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The consultant's consultant

Anver Suleiman thinks a lot of people can offer advice that's worth paying for. His goal: teach you how.

DAVE SCHEIBER
Published November 24, 2003

ST. PETE BEACH - So you're stuck in an occupational rut, wishing you could find a way to parlay your formidable job skills and knowledge into better pay and prestige.

You could consult the classifieds, your horoscope or those late-night infomercials explaining how to buy and sell property for big dough and frequent vacations in Waikiki.

Then again, you could consult with the consultant's consultant, Anver Suleiman.

The Brooklyn native, 72, has made millions in more than 40 years as the guru of the training and conference industry and by advising executives how to sell their businesses for a profit.

Suleiman has consulted clients from McGraw-Hill to Harvard University. And he says he can make you a consultant, too.

His notion: People may be ready to pay you for your wisdom - and you might not even know it. "Nothing other than core knowledge is needed," he says, "and a hungry mind."

Not that the world is suffering from a consultant shortage. There are approximately 1.5-million in 248 categories listed in the Yellow Pages in the United States for almost everything: politics, public relations, finance, color, water, weddings, you name it.

So how do you know if you have an inner consultant waiting to be set free?

"Consulting is essentially teaching," says Suleiman, who, with his wife, Cindy, splits time each month between their beachfront condo by the Gulf and a Broadway apartment in Manhattan's theater district.

"So to do this, you have to have an honest desire to help people with what you know and your ability to think. Then, it's just a matter of taking your strengths - writing, speaking, technical, problem-solving, whatever - and packaging them. So that anybody who wants to help other people with their brain and experience can be a consultant.

"Not only can be - I would say they should be."

He puts his premise to the test this month with the launch of the Independent Consultants Association. The goal: provide support and tools to wanna-be and working independent consultants.

How do others in the field view Suleiman's idea?

"I would imagine there is a constituency that he could absolutely serve," says Wharton School of Business professor Eric Siegel, a consultant who teaches the topic at the University of Pennsylvania. "A core knowledge and a passion are two key starting points for having a good prospect for success in consulting."

But knowledge and enthusiasm only take you so far, he cautions. "You also need a marketing and sales sense, because you have to be able to capture consulting opportunities. . . . You need a business development capability, a market demand and a client base that can afford to pay for your services."

Jack Sweeney, editor of Consulting magazine in New York, says the job requires a special touch.

"Without question, there are certain skills that consultants have and some are born with them and some have to grow them," he says. "The skills that make an accountant great aren't the skills that make a consultant great. There's an emotional approach a good consultant has, a bedside manner like a doctor. If you're a cold fish, chances are you won't make a great consultant no matter how much you know.

"Having said that, I believe there's certainly a market for his services, because there are always people who have those qualities, but they're dormant. He could perhaps help bring them out."

Still, how does Suleiman's approach really work? How does your average career person morph into a consultant who makes a nice living or some extra cash? Does it work for a grocery produce manager or landscaper?

Suleiman says yes. So we asked him to describe the steps that a person would take to become, say, a landscape consultant. You might think the obvious path would be to go to college and study landscape architecture. Suleiman suggests this:

"Okay, say you've been working for a landscaper for a few years, and you kind of want to make it big, but you don't want to go into the business itself . . .

"So the first thing I would ask is what is the kind of landscaping you most love to be involved with and do? And where do you most like doing it. And once you have selected something you feel passionate about and are willing to really learn, then I would advise you to do the following:

1. "Buy every book on that kind of landscaping possible, find out what sub-sections of what associations there are on that type of landscaping.

2. "Make a list of the 20 most-renowned authorities of that type of landscaping.

3. "Go to every association chapter meeting you can. Prepare a report on, let's say it was, "Caribbean golf course landscaping," and hold interviews by phone or e-mail with the 20 top landscaping authorities . . .

4. "Get their thoughts, distill them and make it into a 20- to 200-page report and make sure that when you go to any meeting, and find out what magazines and newsletters there are in the field. And then contact every book publisher, authority, editor and let them know that your goal is to become the world's top authority on Caribbean golf course landscaping.

5. "Then do the definitive report on this, and offer to speak at industry events on golf landscaping, offer to speak at golfing events, real estate events, offer to write magazine articles, and then contact every golf course developer you can, and pronounce yourself the writer of the definitive work on this subject.

"That would be the starting point for getting yourself established at this or or any other kind of consultant you want it to be. It doesn't take so much intelligence as hunger. You do this kind of preparation, you send out press releases, and eventually they'll be standing in line at your door."

- Dave Scheiber can be contacted at scheiber@sptimes.com

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