setting expectations + creating value: the role of a consultant
Last week on CommCorner, we introduced the topic of the consultant/client relationship as our topic for March and we focused on both sides of the aisle. This week we’re focusing in on the consultant’s role in making an engagement success. How do they do this? By setting expectations both accurately and clearly and by creating value throughout the engagement and beyond. So let’s dive in.
Every consulting relationship begins with the proposal phase. This includes the initial meet and greets. Setting a potential client’s expectations begins with your consulting brand – what services are you advertising as core competencies? When you’re talking to a potential client for the first time, how are you conveying your value proposition? These are not opportunities to shoot from the hip; instead, these are the initial opportunities to steer the relationship in an authentic and sustainable direction.
Now it’s time to get it in writing. They’re down with your initial, informal pitch or what they’ve seen on your website or social. The initial perception of your consulting work is positive and viable for their business. Now, it’s up to you to create a proposal that attractively, accurately presents the engagement in a compelling way. It’s critical for both parties to get on the same page before the contract is drawn up. It’s the time to make this thing work.
You’ve sold them with your charisma. They’re on board with your offerings and your initial value proposition. Now, it’s time to craft the contract that reflects your expectations, as well as the expectations of the client. Everybody is about to sign on the dotted line, so this is a critical step to get right. From a practical standpoint, this is the first document a client will reference to learn more about your expectations for them and vice versa.
This doesn’t mean drafting a document full of staggering legalese. Instead, this means designing an intuitive contract reflective of your previous conversations and the formal proposal. Ideally, from a client’s perspective, the flow from proposal to contract will feel seamless and organic. Edit this process over time, based on feedback. Take inventory periodically of your contracting processes and experiences.
Now it’s time to get some work done. If you proposaled and contracted correctly, the next steps should be completely to obvious to all parties involved. Depending upon the length of the relationship, periodic check-ins with the goals and the expectations will need to be performed. This looks different for different consultants, but developing a variation of a “How’s my driving?” scorecard for your performance and a standardized way to evaluate your engagement with your client in a neutral environment will go a long way in lining your loyalty pockets.
But it’s not even all about you as the consultant. Instead, your client also agreed to terms in your contract as well. Establishing a cadence for evaluation invites this conversation in a non-punitive way. Many times – and if you are managing the relationship in a positive direction, most times – these conversations will be 90% positive. But on the off-chance you’re in a season of your engagement where 25% of your engagement could be improved, you have a built-in way to have that conversation.
On the Way Out
Planning for the end is part of every beginning. Or at least, it should be. Part of the title of the first blog in this series was “building capability,", and that is the intention for every consulting relationship. After you leave or the consulting relationship is over, the person or the company should be better for having worked with you. You should have cultivated and built capability in that person, team, or organization such that it was a net gain, 100% of the time. That’s why you’re in business.
Practically, when you’re nearing the natural end to your relationship, it’s time to think about the value you leave behind. How are you going to transition the work? This is a time when you can differentiate yourself from peers and competitors. Leave the organization better and leave with class – leave the client in the best position you can. It’s just something that’s going to pay off in the long run.
Tune in next week to "on being receptive + making informed decisions." We’re talking those good client factors – like being open-minded and decisive.
Listen in every Tuesday to South Bay Social. I’m sitting down with different marketing/branding/creative business owners here in the South Bay, talking about building a business, an entrepreneurship, and a marketing enterprise to set yourself apart.