Why Won’t the Client Call You Back?

You were thrilled to be invited to submit a proposal for a project that will bring in a good amount of billable hours wrapped in a most respectable fee structure.  In the meeting with your prospective client, you asked all the right questions–

  • Confirmation of the decision-maker, s/he who can green-light the project
  • Details of the project timetable and deadline
  • The approximate start date
  • The value of the project outcomes and deliverables to the organization
  • The project  budget

You have every reason to believe that the project is legitimate and that there is organizational money and motive to get it done.  You may have worked previously with this client and you relish the prospect of working with him/her again.  Or, you’ve not worked with this client before and the project represents a step-up for you.  You can’t wait to add this brand enhancing and validating client to your roster and you plan to do whatever it takes to exceed expectations and become a preferred vendor.

Because you met with the project advocate and decision-maker, your comprehensive and professionally presented proposal is essentially a confirmation of what was discussed and agreed upon.  The deliverables and deadline are confirmed.  Your proposed financials are within budget.  You’ve submitted on time.  You were told when the answer would be given.

But uh, oh, that date passed three weeks ago and you are now tense with worry.  Where are they?  You try sending a diplomatically written email, but receive no reply.  A week later you call the project advocate and s/he has stopped answering the phone, regardless of when you call, early or late.  In resignation you leave a voicemail and of course, there’s no reply to that, either.

Why do clients play these passive-aggressive games? What the hell are they made of? Here are some behind-the-scenes reasons that will let you see the other side and I hope, avoid feeling like a failure and a fool.

  1. There’s no answer yet

Just because your prospect told you that s/he is the decision-maker does not mean that s/he is the sole decision-maker.  Group decisions are the norm.  Your prospect is most likely one of three or four “decision-makers,” the one who is assigned to speak with all vendor candidates, or maybe just one or two.  Alternatively, your prospect may be one of several team leaders who at the end of the month (or whenever) sit down and review all pending projects and discuss proposals received.

Depending on what is going on at the organization, the team leaders will agree to move forward on certain projects, delay one or two and put the remaining on hold.  Your prospect may advocate for funding, but a project that is more urgent, or more favored by other team leaders, could overrule your prospect and kill your project.  Your project advocate will speak with you only when a definitive answer can be given to you.

2.  Waiting for a favored vendor

One of the group of decision-makers may have the power to push in a vendor candidate with whom s/he has worked previously (and who may have the inside track).  That vendor candidate might be a late entry and no decision will be made until his/her bid is received and reviewed.  One of the vendors might have a powerful friend on the decision-making team and that friend plans to push his/her preferred vendor candidate into the project (whether or not that vendor is the best qualified, or offers the most competitive price).  Your prospective client is too busy politicking to speak with you.  S/he would like to say yes, but a battle must first be won, s/he hopes.

3.  Your decision-maker advocate has had an unexpected emergency 

Things happen.  An unexpected problem or opportunity may draw your advocate’s attention away from your project, which is no doubt #1 in your life, but is only one of many possibilities that exist in the constantly shifting landscape that is the new economy.  Short-term priorities and putting out fires are the order of the day.  Your prospective client is too busy to speak with you.

4.  An unexpected loss of support

Second-guessing is practically an Olympic sport in organizations today.  I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t take much to pour cold water on a project and reverse a decision that once earned the favor of the decision-making team.  It could be that the heaviest heavyweight on the team, when all is said and done, does not feel that the project ROI is worth the investment of time, staff attention and money.  Your advocate and perhaps others may believe in the project and they’re scrambling to keep it alive and included on this year’s calendar.  Your project advocate is too embarrassed to talk; s/he feels humiliated and powerless.

5.  Project funding may not yet be officially awarded, or has been lost

Your project advocate and prospective client may have spoken too soon about the availability of an adequate budget for the project.  There could have been a last-minute decision to fund another project that is now perceived as more important by one or more of the decision-making team.  Maybe a project that was previously put on hold will now be given the green light?

Your advocate must now 1.) Confirm if there will be available money in this fiscal year, or the next, and 2.) Confirm the amount of money that will be earmarked for your project.  Your prospect is too frustrated to speak with you now; s/he has lost face.

6. Your proposal was used to get pricing info and to create a budget

Sometimes a Freelancer gets no respect and it’s a terrible thing.  Prospects who are not ready to commit may nevertheless wonder how much it would cost to get a certain job done and so they’ll seek out a Freelancer or two and request a proposal.  They ask Freelancers who they don’t know.  Avoid sending a proposal to an unknown “prospect” who mysteriously sends you a Request For a Proposal The Unexpected RFP .

7.  You were not awarded the project

Your proposal was not selected and the prospect who was not meant to be wants to avoid disappointing you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Proposal Writing Primer

Periodically,  a Freelance consultant must write a proposal.  Some organizations,  especially government entities,  will publicly announce that a project is available and request bids that must be submitted in proposal form.  Occasionally,  one may receive a direct request for a proposal  (RFP)  from an unknown party.  Experience will eventually teach you to not respond to a surprise RFP.  Invariably,  an unexpected RFP is sent by a phantom client who is either fishing for pricing information,  or seeking to obtain additional proposals when it has already been decided who will be hired for the project in question,  but company policy mandates that a certain number of proposals must be reviewed.

Submit proposals only after you’ve spoken with the decision-maker and received an invitation.  If you’ve set it up right,  the proposal will serve as a confirmation letter that spells out project details that have been previously discussed and agreed-upon.  See my March 26, 2013 post on unsolicited RFPs  https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/the-unexpected-rfp/.

A proper invitation to write a proposal is an opportunity for you to shine.  Showcase yourself,  your brand and your expertise and write a powerful document that reveals your analytic ability,  writing ability,  practicality and creativity.

Study the requirements

If there is a written RFP,  study the requirements and make note of the submission deadline.  Is the project a good fit for your organization?  Do you have time to write a worthy proposal? If you meet with the client to discuss the project,  take good notes and confirm that you understand the goals,  specifications and expectations involved.  Do you have the expertise and resources to do the job?  Can you achieve the goals within the time frame?  Can you do the job within the budget?  Must you subcontract work out and if so,  will you be able to make a profit on the project?

Confirm the desired outcomes

Interview the client and confirm the desired and expected outcomes of the project and assess what achieving the project goals means to the organization.

Evaluate your proposed solution

Make sure that your approach to producing the deliverables will please the client.  What is the primary criterion for the proposal?  Is it speed of completion,  price,  or something else?  Present a methodology that reflects what means most to the client.

Outshine competitors

Be advised that a proposal is a sales document.  Highlight your strengths in the context of project goals and address any potential reservations that might prevent your proposal from being accepted.

Proposal must-haves

Some proposals specify that a certain format must be followed.  If there is no such rule,  include the following elements:

  • Give an overview of the current situation that has given rise to the need for the project.
  • State the goals of the project,  expected outcomes or deliverables.
  • Describe why you and your organization are uniquely qualified to successfully complete the project.
  • Describe your proposed methodology for achieving the aims of the project.
  • Explain the timeline and cost  (the justification of your proposed fee).
  • Describe the benefits associated with achieving the project goals,  outcomes,  or deliverables.

Finally,  make sure that your proposal addresses all elements of the RFP or client needs.   Check your spelling and grammar.  Go on-line and view examples of proposals;  find a format that visually communicates you and your brand and make that your template .  If hard copy must be submitted,   print your document on good paper stock.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

The Less Than Zero Pricing Tactic

Psychology counts when pricing a product or service.  Take note that in every store,  the price of items always ends in .99,  .98,  or .95 and never .00.  Number psychology research has persuasively shown that buyers do not like zeros.  Stores do not sell items for $100.00,  they sell them for $99.95,  because customers associate zeros with premium prices that they’d rather not pay.

Furthermore,  the phenomenon called the left digit effect causes our brains to misinterpret that $99.95 as having a value closer to $99.00,  instead of $100.00.  Lindsay van Thoen,  columnist for The Freelancer’s Union,  says that our clients are like any other consumer and Freelance consultants should bear that in mind when pricing contract proposals.

When we are invited to submit a proposal,  we are all excited.  Here comes money!  The last thing we want to do is to wind up in a wrestling match with a client who wants to nickel and dime.  We take pains to itemize the major components of the project and provide the rationale for the total project fee.  Nevertheless,  haggling may ensue.  According to van Thoen,  Freelancers are wise to follow the lead of retailers,  cut the zeros from our proposals and make it easier for clients to agree to our price.  Resist the temptation to price your project at $5,000.00.  Instead,  price the project at $4825.00 or $5175.00.

Unfortunately,  clients sometimes feel that Freelance consultants pad price quotes,  even when an itemized accounting is provided.  A figure that does not appear to be rounded-off,  but appears to be specifically customized to the service requested and contains few zeros that may imply that we’ve  “rounded-up”  the fee,  can be more trust-inspiring and believable to certain clients.

Other ways to make it more palatable for clients to accept our proposals are to  1.) Ask the client for the project budget and work with them to provide services that you can afford to provide within that valuation and  2.) Provide three levels of service: good,  better and best,  so that clients can choose services according to needs and budget.

Pricing pundit Rafi Mohammed,  founder and CEO of the consulting firm Pricing for Profit in Cambridge, MA,  offers two valuable pieces of advice to keep in mind about pricing.  First,  prices must reflect the value that clients place on the service.  Second,  different clients place different value on a given service.  Offering  “good, better,  best”  options allows the client’s need for the service to be met in a way that is in line with the value placed.  A good pricing strategy is an important part of your marketing plan.  It sets the stage for building a profitable enterprise.  It is imperative to set prices that reflect the client’s value of what we sell and,  equally important,  to help the client perceive that listed prices are trustworthy.

Happy 4th of July!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Your Brilliant Idea, the Set-up and the Pitch

You envision a project concept that has the potential to significantly benefit both you and a particular organization.  You wrangle a meeting with either the decision-maker or one who has influence.  Convincingly,  you show that the proposed project will add money or prestige to the organization and that you are uniquely qualified to put the plan in motion and make it work.  You are invited to submit a formal proposal and you see dollar signs twinkling for all concerned.  Needless to say you are stunned when the proposal,  which you perceived to be a confirmation letter since you received the decision-maker’s unqualified invitation to submit,  is shot down.  What the heck happened?

Kimberly Elsbach,  associate professor of management at University of California / Davis,  has done research that shows it’s not only the perceived value of the project that is at issue,  but also the perceived value of the seller—you. According to Elsbach,  the decision-maker makes a judgment about your ability to generate a genuinely creative and beneficial idea and that prejudgment diminishes its perceived value.

Elsbach reached this conclusion when she studied the Hollywood film industry,  where filmmakers regularly  “pitch”  movie concepts to studio executives.  She also attended meetings where entrepreneurs pitch business concepts to venture capital investors,  yet another venue where brilliant ideas are proposed to those with the potential to fund them.

Elsbach emphasized that there are no reliable criteria on which to base creative potential,  so decision-makers rely on purely subjective and often inaccurate evaluation stereotypes,  which kick in very early in the pitch meeting.  From that point on the decision is made,  no matter what they tell you.

However,  Elsbach discovered that there is sometimes a way to redeem oneself.  The trick is to make the decision-maker feel that s/he is participating in an idea’s development.  In other words,  rather than bringing it in all wrapped up in a red ribbon,  showing that you’ve thought things through and you’re basically ready for the roll-out,  devise something for your decision-maker to do to feel needed and  important.  Make the decision-maker feel like a creative collaborator.

First,  set the stage and gain the decision-maker’s empathy by finding common ground or perspective.  If you’ve worked with this person before,  then mention some shared memory of mutual success.  “How is that program going these days?  I so enjoyed working on that project.  It is great to know that your customers have responded well…”  If you’ve not worked with this person previously,  go to their LinkedIn profile and look for common ground there.  After the greeting and other pleasantries,  slip into a shared experience or perspectives story,  whether it’s a project you did for him/her,  or an accidentally-on-purpose reference to a company that the two of you worked at  (“So you worked there, too? I remember the days…”)

Second,  when you segue into pitching your proposal,  show the proper level of excitement and passion.  Moreover,  resist the temptation of being so thorough that you don’t give your decision-maker,  who has an ego,  a chance to put their hands in it and impact the project.  As you are enthusing about the features of your proposal,  ask qualifying questions that will engage your decision-maker in a discussion of what the organization and its customers really need from the concept you are pitching and together with the decision-maker be willing to improvise and compromise on your original proposal.  If you can make the decision-maker feel some ownership,  s/he is much more likely to identify with and support you at the meeting where projects and proposals are reviewed and the executive team finalizes what gets funded and what doesn’t.

Coming up with a brilliant idea is the easy part.  Selling the idea to the organization with the means to fund that idea is the hard part.  Psychology is a sales resource and the successful sales professional makes expert use of it.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Transform No Into Yes

Here is the scenario: Percolating in your brain is an idea for an interesting initiative that you are certain will work well in the organization of a good and steady client.  You figure that you may be able to sell them on it and create a paying project for yourself.  You speak with a couple of people and identify the decision-maker and key influencers.  You vet your idea through an influencer,  who supports it and gives you the green light to approach the primary decision-maker.  You make the appointment.

Over coffee,  you make your pitch.  The decision-maker is pleasant,   yet starts backing away from your concept,  even though you’ve verified its usefulness via your influencer.  How do you get to the heart of your client’s objections,  successfully overcome them,  save the sale and get paid?

The late,  great sales guru Zig Ziglar,  motivational speaker and author of several sales training books,  once said that every sale has five obstacles: no need,  no money,  no hurry,  no desire and no trust.  The Freelance consultant as salesperson’s  job is to uncover and overcome whatever mix of these objections and persuade the client that the proposal is worthwhile and will make the client look good to superiors and peers.

Realize that  “no” does not always mean  “no”.   Sometimes clients say no when there is limited time and energy available to evaluate what has been proposed.  The need may be relevant,  but other matters take precedence and your proposal is not perceived as urgent.  As a result,  the decision-maker is not inclined to address the issue in the near future and it is easier to decline.

Alternatively,  you may not deliver a sales pitch that inspires either desire or trust (confidence).  Homework may have been done to confirm the need and identify key players,  but it is still necessary to communicate a narrative that will convince the decision-maker to take that leap of faith and put him/herself on the line for your proposal.

Budget constriction is another frequent objection,  regardless of the state of the economy.  When conferring with your influencer,  it is always important to find out if  there is available budget to support your proposal and also gauge what will motivate your decision-maker to petition for funding.

When selling,  it is necessary to present the details that the client needs and wants to make the decision,  no more and no less.    It is important not to give too much information,  or you could confuse the client or open up a can of worms that will turn on you.  Neither can one be vague.  Give all relevant information and express it clearly and concisely.  Describe the benefits that you expect will be important to the client and paint a picture of what’s in it for him/her.

Steve Strauss,  business attorney and columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine and USA Today newspaper,  recommends that you  diplomatically let the client know that you know your proposal is a good one for the organization because you’ve taken the time to verify its usefulness.  Don’t immediately fold your tent if the client hesitates or declines.

Instead,  ask if there is any additional information you can provide,  or some other accommodation you can make to allow him/her to feel  comfortable with approving the deal.   Show the client that  you are prepared to confront and resolve questions and doubts.  You might save the sale and even if you don’t,  you may be able to position yourself to successfully get another proposal approved when timing and funding are on your side.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Unexpected RFP

Have you ever received an RFP out of the blue? I’ve received two and I was gullible enough to respond to both and both times I received exactly what I deserved—nada!  Really,  I should have known better.   An RFP that slips into your mail box is a Trojan horse.  In fact,  I received a phone call this morning from an unknown person who claimed that she was looking for corporate trainers  (or some such)  and wants to include me in the search,  so I am about to receive unexpected RFP #3.

In reality,  what this dame and other stealth RFP senders often want is to round out a list of candidates in accordance with their company directives,  to make it easier for them to hire who they’ve already planned to hire.  Or,  the game is to either get the job done at the lowest price,  or free consulting advice through a fake RFP.

I was caught in what I suspect was the latter game a couple of years ago by a Harvard University-run charity,  no less.  They were looking for ways to juice their fundraising strategy and invited me in to talk for an hour.  I suspect that either no one was hired,  or the person hired was pre-determined and may have been given my ideas  (and maybe also the ideas of other suckers)  to implement,  along with my pricing info as a benchmark.

Whatever the motive,  beware the out-of-the-blue RFP.  The targeted Freelance consultants gain nothing but false hope and the  “opportunity”  to sally forth on a fool’s errand.   However,  I’ve decided that if  this latest RFP is sent  ( I provided my email address),  I will respond—my way.   I will telephone the contact person and ask a few questions…..

The first question I’ll ask is,  who referred me?  The second question I’ll ask is,  who is performing that job now?  The third question,  what is motivating the change if someone is already doing that job,  whether in-house or a Freelancer? Is that person doing an unsatisfactory job and in what ways?  I shall listen very carefully to the replies.

If the answers do not add up,   I will decline the RFP and politely state that I don’t get why I’ve been invited to apply,  that I typically respond to RFPs from clients with whom I have a relationship,  after we’ve discussed project objectives.

On the other hand,  if the answers to my first three questions pass muster,  I will ask three more:

1).   Who is the project decision-maker and the stakeholders and may I meet with them?

2).   What information will the perfect RFP for this project contain?

3).    How will success for this project be measured and who holds the yardstick?

Nevertheless,  while meeting is helpful,  it is not a fail-safe.   My fake RFPs both included a face-to-face.  If you are invited to come in and speak about the project,  do so without submitting a proposal.  Give them nothing beyond an hour of your time.

If the company insists on wheedling information out of you  “What would you do in this situation…?”,  tell them you’ll be happy to discuss that going forward if it looks like you should work together.  Put nothing into writing.  If recipes to solve a problem are required beforehand,  know that it’s an RFP shake-down.

RFPs are awarded by clients with whom we have a relationship and even then,  you might not win.  Three years ago,  I brought a program concept to a decision-maker at a not-for-profit.  During a $40.00  lunch that I paid for,  I was invited to write a proposal.

Bingo! I said,  but it was not to be.   After more consideration,  it was determined that the staffing needed to support my proposed program was not available and there was no budget to hire.  I believe that the intent was not to screw me,  but I was devastated and it still stings.

So what should you do if an unsolicited RFP comes your way? Proceed with caution,  ask questions to help reveal the sender’s motives,  listen carefully to the answers and whatever you decide,  do not get your hopes up.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Your Big Client Bid Strategy

Freelance consultants have to be nimble and resourceful in order to compete successfully and that is especially so when in pursuit of a big-league client.  Winning a big client is tremendous validation,  but when swimming with whales it is essential to take precautions and maintain as much control over the process as possible.   It would be disastrous to do what is second nature to many small business operators and Freelancers: whatever it takes to get the job in and whatever it takes to get the job done.   Pursuing important clients with big contracts out for bid takes a more sophisticated approach.

When assessing and pricing a big  contract,  the project fee attached to your proposal carries much weight,  in more ways than one.   Bid too high and you’re knocked out of contention.   Bid too low,  a common practice of Freelance consultants and small business owners,  and one of two impressions will be made:

1.   That you are perhaps unqualified to do the work because you’re selling your services for too little money,  or

2.   That you’re desperate for business and probably ripe for exploitation.

To both convey the image of a capable and experienced professional and ensure that you make money on the project,  be sure that you thoroughly understand what will be required to fulfill the contract and your ability to do so.   Job costing and cash flow projections will need special care.   Will you need extra expertise for some aspect of this job,  or perhaps an extra pair of hands in order to meet the timetable? 

Realize that big projects for big clients mean big accounts receivable and there can be a downside.   Be honest about how much money you can afford to have outstanding,  even if  payments are received on time.   Help yourself by requesting 20% – 35% of the project fee up-front and due within 15 days of the contract signing.   Set up a payment schedule in your proposal that ensures you’ll be able to pay any subcontractors and also yourself on time.

Freelancers and small business owners often compete on price,  but one is advised to avoid dangerously low bids in order to get work or add a marquis name to the client list,  only to receive very little profit from the project.   Michael MacMillan,  founder and CEO of MacMillan Communications of New York City,  focuses on selling personal attention and customized PR strategies to his clients and providing more bang for the buck.   “One of the advantages of being a smaller organization is that you’re more efficient because there are fewer overhead costs.  We are able to apply more of the project fee directly to account work”. 

According to Jeffrey Bolton,  managing partner at the accounting firm Daszkal Bolton LLP of Boca Raton, FL,  the key to evaluating whether to pursue a big client is to ask yourself  how important that account will be for future business growth and whether the project work fits into your strategic plan,  even if you don’t make money on it.  “If you’re trying to build a reputation,  that foot in the door is necessary,  but you must have an institutional mind-set when taking on a big client and not a mom-and-pop mind-set”.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Protect Your Intellectual Property

Suppose you decide to do what I recently did and contact the managing partner of a consulting firm and propose that the two entities agree to explore the possibility of  forming a business alliance that just might become very profitable? Business is all about deal-making and every once in a while a Freelancer has to pitch a good proposal to the right prospect.  After all,  nothing ventured,  nothing gained.

But there is risk involved,  usually for the smaller entity.  Freelancers typically offer intangible services,  better known as intellectual property.  We trade on our expertise and judgment,  our brand and reputation,  that which distinguishes us from the pack and allows us to make a  living.

Engaging in a business alliance or joint venture usually involves the sharing of intellectual property by one or both of the parties  (in this case,  it would be me).  How can you protect yourself from unscrupulous operators who might decide to appropriate your valuable IP,  when you’re out there trying to be proactive and proposing potential business deals to parties that might be interested,  without getting ripped off  for the fruits of your ingenuity?

Denver attorney Susan F. Fisher defines intellectual property or trade secrets as  “any formula,  method,  or information that gives you a competitive advantage…anything that takes time,  money or effort to develop and that you don’t want potential competitors to know about.”  Most business alliances,  including licensing arrangements,  require a Freelancer or business owner to reveal trade secrets and other IP.

Protecting the coin of your realm is a top priority.  Surprisingly,  that can mostly be achieved by taking just a few simple steps that cost no money at all.  Step one is to identify your intellectual property or trade secrets as restricted material and therefore not available for general distribution.  Mark the material “Confidential” in big bold typescript.  Step two is to require a special password to access the document file,  to provide yet another level of security.

A third IP security measure is to unambiguously state in a letter,  or in the email to which the file of IP information is attached,  that said information is proprietary and confidential and that it is being provided as part of a business proposition in which you would like to be paid,  should the proposal come to fruition.

Instituting such safeguards not only protects IP,  but also demonstrates to lawyers,  judges and juries that you identified your IP as confidential and not for general distribution,  that you made it known that the information you shared was sensitive and that you intended and attempted to protect your IP,  should a dispute ever lead to litigation.

The ultimate level of security is to require that the party with whom you share IP sign a nondisclosure agreement.  The NDA provides formal legal protection of  your IP and trade secrets.  Furthermore,   the NDA specifies what information is considered proprietary and what is not and will also describe limits as to how the IP may be used and for how long the information must remain confidential.  In the NDA,  your attorney should request that all copies of confidential information that detail the ingredients of your  “secret sauce”  be returned to you at the end of that term.

So by all means,  be an enterprising Freelancer and pitch a good idea to the right decision-maker.  Just be sure to start the venture off on the right foot by taking a couple of no-cost steps to protect your interests.  I’ll let you know how things turn out with my idea.   I was invited to call the managing partner in early December to find out if he and his colleagues feel that we have something to discuss.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

What Consulting Companies Know

There are certain similarities between consulting companies and Freelancers.  The firms work on a project basis, as we do. They submit proposals and compete for clients, as we do.  Like us, the firm’s consultant comes to the client’s organization as a hired gun, takes on the assignment, produces the deliverables and gets paid.  The similarities seem to end there, however.

The fact is,  consulting companies get a lot more respect and a lot more money than Freelancers.  The consulting company’s value-added is perceived as more valuable than the Freelancer’s value-added.  Most clients have a great deal of trust and confidence in consulting companies (well, at least the person who hired them does).  As a result,  consulting companies are awarded the most lucrative projects.  Their calls and emails are always returned.

Likewise,  Freelancers who have worked for consulting companies are held in higher regard by clients and prospects.  Anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that they receive more lucrative contracts,  billing more hours and commanding a higher rate. Freelancers with a consulting company background appear to know a secret code,  know all the right moves.  I came to realize my knowledge gap through a series of casual meetings with an acquaintance of mine named Erika.

Erika once worked for a mid-size consulting company,  first in their LA office,  then in NYC.  Like me,  she facilitates strategy meetings in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors,  but we cannot call each other competitors.  Erika stands head and shoulders above me in terms of consulting savoir-faire and client list.  Next to her,  I am the country cousin!  Erika is a very cool girl and over time she took pity on my poor, untutored self and shared a few consulting company secrets.

Primarily,  the advantage gained from consulting company experience is that one learns how to build value into all client interactions.  The perception of adding value starts with the very first client meeting.  A consultant’s job is to deliver comprehensive,  data driven analysis,  insights and answers that produce the desired results. Those analyses,  answers and insights form the basis of the strategies that the client will be advised to implement,  so that key goals and objectives will be reached.

Erika lets it be known that she will deliver the goods.  In the client meeting,  she asks questions that reveal what the client wants and help her discover what the client needs–that information forms the essence of Erika’s value-added.  Next,  she confirms with the client that she’s accurately grasped the project scope and understands all priorities and timetables.  She follows up in writing and in fact boasts that she does not so much submit proposals as send confirmation letters.

Erika isn’t awarded every assignment she’s invited to discuss,  but her track record is very good.  Before she starts work on a project,  she also takes a few important actions to keep her value-added rolling:

I.  Recognize,  and if possible meet,  the organization’s senior management team: the CEO, ED and other key staff.  Their names and sometimes also photos are probably listed on the company website.

II.  Learn the thought process that led to the project’s initiation and approval.  If possible,  read the project proposal and review any preliminary work that may have been done.  Find out who supports the project and who opposes it if you are able, to learn who your friends and detractors will be.

III. Know the organizations’ basic financial data.  Read the most recent annual report and examine the P & L to learn the annual operating budget,  total annual revenue,  gross profits,  profit margin and operating margin.

IV.  Know your client’s top five competitors: key products and services,  annual operating budget,  total annual revenue and gross profits.  Know what differentiates each main competitor from your client and know each main competitor’s strengths and weaknesses.

V.   For nonprofit organization clients, know which agencies within a 10-20 mile radius deliver similar services or compete for a similar constituency.  Know where and how those agencies offer services that complement or compete with your client’s mission.

VI.   Cultivate good relationships with your project sponsor and other key project supporters.  Identify a couple of good restaurants near your client’s geography and invite your sponsor and/or those with whom you work most closely out for coffee or lunch,  as applicable.

VII.  Become a resource for useful information to your client.  Sign up for Google Alerts and stay current with industry news and competitor’s activities.  If an item looks particularly intriguing or urgent,  send the link to the right people.  This practice can continue after project completion,  as can the above strategy, to extend relationship building and value-added.  Your objective is to entice the client to engage you for repeat business and to refer you to others.

Thanks for reading,
Kim