Writer, classic rock lover, dog rescuer, company founder, software exec, and now independent management consultant--I speak, blog, and pester my friends about these topics. My current focus is getting IT and business organizations to collaborate more effectively and not kill each other. I also talk and write about big data, why analytics is fundamentally strategic, how to pitch business execs on IT projects, and why not to buy a dog from a pet store.

I’ve lived in London, Paris, and Sydney, but call L.A. home. #weatherwimp. I cultivate an organic vegetable garden and friends with issues. I’ve written three books, co-authored a fourth, and contributed to a bunch more. (I have another one in my head waiting to come out, but it’s crowded in there right now.) I prefer Def Leppard to Bon Jovi, mashed potatoes to brown rice, fly fishing to golf, Pinot Noir to Zinfandel, and nice people to assholes. I have a tattoo. I’m not telling you where. I feel guilty that I go hot and cold on social media, that I don’t spend enough face time with my friends, that my French is rusty, and that I ate that whole bag of Kirkland peanut butter cups in less than a week. I have to live with those things.

Q&A with Jill Dyche: A Case for Specialization

Q&A with Jill Dyche: A Case for Specialization

In which Jill sings the praises of experts (if she could sing!).

Prior to being acquired by SAS I was co-founder of Baseline Consulting. Baseline specialized in helping companies design and launch launching enterprise analytics programs. But in our early days we pitched all kinds of work. 

For instance, we’d watch another consulting firm’s project falter and offer to take it over. Or we’d hire a clever consultant who had an adjacent skill and attempt to market it. Or one of our consultants would study up on a trend and suggest we market that. At various points, we offered services in IT modernization, business process optimization, technology architecture, organizational design, and strategic planning.

This was the business version of, “Hey, I can do that! Here, hold my beer...” And it confused the hell out of our customers.

So naturally, Bruce A.’s question brought back memories.

Dear Jill:

I have decided to become an independent consultant and could use your advice. Not to brag, but I’ve worked on a lot of different kinds of projects on both IT and business sides. I can code in several languages, I’m comfortable presenting to executives, and I have excellent references in the ERP, workforce analytics, and clinical healthcare spheres.

I would like to market myself as a jack-of-all-trades. In fact, I’ve even looked into naming my company JackBeNimble & Co., or some derivative. I’m pretty good at creative branding.

You have written a lot about company identity and culture. What do you think? Should I market myself as a specialist or a generalist? Should I stay independent, or form a corporation?

-- Bruce A. in Chicagoland

Bruce A., I can see that you’re already pretty adept at self-promotion. Who else would add the first letter of their last name to sign off a letter to an advice column? You’ll go far, my friend.

But I have to discourage your jack-of-all-trades approach. At Baseline Consulting, only when we decided on our niche—analytics and data strategy—did we become profitable. We signed more clients, won a greater percentage of bids, and enjoyed more industry buzz. Who knew that narrowing down and not increasing our focus would be the key to our growth?

In my opinion, there are too many generalists out there already. Remember Chevy Chase on SNL hawking his New Shimmer Floor Wax as “a floor wax AND a dessert topping!” (“Tastes delicious…and look at that shine!”) It was ridiculous, which made it hilarious.

In his new book, The Death of Expertise, author Tom Nicols laments the gradual erosion of “the knowledge of specific things that sets some people apart from others in various areas.” As a consultant, you want that knowledge of specific things. You carve out your specialty to set yourself apart from others, to be sought-after precisely because you can do things other people can’t.  Indeed, Nicols confirms that “many of the obstacles to the working relationship between experts and their clients in society rest in basic human weaknesses…” You want people to need the work you do well. You want them to need YOU.

Moreover, you want them to take you seriously. Choose a niche and set a goal to become an acknowledged leader in it. Start as an independent. (Hire people as your credibility and revenues grow.) You can always shift or refine your niche if you don’t find the work fulfilling.

Congratulations on your new field, Bruce A., whatever that might be!

Original post on “Q&A with Jill Dyché” column on Upside.com. Photo credit: "Jack of All Trades 1900 by JJ Bell + ill" (CC BY 2.0) by peacay.


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