Consulting Best Practices

5 Tips for Consultants to Stop Doing Things Wrong

It is one of those inconvenient little truths of life that there is an infinite number of ways to get things wrong, but only a finite number of ways to get things right. Felicia Sullivan writes about five key areas where she has seen consultants really get it wrong. And armed with her knowledge, you will be able to really get it right!

Five Areas for Improvement

  1. Hide your polygamy.
  2. Right-size your approach.
  3. Don’t get surgical about late fees and billable hours.
  4. Don’t always be pitching.
  5. Have a plan for reciprocating/compensating for leads.

That first tip is my phrasing, and what it means is that your clients should almost never be hearing about any of the other clients you currently have. If you are trying to shunt and delay work from one client, and your reasoning is that another client already has you busy, that is completely unacceptable. One client could surely not care less about another client of yours. Sullivan says what this really indicates is that you cannot manage your workflow. In order to remedy this, she suggests being clear about your work arrangement, allocation, and response time for emergencies in your contract. She additionally says to maintain the contract but still be open to some flexibility.

With the second tip, Sullivan confesses to dropping the ball herself. Your approach and solution to helping a business needs to fit the size and type of business. What you might consider a best practice could just be a nicety that will not actually benefit a small business at its given maturity level. Always be asking yourself if your approach is just what sounds nice to you or if it is actually what improves a business.

As for the third tip, remember that most businesses are not out to stiff you. They do want you to get paid. But Accounts Payable is a lumbering beast, so Sullivan recommends waiting five days after the payment due date to write a note inquiring about payment. And do not argue over whether you got short changed half an hour (which she has actually seen happen); just play nice and only escalate your grievances as really necessary. Speaking of playing nice, Sullivan says this about not being an aggressive pitcher:

There’s a time and a place for a sale and it’s not every waking moment. This isn’t Glengarry Glen Ross–know when and how to sell. Education is always an implicit, soft sell. Balance that with upsells once you’ve identified a real need, have established a relationship, and have problem yourself a valuable, trusted resource. Overt sells can be grating and show just how focused you are on money. Yes, we all want to make money and secure successive deals and cash flow, but exercise grace. Be subtle about how you sell.

Finally, you are bound to run into some thoughtful people who send new leads your way. Always express your gratitude for these unsolicited leads in some way. Sullivan even tries to offer a percentage referral fee on final payment. The point is that you adequately show appreciation, so that people continue feeding you new work.

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