Here are three key strategies to be more successful with clients;
1. CLEAR AGREEMENT
The very best favor you can do for yourself and for your client is to get to an absolutely clear agreement about your relationship and the work to be done before beginning.
If you prepare a written proposal — this is the perfect opportunity to very clearly and firmly set out the objectives, describe what you will (and will not do), the timetable, the measurements of accomplishment, payment terms, everything … without the brutal formality of a contract, filled with “legalese.
If you deal with entrepreneurs, as I do more often than not, they have no “norm” in mind for what proposals ought to look like, so you have great flexibility. If you’re dealing with association committees, government agencies or big corporations, you’ll probably need to be more formal.
Brief or long, formal or informal, one thing to strive for in your “documentation” is to anticipate and prevent every possible future misunderstanding or disagreement.
2. FREQUENT, CONTINUOUS, QUALITY COMMUNICATION
First of all, all past and present clients and targeted prospective clients, referral sources, important peers, etc. should be on a “VIP mailing list” and get a regularly published newsletter or some sort of email communication from you.
Second, clients with projects in progress need to be kept informed. Here’s an important tip: the client waiting for and anticipating results feels time pass differently than does the consultant working on their behalf. A week seems like an eternity to the client, a few hours to the consultant. You can keep off a whole lot of problems by keeping your clients informed of your work and progress.
Personally, I like to send unexpected emails for this purpose. I’ll get brief up-to date memos off to my clients early morning or before the close of a business day. Sometimes I will even record a message and email it to them for clarity. Time spent sending out emails and recording messages prevents hours of needless phone conversations.
3. MANAGING FOR PROFIT
One of the the things I notice with new and experienced consultants is that they lose their focus in general. They start giving away way to much advice for free and then they feel really crummy. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of being in the consulting business? Your primary purpose must be to make as much money as humanly possible from your expertise, time, energy, resources and client relationships. Of course, you want to deliver extraordinary services. And you want to have an impact in your niche. And you want your clients to prosper, etc., etc., etc., But the smartest business decisions get made when there is one governing priority taking precedence over all others.
One issue this leads to is that of “product.” One of the very few ways for consultants to gain “leverage,” and make money outside the box of billable work/projects, is through selling your clients useful products linked to your advice and expertise.
I strongly recommend developing products of your own to support your consulting activities.