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Your Clients’ Top 7 Obligations to Your Consulting Firm

Consulting can sometimes feel like an unequal, parent-child type relationship. They set rules. They control your payments. They tell you to turn your music down.

But the relationship isn’t as unequal as it seems. In fact, it needn’t be unequal at all.

You are peers, and your clients have obligations to your consulting firm and to the consulting project.

It helps if you’re cognizant, yourself, on what your clients’ obligations are. Then, you can outline those obligations for your consulting client. (Fortunately there’s a place for that in the Perfect Proposal Template).

When your consulting clients don’t live up to their obligations, you have to quickly talk with them about it, without hesitation or remorse. (By the way, you can also tie consequences to obligations in your contracts.)

Let’s start by building a list of clients’ obligations together.

What are your clients’ obligations to your consulting firm? I jotted down around 20 client obligations, a handful of which I’ve included in the list below.

Clients’ Obligations

  • Respond to requests for information within a reasonable time frame.

  • Show up for scheduled calls and meetings.
  • Use IP only within the scope provided.

  • Pay invoices on time
  • Treat you and your staff with respect
  • Give honest feedback during and after the project
  • What else?

What other obligations do your clients have to your consulting firm and your consulting project with them?

  1. David Discenza
    August 1, 2018 at 8:21 am Reply

    A recent client went “radio silent” for weeks. Emails went unanswered. Voicemails weren’t returned. As they were 150 miles away, turning up on their doorstep wasn’t a real option. It turned out that their board of directors, to quote one of my contacts in the firm, “turned the Etch-a-Sketch” upside down and shook”. The business was in a state of chaos until a new operating plan could be formulated. Had they told me the situation, I would have understood that our project was not a priority and that I would check back each month to see how things were progressing. They didn’t and I ended up having to contact the CEO to find out what was going on. That ruffled a few feathers.

    The client owns the responsibility for keeping consultants informed of any changes that affect the project. While we consultants are “all-knowing” (cough-cough), we’re not “all seeing”. I’d like to know if other consultants have come up with language in their contracts to address this issue.

    • David A. Fields
      August 1, 2018 at 8:31 am Reply

      First of all, don’t let this claimed lack of omniscience get out into the general public. It could start a global panic, a run on the banks, or, perhaps, widespread shrugs of disinterest.

      My contracts state that the client and consultant share an obligation to alert each other of anything we learn that may materially affect the success of the project.

      However, no contract language will prevent the situation you described. The strength of your relationship and frequency of your ongoing communication determine how quickly you’ll learn about an etch-a-sketch incident.

      Great example of a client obligation, David!

    • Bob Hatcher
      August 1, 2018 at 8:33 am Reply

      David, I had this situation a few years ago and left a voicemail like this “Have you ever been on a plane, it left the gate and then it stops out on the tarmac and you sit and wait without any notification from the pilot as to what’s going on? It’s one of the most frustrating feelings. That’s what’s happening here. I’m sitting and waiting and I have no idea what’s going on. Please call me and clue me in.”

      I got an apologetic call withing an hour. Try it.


      • David A. Fields
        August 1, 2018 at 8:36 am Reply

        Love that message, Bob. It’s a great visual and strikes a chord with every businessperson. I’m definitely going to try it. Thanks for contributing the idea.

  2. Bob
    August 1, 2018 at 8:28 am Reply

    Great stuff. I agree with all you say, but I actually get them to agree to it.

    Right at the start of the selling process I say something like this “I’ve been doing this a long time and I consider myself a professional. What that means to you is that you will always be treated with respect. You will always get a return call or email when you contact me in a timely manner, and I will keep all of our dealings confidential. Can I count on the same from you?”

    Then, if I contact them and don’t get a return call or email or they promise me something and don’t follow through, I have no qualms about reminding them of our agreement to treat each other professionally. The few times I’ve had to remind them of this is in the selling phase.

    Keep up the good work.


    • David A. Fields
      August 1, 2018 at 8:35 am Reply

      Excellent illustration of the value of making obligations explicit and raising them early in the process.

      Even with obligations clearly articulated in the contract, I typically talk about expectations during a kick-off meeting and use that opportunity to reiterate my expectations of the client (i.e., their obligations).

      I appreciate you sharing your illuminating example of how you work, Bob.

  3. Neil
    August 1, 2018 at 8:40 am Reply


    Excellent ideas. What I like about your suggestions is that they are in the client’s best interest as well. It is hard to help them achieve their goals if you aren’t kept in the loop.

    • David A. Fields
      August 1, 2018 at 8:49 am Reply

      Exactly right, Neil. A client’s obligations are, by and large, in their own best interests. After all, we’ve been engaged to help them. I’m glad you highlighted that point.

  4. Tony Rodrigues
    August 1, 2018 at 8:50 am Reply

    Clients need to be transparent and honest. They also need to communicate clearly to all levels of staff the reason you are there and that their cooperation and participation is essential to the project success.

    • David A. Fields
      August 1, 2018 at 9:10 am Reply

      Two, very good points, Tony. In addition to communication–which is emerging as a common theme–you’re right that clients have a responsibility to (help) create buy-in and to support you. Nothing’s worse than walking into a contentious project and finding your internal champion has fled like King Ban from Benwick!

  5. Diane Valenti
    August 1, 2018 at 2:52 pm Reply

    I actually have language in my contract that outlines our mutual responsibilities. It’s been a lifesaver. When I have a problem, I simply refer them to the relevant section, and voila, no more problem! It’s hard to wiggle out of something that was clearly spelled in a document that you signed.

    • David A. Fields
      August 1, 2018 at 2:59 pm Reply

      Outlining responsibilities in your proposal/SOW/contract is a good idea, Diane. For it to be effective, the client has to be aware of the language, though, and not just skim through it as boilerplate. That’s one reason why going through the commitments again during a kickoff call works well. Thanks for weighing in on this one, Diane.

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