My two and a half year-old son Josh is constantly trying to rescue people. If he sees someone distressed on the news, or a child crying at the mall, he will turn to me with a serious look on his face and say "Mom! I am going to save them!" He then evokes the spirit of his favorite superhero of the moment (alternating between Spiderman and a Power Ranger), throws his fists in the air and goes charging to the rescue.
Many consultants do the same thing with their clients.
Called in to help sort out a management mess or IT meltdown or financial crisis, they fly in the door like a superhero and impress everyone with their commanding presence, problem-solving skills and ability to execute.
If the client is satisfied, they look for the next big thing to be fixed. Server meltdowns? Count on me! Errant executives? I will keep them in line!
Sounds like the right thing to do, doesn’t it?
When you consider yourself a superhero and treat your client like a victim in distress, you set up an unhealthy relationship. By doing all their work for them, you deny them the opportunity to grow and develop as individuals and as an institution. Instead, consider this:
Your goal as a consultant is to work your way out of a job.
In the short term, you may need to swoop in and clean up a mess, to stop the bleeding and ensure your client is not at risk. Once the crisis is over, work with them to see how to stop it from happening in the future. Questions you should ask them are:
- Do you need to overhaul an internal process to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
- Does your internal staff need more information, resources or training to do their job?
- Is there something blocking your ability to do the right thing? If so, how can you remove it?
- Is this (process, service, function) something you should outsource instead of trying to do it yourselves?
I tell you this from personal experience. ALL of my business for the first 8 1/2 years of my consulting practice came from referrals. I didn’t have a newsletter, didn’t schmooze at networking events and never made a cold call. My first gig came from my former manager who moved to a new company and needed some extra help. From there, one person referred me to the next and that continued until the day I stopped working for corporations.
Here are operating guidelines that will ensure you get lots of referrals:
- There is more than enough work for everyone. If not, you are in the wrong market.
- Your goal is to find out what your client wants to learn and help them do that, even if it is not directly related to your project.
- If you feel a project is not set up properly or is doomed to fail, do not take it. They will always blame the consultant, regardless if it is your fault.
- Always base your decisions on what is right, not on what will pad your wallet.
- Always provide the best alternate resource you can think of if you are unable or unwilling to do the work. Even if that person is your direct competitor.
- Treat your client like a human being, not as an employer.
- Do a great job.
- Deliver what you promise, on time.
- Question corporate culture. It is your job to provide an alternate perspective.
- Be positive and encouraging.
This quote sums it up best (attribution unknown, thought to have originated in China):
Go in search of your people
Love them; learn from them;
Plan with them; serve them;
Begin with what they have;
Build on what they know.
But of the best leaders –
When their task is accomplished,
Their work is done,
The People all remark:
"We have done it ourselves."