC.

World’s largest network for professionals, LinkedIn, wanted to implement an Enterprise Solution (CRM) to help its corporate and advertising teams to streamline and grow their business. LinkedIn is used by professionals to display their online resume (work experience, past organizations, testimonials, achievements and aspirations). Many organizations use LinkedIn data base of resumes to manage their recruiting and talent requirements. The LTA (LinkedIn Talent Advantage) which maintains a database of 900+ customers and helps them scout for talent did not have a system to manage the customer details, leads, accounts and related stuff.

LinkedIn is an “internet based” business and itself is a private Cloud. Also, all it wanted was a robust ES sans a large IT team and maintenance hassles. Salesforce.com fulfilled all their expectations and had a brand name and lots of “success” stories to back its case and hence became the obvious choice.

The implementation of salesforce.com has helped the 70+ size corporate team and the advertising team to manage task scheduling, managing leads, tracking interactions and closely track the deals. Also, the marketing team can create, manage and measure the effectiveness of the campaigns.

As a result of the implementation, the sales reps became more efficient and have been able to handle about 200% more customers than the base levels. This has been a major factor in inflating the topline. Salesforce CRM helped in creating a centralized customer database which helps in providing a comprehensive view of the customers, their requirements and pipeline across the organization. The data available is consistent and updated which helps in realtime/ontime planning and decision making. The LinkedIn teams can real-time analyse and manage the ROI on the efforts spent on leads and is able to optimize its deployment of resources.