Anyone who provides a service (eg. consultant, advisor, educator, etc) will deliver services that are based upon what they think their client wants from them.

If you don’t properly understand what the client wants, you are likely to misconstrue what is required. As a result, your service will be poorer, your reputation may suffer, and the sustainability of your business is diminished.

First Contact

When the client first contacts you, it is critical to determine whether the enquiry is valid, relevant and appropriate. If there is a high likelihood of the enquiry developing into more of a problem than it is worth; you are best to determine that early, and discard the client to concentrate on more worthwhile prospects.

At this stage, when you are unfamiliar with the person, it is normal human nature for them to hold back things you need to know, to emphasise or play down the significance of some things; or to present their personality in an untrue way.

  • Grumpy people may sound lovely on first contact, then become difficult to work with later on.
  • Businesses that have serious problems can be presented as having only minor problems at first.

Any of the following questions, or others like these, may help you make that determination:

  • Have you engaged a consultant before on this issue, a similar issue or for anything else?
  • Why do you feel you need a consultant, rather than handling this issue yourself?
  • Why are you interested in me rather than other consultants?
  • What do you expect from me?
  • What is your budget?
  • When do you want the job started and finished?
  • What are your priorities –money, time, truth, ethics, quality, etc?
  • When are you willing to make a commitment to using a consultant?

Defining the Job

Once a client commits to engaging your services, you need to ask them questions in order to define exactly what is expected of you as a consultant.

There is always the potential of a client expecting more from you than what you are prepared to give and the possibility of disputes arising both during and after the consultation process. This is the point at which you need to ask questions and get clear and comprehensive answers that are both qualified and quantified.

Sometimes you need to ask the same question more than once, in different ways, in order to get a true perspective on what the client requires.

Consider questions such as the following:

  • Can we write an aim for the job that we both agree on?  (Then do it.)
  • What is your preferred outcome from my work?
  • Do you understand that your preferred outcome might be impossible?
  • Are you happy to change the scope and nature of my work as we proceed, if developments reveal a need to do so?
  • What benefits do you expect upon completing this consultation?
  • How will you know you have got value from the service I provide?
  • How do you expect me to respond to you? (eg. A written report, verbally, or something else.)
  • How often do you expect progress reports (for larger jobs)?
  • How comprehensive do you expect project reports to be?
  • When and how are you going to pay me?
  • Are you prepared for me to subcontract some of the work?
  • Is there any issue that we have not discussed which could be a problem later?

Clarify Where the Job is?

It is also important to consider the location you are willing to work in. More and more we work online, but often clients will wish to see a consultant face to face to discuss their consultancy work with them.  It is therefore necessary to consider where you are willing to work, how far you are willing to travel. If someone asked you to travel from America to Australia for a meeting – would you? If you were paid well enough, you may consider this. However, it could be too much of an inconvenience. Therefore, it is important to make decisions about:

  • Where you are willing to work
  • How far you are willing to travel
  • How often you will travel (a client in America may want weekly visits from you, but if you are in the UK, you may feel that is too much. However, you might think that one visit at the start of the project was acceptable).

When deciding upon how far you are willing to travel, also consider whether the client will be willing to pay your travel expenses.  If you are asked to travel from the UK to Australia to discuss a possible project, and the project is later given to someone else, you could be heavily out of pocket. You must therefore clarify travel expectations and expenses at the start with the client.

Where you are willing to work will obviously depend very heavily on the type of consultancy work you do.  If you are a wildlife consultant living in central London in the UK, you probably would not get very much work if you were only willing to travel ten miles from home. However, if you are willing to travel long distances you might spend most of your time traveling. Again, this is something for you to consider carefully.