If there’s no highway exit for another 6 miles and you’re not passing anyone, there’s a handy lane on the right just for you. You know that. I know that. Every other adult knows that. Yet we see drivers dawdling along in the left (or middle) lane for miles on end as other cars are forced to pass them on the right.**

In consulting there are equally obvious rules of the road that are, nevertheless, inexplicably ignored by many of our colleagues.

Last Wednesday I reached out to a handful of providers who could potentially handle a $50-75k piece of work for me. One particularly qualified consultant emailed a request to talk about the project at 10:00. I agreed.

Ten o’clock rolled around then quickly rolled past. The remaining half hour I had set aside slipped by without a peep from the consultant.

Would you hire someone who misses their very first appointment with you and does not text, email or have someone call to let you know they’re running late? Would your clients? Most clients won’t, and I certainly didn’t. Sorry, but there’s not enough chocolate-banana cream pie in the world to make up for that maneuver.

And yet this isn’t the first time a consultant hoping to win a project failed to call me on time.

I’m not perfect by a long shot. Occasionally I forget to use my turn signal until my passenger reminds me. And when it comes to winning projects, I’ve certainly made boneheaded moves that any friend could have prevented by whispering, “Don’t do that, dummy!”

So, let’s create a list of obvious rules of the road for consultants. Guidelines we all know and yet… we sometimes forget. I’ll get us started.

Rules of the Road for Consultants

  1. Live Up To Small Promises. Especially with prospects. Heck, especially with everyone. This includes being on time or giving notice, which applies to phone calls, meetings, deliverables, and so forth. If you’re going to be late, send a text or email or something. In this day and age we expect constant communication.
  2. Return Phone Calls. It’s respectful and polite, which are good habits to be in.
  3. Fix The Links On Your Site. A prospect pointed out a broken link on my site last week. Embarrassing and hurt my credibility.
  4. Make Yourself Easy To Reach. Include contact information in your emails and on every web page. Do you know how many consultants I’ve eliminated from the consideration set because they only had a contact form on their site—no phone number or email address anywhere? Way too many.
  5. Identify Yourself. Especially on voicemails. Say who you are and leave your phone number, even if you think the other person knows.darwin_listen_to_voicemail
  6. Don’t Share a Bad Mood. We’re human and life is imperfect, so we’re bound to have moments when we’re frustrated, angry, distraught or just blue. It’s okay to vent to a partner or pet, but not to a prospect.
  7. Say “Thank You.” Often and sincerely. Whether you received a project or just a return phone call, remember that you’re not entitled to it.
  8. Be Prepared. Review documents in advance of meetings. There’s no excuse for walking into any session having not scanned information the client or prospect sent.
  9. Be Professional. Communicate using professional language, with at least a smidge of decorum. I don’t think emoticons belong in business emails. Similarly, avoid off-color jokes and definitely avoid alcohol when you’re with prospects. A beer with a client you’ve known for a long time is a different matter, but err on the side of sobriety.
  10. (Add your rule of the road below).

I had another twenty rules of the road on my shortlist, but I want to hear yours. What “obvious” practices have you occasionally forgotten or do you see mangled by other consultants? Please add your thoughts below in the comments section.

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Text and images are © 2015 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.