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DENIS JJUUKO: What I have learnt from my 17 year career as a consultant

In 2005, fresh from grad school and in my mid 20s, a friend and I started a communication and visibility consultancy firm. 17 years later, these are some of the lessons I have learnt

1. Procurement in Uganda takes a very long term. Sometimes as many as 3 years

2. Consultancy isn’t like opening a shop downtown where customers bring in money every day. You can spend months without being paid for services rendered. Many times, clients want to pay when the work is complete

3. When you are paid depends largely on whether somebody has read your report and is happy with it. Sometimes renegading on stuff earlier approved. So always get your sign off


4. Clients rarely visit consultancy firm offices. It is largely consultants who go to the client’s offices. Spend less on a fancy office if you are starting out and don’t have many clients

5. But you need an office – everyone asks you where your office is located even when they will never visit. They also want to avoid a brief case company

6. For individual consultants, working from restaurants can be costly. Working from home could be costly too. One time my daughter poured water in a MacBook Air I had bought two weeks earlier

7. Most small consultancy jobs which can be the lifeline of a startup consultancy firm aren’t advertised. Networking is very important

8. Referrals from happy clients and your network is the lifeline of a startup consultancy firm

9. In the beginning, have fewer staff but have a big database of consultants you can bid and work with as associates. This saves you money every month you would have paid out as salary

10. Some consultants may always use your CV and you won’t hear from them when the jobs are awarded

11. The best proposal may never win you a contract but always keep trying. One day, a contract will be awarded on merit

12. Have your tax clearance certificates (tcc) and all other statutory requirements. Lack of a trading license, TCC etc. is one sure way to be eliminated even when you have a competitive bid

13. Charge what you think you are worth. Procurement takes time, payment takes time. Factor that in when you are bidding while remaining competitive at the same time

14. If you are an individual consultant – remember, retirement will one day come and you may not have NSSF, pension, provident fund and such other things that employed Ugandans take for granted. Eat your money wisely

15. Kampala has changed with many offices not having enough parking for even their staff so most clients will never see the car you drive. Don’t spend much on it if your idea is to impress them

16. Most clients pay more for experience than your academic papers but if you have a chance to go to grad school, take it. Refresher courses are important too

17. Sometimes you will have to do something for free. A talk at a uni or some professional/voluntary group like Rotary or an op-ed in a newspaper. They enhance your visibility

18. Talent is not everything. Attitude is important. Delivering the assignment on time makes a difference

19. Winners quit. If something isn’t working, you can drop it and go for something else

20. Money, apart for outliers, comes with age. Didn’t I say they pay more for experience? More opportunities come with age too when the people you network with are in decision making positions.

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