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10 Obvious Mistakes Consultants Make

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

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.

Return Phone Calls

It’s respectful and polite, which are good habits to be in.

Fix The Links On Your Site

A prospect pointed out a broken link on my site last week. Embarrassing and hurt my credibility.

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.

Identify Yourself

Especially on voicemails. Say who you are and leave your phone number, even if you think the other person knows.

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.

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.

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.

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.

(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.

  1. R.C. Shackelford
    November 4, 2015 at 6:19 am Reply

    Use the client, prospect, employee, boss or other party’s name. Frankly, the name cannot be overused in conversation because people are reassured when they hear their name.

    • David A. Fields
      November 4, 2015 at 8:50 am Reply

      That’s a fantastic addition! The corollary, of course, is don’t mess up your client’s name. I’ve made it a practice to always ask people how they spell their name. Even “obvious” names like Michelle are spelled differently by different people. Thanks for contributing this important practice.

  2. Barry Horwitz
    November 4, 2015 at 6:38 am Reply

    Proofread before sending … Proofread email responses (or anything you send to a client)… Be sure that you have the client’s name spelled correctly …

    • David A. Fields
      November 4, 2015 at 8:52 am Reply

      Totally corrrrect… er, correct. See my note above about client’s name spelling. It’s important to get someone else to proofread. A professional proofreader is surprisingly inexpensive and 100% worth it for any blogs, articles, white papers, etc.

    • Fred Diamond
      November 4, 2015 at 9:43 am Reply

      I had lunch yesterday with a peer. I endorsed another consultant I felt she should get to know. She replied, “He always has at least one typo in his emails so I’ll pass.”

      • David A. Fields
        November 4, 2015 at 9:48 am Reply

        Wow, Fred, that’s a clear and powerful example. Note that she said, “always.” Clients will forgive us the occasional mistake. Persistent sloppiness, however, will chase away prospects. Thank you for bringing this principle to life, Fred.

  3. John Cunningham
    November 4, 2015 at 7:03 am Reply

    Simply do what you say you are going to do…somewhat related to #1 but critical.

    • David A. Fields
      November 4, 2015 at 8:54 am Reply

      Aren’t you amazed by the number of people who don’t live up to their promises – even small promises? That problem is so common that simply doing what you’ll say you’ll do is an incredible trust builder. Thanks for adding this point to the discussion, John.

  4. Grant Cooper
    November 4, 2015 at 7:05 am Reply

    (Excellent article, David!)

    I would add:

    11) Don’t bring up your politics or religion… it’s basically irrelevant in any case, a distraction at best, and a turnoff or deal-breaker or at worst.

    • David A. Fields
      November 4, 2015 at 8:55 am Reply

      I agree, Grant. Raising controversial business issues is good practice; surfacing controversial personal issues is bad business.

  5. C. M. Brown
    November 4, 2015 at 7:38 am Reply

    Pass on the karma/don’t be greedy – if you aren’t a good fit for an opportunity, pass it on to your network. What goes around, comes around. And the prospective client will appreciate the recommendation of a “specialist” for their special project.

    • David A. Fields
      November 4, 2015 at 8:57 am Reply

      When we focus on what we do and allow others to shine in their areas of expertise, everyone benefits. Thank you for chiming in with that excellent point.

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