Thursday, May 03, 2012

What I Learned About Business Consulting from Style for Hire

This past weekend feels like a hazy, ethereal experience. By way of quick background, my daily attire consisted entirely of jeans and a hoodie prior to the advent of the TLC show What Not to Wear. I didn't buy my first pair of heels until the age of 24. While I don't consider myself anything close to a fashionista, I no longer wear hoodies outside of the house (or the walk to the gym).

A few weeks ago, a post appeared on Twitter announcing that Style for Hire was looking for some volunteers to participate in their upcoming stylist training workshop. As a volunteer, you would bring your wardrobe into the conference and be subject to a wardrobe makeover. Not thinking there was any chance I would actually be selected, I sent in my info. Not only was I able to take part in the workshop, but my sister who had booked a last minute flight to come see me was also able to join.

Without going into all of the amazing details, I will share a few of the highlights from the weekend:

  • Digging into a Sylvia Weinstock cake at the end of the workshop on Sunday. (it was from a wedding at the hotel; in my defense, I didn't realize that it was a $20,000 cake when I stuck my hand in to grab a piece)
  • Walking out of the hotel and waving to a big crowd of paparazzi and autograph seekers, only to discover that while in the hotel, I'd been two feet away from the actor who plays Thor in The Avengers.
  • Seeing my sister positively light up from the experience.
  • The last one will take some background: The training convention was both about training and selecting stylists for the Style for Hire network. As part of the evaluation process, the stylists had to go through my wardrobe, put together an outfit, and present it to me (in front of Stacy London of What Not to Wear fame). After a particularly awkward presentation which involved a loose, flowy top and some boot cut jeans (during which I definitely began to reconsider the purchase of the aforementioned top), the wannabe stylist turned to me as an aside and asked "would you actually wear this?" "Well, I actually tend to wear that top with skinny jeans," was my reply. Stacy apparently overhead and said, "did you say you wear this with skinny jeans?" She then proceeded to explain to all the stylists why the top would work for me with skinny jeans. So, even without two days of style training, I got it right!
Anyway, though I went in with the attitude of "I have no idea what to expect, but what's the worst that could happen?" I was exceedingly delighted with the experience and actually learned a lot that I can apply to my work as a consultant. So, here are some of the takeaways:

  1. Know your client and their needs: One of the best stylists that put together an outfit for me could not only mirror back everything I'd told her about my needs in an outfit, she also incorporated it into her recommendation. The outfit she'd put together was for a date, and she remembered to give me flats because the guy is only moderately taller than me. Another one remembered me saying I won't wear anything less than a full suit to an interview and put that together. By contrast, another stylist put together a great outfit, but had forgotten that I said I wouldn't wear heels while shopping in Boston because of the uneven sidewalks. Unfortunately for her, Stacy turned to me and asked "would you actually wear this for shopping on the weekend?" and I had to say "no."* In consulting, there are so many frameworks and precedents that it can be easy to put together a client recommendation based on what I think is best for me, but if I don't take the time to ask them the right questions and then thoughtfully incorporate them, they won't be as happy with the solution.
  2. Be sensitive to where your client is at: One of the more exciting things about this weekend was seeing my sister's transformation. While she will be the first to admit that her closet needs an update, it's still something that can be hard to hear from someone else. While the fabulous Lisa Dontzin was demonstrating a closet audit today, she worked some amazing magic in reading Becky's responses to her suggestions. In doing this, she was able to get Becky to start with some small changes and slowly work up to cleaning out a few items from her closet. I've been in client meetings where we've come in with guns blazing ready to make suggestions without really considering what the responses would be, then ended up dealing with some of the emotional side effects. (yes, corporations can be emotional... Or, rather, executives at corporations) In subsequent meetings with that client, we were significantly more careful with how we worded the headlines of our slide decks and presented our recommendations. I suspect that as I grow as a consultant, I'll be able to know the hot button issues without even having the client tell me what they are, just as a good stylist can intuitively sense a reaction.
  3. Challenge the stereotypes: I have to be honest that the thought of coming into a room full of stylists was more than a little intimidating for me, especially as I had left all my "good clothes" in my closet for the stylists to play with and had shown up in jeans and a way-too-big cardigan. I had made a pre-judgment on the fashion industry and was prepared for, as the waiver form stated, "stylists with no tact." As it turns out, these stylists are some of the sweetest people I've ever met! I think that, thanks to Office Space, consultants probably have a similar type of reputation in the corporate world. I do have a mug that says "Consulting: if you can't be part of the solution, there's good money to be made in prolonging the problem." So when interacting with clients, including their admins and data managers, be genuine, be kind and be courteous.
  4. Surprise and Delight: The final part of the workshop that I participated in consisted mainly of experienced stylists. One of the phrases that I heard continually as they discussed how they handle various client situations was "surprise and delight". We have a similar phrase in consulting: under-promise and over-deliver. It is so important to appropriately manage expectations, but still find ways to work in bonuses!
 In closure, I just want to give a big shout-out to Style for Hire!  My weekend was amazing.  Back in September, I'd considered hiring a stylist, but wasn't certain whether it would be worthwhile.  After seeing the complete magic that the stylists worked on my wardrobe (like putting together a dozen new outfits from clothes I already own!), I'm definitely going to get a stylist.

*Confession time: I actually decided to wear a pair of heels to go shopping yesterday and I confess that I enjoyed the fact that I looked totally fabulous.  I also did not sprain an ankle.  That said, the bottoms of the heels of my new Cole Haan pumps have been overly beat up, so I'm not likely going to start wearing heels all the time.


Anonymous said...

Julie, this is such a special post, Thank you! You summed up so many of the reasons why I LOVE Style for Hire and why I work here!! You were an absolute delight this weekend, and your participation and enthusiasm were appreciated!

daniellaprice30 said...

Being client-centered is important to be able to keenly observe them and their behavior. Or better yet, get some business consulting solutions company in order to give you some help on how you could move well in our business.

Ronald Stinson said...

Facing clients on a daily basis makes you more and more efficient in being a business consultant. Aside from solving their problems, you should also see to it that their resources won't run out.

Unknown said...

I would have to agree on what you have learned from this experience. I had heard of the same ways with business consultants in Australia that has been of great help on my entrepreneurship.

Ronald Stinson said...

I like the term for the fourth pointer--"surprise and delight". It always feels rewarding to know you gave your clients more than they expect of your services, especially in the growing industry of business consultancy.

Jasmine Glennie said...

I like what you said here Ronald. You should say you are well achieved when your people did a successful job in exceeding beyond what is expected by the client. There are a lot of unsuccessful business consultants out there because it is a tough race.

Gabrielle Coppel said...

This remind me of a friend of mine who is a business consultant and is also a stock broker by day have the capabilities to give you financial advices that you can definitely have to deal with in order for his clients to have successful investments and businesses.

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