Have you ever watched a TV commercial from a company you didn’t like? Did it make you wonder who in their right mind would purchase such a product?
Have you ever gotten advice from someone you didn’t respect? Perhaps it was a manager that didn’t treat people well or someone you thought was unethical.
I once knew a man who lived a pretty rough life. He spent much his adult life making a series of bad decisions. After three divorces, two stints through alcohol rehab, and a lot of hurt people in his wake, he found religion. In fact, he found it to such an extreme, that he became a minister. The only problem was that, after all of the pain he left in his wake, few people believed in him. He had developed such a bad reputation that few people would follow him. He lacked credibility
A consultant’s bad reputation
I’ve seen consultants experience the same thing. Perhaps they didn’t go to the extreme of destroying their personal life. Maybe they didn’t mistreat people or exhibit immoral activities.
You don’t have to be a devout follower of politics to see the microscope that national politicians are under. If someone is running for a national or statewide office, his opponents and the media will dissect the candidate’s entire adult life. If he made one slip-up, or even an action that could be interpreted as a slip-up, the opposition goes out of its way to tear down that politician’s credibility.
Consultants aren’t under that large of a microscope. And although a consultant may have competitors, in most cases, competitors don’t go to the same extremes as political opponents.
But a consultant is always under scrutiny from the client. From the client’s perspective, he’s paying a high hourly rate for the consultant. He’s going to watch the consultant closely to make sure he’s getting the value he expects in return.
Credibility in the consultant toolkit
If the consultant says something that’s inconsistent from his past statements, is he lying? Does he even know what he’s talking about? If the consultant is working off-site and the client can’t get in contact with him, is he billing but not working? When the consultant estimates that a task will take much longer than the client thinks it should take, is the consultant padding their estimate, and as an extension, padding his bill?
A consultant needs to be ever-mindful of how his words may be interpreted by the client. If the consultant says something that is inconsistent from previous statements, he needs to be sure to reconcile why the message has changed.
For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants
Whenever the consultant is billing for time off-site, he needs to make sure that he’s always accessible and engaged in the client’s work.
A consultant’s estimates should provide clear explanations of each component, detailing assumptions that clarify any questions that could cause the client to question the estimate.
The consultant’s goal should be complete transparency with the client. Preempt doubts before they come up. Each time you remove the client’s need to doubt you, you develop one more thin layer of trust.
And then, once several layers of trust have been built up, it becomes that much more important to maintain it.
Early in my career, a mentor of mine once told me that you can build a reputation through your entire career and then one act can bring it all tumbling down. If you ever betray that trust, you lose many of those layers in one fell swoop. And reversing that trend becomes even harder.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.