Six ways to work better with a consultant

It saddens me that consultants don’t always have the best of reputations. And that some people and organisations shy away from working with consultants at all. Especially as we consultants can, if used sensibly, add considerable value to what our clients do. So here are six ways you can get more value out of a consultancy relationship.

1 | Focus on what you want to achieve

Consultants live to solve problems and to make things work better.

For us, identifying the problem is a big – and absolutely critical – part of our role. Clients tend to come to us with symptoms of the problem, rather than the actual problem itself, so digging beneath these to get to the heart of the matter is vital.

When considering what you want a consultant to help you with, focus on what it is that you want to work better. Then work with your consultant to explore the barriers that are getting in the way of this happening and to decide what to do about it.

Don’t assume that you know what the answer is. You’re hiring a consultant because of their expertise. Let them use it.

2 | Be open and honest

Your consultant is not there to judge you.

A consultant can only help you if they have all of the facts. You don’t need to paint a picture of how rosy everything is. You don’t need to try to spin things to get to your preferred answer. You just need to tell your consultant the truth.

A good client is one who is open and honest about their strengths and their weaknesses, their achievements and their failings. And who encourages everyone in their team to share their thoughts and experiences openly and without fear of blame or recrimination.

Also, we can tell if you’re not giving us the whole story.

3 | Work collaboratively with your consultant

A good consultant will want to work collaboratively with you.

They will want to explore ideas with you, to engage with your team and to discuss their thoughts with you as the assignment progresses. This isn’t because they’re trying to get you to do their work for them, but because this collaborative approach is the best way to a successful outcome.

We call it co-creation. And it’s, quite simply, the way of the future.

In this spirit of co-creation, your consultant will be in regular contact with you. They will pop up frequently in your office. They will be well-known to your team.

And the project will be all the more successful for it.

4 | Focus on value, not days

Consultants have traditionally charged on the basis of days. This didn’t make sense before. And it doesn’t make sense now.

A consultant who is paid by the day has little incentive to work efficiently or to get things done quickly. And, conversely, a consultant who has spent years building up their skills and expertise such that they can solve your intractable problem in a twenty-minute phone call deserves to be compensated appropriately.

I no longer charge on the basis of days. I prefer, instead, to determine my fees based on the value that my work creates. That way, neither my clients nor I need to worry about how I allocate my time or how long something might take.

We can, instead, focus on doing what needs to be done.

5 | Pay promptly

It’s common for clients to pay invoices 30 days after receipt. Or even at the end of the month after the one in which the invoice was received.

If you do this, you’re essentially treating your consultant like a bank.

You will enjoy a much better relationship with your consultant if you pay their invoices as soon as you receive them. It helps their cashflow. And it reassures them that you’re committed to the project and are happy with how it’s progressing.

Please note also that, even if you authorise an invoice immediately, your finance team might still sit on it for several weeks.

Just saying.

6 | Tell your friends

Consultants, especially those working freelance or operating their own practice, are only as good as their last project. We live and die by the results that we achieve for our clients.

We also don’t have massive marketing budgets. So client referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations are the oxygen that allows us to breathe. They also give us a massive fuzzy feeling from knowing that a client values our work sufficiently to tell someone else about it.

So if you’ve enjoyed working with a consultant or are impressed with the value that they’ve created for your organisation, please do tell your peers. Perhaps provide a testimonial for the consultant’s website. Or even arrange an introduction with someone you think might also value your consultant’s services.

You consultant will value this deeply. And your relationship will reap the benefits.

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