Top 7 Things Consultants Can Do To Increase Their Business And Their Clients' Satisfaction
By Barry S. Scheur
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Nobody ever grew up thinking that they wanted to be a consultant. But the number of consultants and coaches is increasing geometrically as people decide that they want to work for themselves, have greater earning potential, and a better balanced life. Many people believe that expertise itself will suffice in transitioning them from a job to being able to successfully give advice to others. That is not the case.
Having sold more than $40 million in consulting services over the past decade, here is sure-fire list of ways to increase the size of your business, your clients' satisfaction, and the ease with which you do your work.
- Listen to Your Clients And Assume They Know Their Business: Problems Better Than You Do. What most good consultants offer is not merely the technical advice of how to do something more efficiently/less costly, but having an understanding of the organizational context for strategic and operational changes. Unless a company's management is really at sea, they know their dilemmas and difficulties; what they often need is advice on the "fix" required. Clients generally know their problems and some parts of the solution - what they get stuck on is prioritizing tasks; adopting, identifying and implementing a plan; and determining its costs, benefits, and risks. Above all else, a good consultant is a packager, streamliner, and communicator of ideas.
- Don't Over-emphasize Your Own Recognition: We all have egos, and consultants so often want to be recognized for their accomplishments and value to clients, both out of fear that otherwise clients won't continue to turn to them as well as for their own recognition and ego needs. Recognition is not the goal here; money and on-going business relationships are. Let the client feel that an idea originated with them, and that you are the always available partner/facilitator to help implement those ideas. It's bad enough for clients that they have to psychologically acknowledge that they needed you, let them claim the glory for what they accomplished, - even if you did it.
- Make Yourself Progressively Invaluable: Constantly seek ways to increase the perception/reality that your clients need you and benefit by your presence. Most consultants who are involved with someone else's business are always looking around for other things that need fixing or require help. The difficulty is that too many consultants are far too quick to identify problems, thinking that they will then be called on to solve them. The art here is to let the client point out the problems - ones which you already know exist, and then to be ready with practical solutions. Don't always put a price tag on your advice when new issues arise, even when that advice is outside of the scope of your current engagement. After all, your greatest value to a long-standing relationship with a client, and for you - is transforming a business relationship to a trust based relationship.
- Don't Confine Yourself to Working With the Owner or Top Management: They may hire you the first time, but the second time the question will hinge on how much the troops like you. Too many consultants revel in their elitism, and confine themselves to only wanting to work with the "top" people. This can be a devastating mistake, both relationship wise and also because most of the best business ideas come from subordinates. You always need to be courting, helping, and yes, learning from the folks below. Treat them with respect - if they're not the ones paying your bills now, they may be later.
- Set Boundaries on the Scope of Your Services: Agree in advance and in writing on what you are doing, in terms of tasks,time commitment, and total overall hours. Scope creep is the biggest occupational headache of consultants, next to the need to continuously market your services.
You need to have an understanding with the client about the work you are doing, what you will be paid for it, when you will be paid for it, and what level of effort you are contributing, as well as what kinds of activities/tasks go beyond the boundary of the particular assignment. Some consultants, in trying to be helpful and to ingratiate themselves, go so far beyond the scope of their work without determining whether the client really wants their help or not, that they end up needing the client more than the client needs them. Clients who understand human nature capitalize on a consultant's insecurity, and get them to do more work and create expectations far beyond what was originally intended.
- Know What Your Competitors Are Marketing, Doing, and Charging: Consulting is a product commodity like everything else. Unless you are uniquely recognized as the best in your field, you can't charge above the marketplace and expect to continue to be busy every day.
- Don't Stop Marketing Just Because You Are Busy: Far too many consultants, especially those who work alone, get a major assignment and relax from the pressures of marketing and continuing to sell new business. Even if you can't work for a client now, invest in the relationship opportunities you have to get to know new people so that you can come back to it when your cupboard is about to be bare. Just after finishing your last piece of work and collecting your last invoice is not the time to start cold calling or asking for work on a "hurry up"
- Treat Your Clients as Valued Relationships: What gets clients coming back again and again is trust developed through personal knowledge and belief in the ability of outside advisors. Too many consultants try so hard to keep their distance that they err on the side of remoteness. Getting to know client members' families, sharing aspects of your life other than just work such as common interests, and all the things you would do if you were trying to develop a new friendship goes double for consulting. I like to say that the choice and retention of consultants is 98 percent communications and trust, 1 percent technical, and 1 percent whimsy. People want to work with you if they know you, as a person and a professional.
- Show Excitement and Passion with Your Clients: While you can show objective judgment, a client wants to feel that you really care about their business, their problems, their successes, and their opportunities. The art of "caring" is where many large consulting firms fall down with their legion of newly minted MBAs with little experience in client relations other than just doing the job.
- Don't Re-enforce the Client's Feeling of Stupidity: A client is smart in having retained you, not stupid because they cannot solve problems without you. Too many consultants revel in the glory of being needed, and translate that into a demeanor that gives a message to the client of how stupid they really are for not being able to figure something out by themselves. Believe me, if you convey this kind of attitude, they'll figure it out, with another consultant more adept at not insulting the client. You can give difficult messages, but in a way that doesn't make the client feel that they are personally responsible for the dilemma that caused you to be hired in the first place.
Barry S. Scheur is President and Founder of Scheur Management Group (SMG), http://www.scheur.com, one of the nations' largest healthcare consulting firms specializing in operations, management, and strategic business planning. Although blinded at birth, his career as lawyer, healthcare executive, and corporate president is testimony to an unquenchable spirit, a zest for challenge, and an ability to spot, develop, mentor and motivate talented people. Barry is a successful author and lecturer using a combination of charisma, energy, and technical knowledge.
For more information contact SMG Public Relations at firstname.lastname@example.org
Article Submitted On: September 10, 1999