The 13 Greatest Mistakes Consultants Make and How to Avoid Them
1. Dancing with non-buyers, gatekeepers, and nonentities.
Consider yourself a peer only of the true buyer, the person who can authorize a check. That philosophy is inside your head. If you want to avoid ever having anyone upset with you and need unconditional love all around you, get a dog and never leave the house.
2. Charging by a time unit.
It’s unethical to enter a relationship with a client wherein the client is best served by fast resolution and you are best served by slow resolution. If you can’t understand the value of a speedy improvement, consider whether you’d wait for a cheaper dentist to take care of your next toothache. (The stupidity of dentists’ rates is a subject for another day.)
3. Listening to colossally stupid advice.
I’ve been to meetings of professional associations where the “speakers” and the “experts in the hall” were talking about approaches that are so dumb that I was speechless (e.g., “Get a good mailing list and send out thousands of emails, looking for a one percent positive return”; “Use Linked-In to get leads from your friends.” If you want to learn to ski, make sure the instructor’s rear end is immediately ahead of you on the hill, successfully doing what he claims you should be doing.
4. Adhering to the “can’t”
Please don’t tell me you “can’t write,” or “can’t speak,” or “can’t use technology.” What if your clients told you that they just “can’t”? Learn to write, learn to speak, learn to type, learn to learn. What kind of role model are you for clients (or for yourself) if you can’t manage to shatter your own perceived shortcomings and emerge a changed and better person?
5. Thinking that self-development means reading Good to Great
I’m not picking on this book, which is actually pretty good, but on the notion that reading a best-seller or faddish work on the location of cheese constitutes professional development. Attend programs that are acknowledged to be the best in the field. Find a great coach or mentor. Read extensively in history, biography, and science. If you’re not an object of interest, well, no one will be interested.
6. Failing to establish a definitive next step
Ye gads, when you are talking on the phone, sending an email, or meeting in person (!!), stipulate what the next step is, when it occurs, and who’s responsible for what. Just this morning I had an email from London asking me what I thought of a response to a meeting with a CEO that petered out without another meeting agreed upon. Someone else told me they spent five hours on an airplane chatting up a CEO, but wondered how to get back to them to set up a meeting! What I think is that you have to do a lot better than that. Write it down somewhere: What happens next and when?
7. Forcing the client into your boxes
The client needs results, not necessarily your “program.” Your expertise is valuable in achieving results, but your technology or methodology is merely a transfer mechanism. Give up your insistence on the classroom, or your self-published books, or your 360° assessments, or (heaven forefend) your Myers-Briggs (or worse) personality assessments. The expertise is in your head, the improvement is in the client’s environment. Figure out the best way to get it from Point A to Point B. It’s not always the same road.
8. Negotiating price
Never negotiate price, only value. If you’re talking about fee or price early in the discussion, you’ve lost control of the discussion. All buyers would want to lower fees, but none want to decrease value.
9. Poor use of language
There is a great difference between, “If you don’t pay us in advance, we have to charge you a higher fee,” and, “We’re pleased to offer a courtesy discount for payment in advance.” Language controls discussion; discussion controls relationships; relationships control business. Learn to use persuasive language and compelling metaphors.
10. Stressing you and not them
I really don’t care about your credentials or your schooling, or the fact that you’ve been named to “Who’s Who Among Women Between 41 and 43 in the New England States Close to the Water,” for which you had to buy the book to be included, anyway! I care about how I may benefit from your value. Too many web sites, press kits, collateral, and conversations focus on why you’re good and not why I’ll be better.
11. Taking it personally
If a Tyrannosaur or cheetah got depressed every time it missed making a “kill,” their families would never be fed. Since T. Rex was around for 20 million years or so, I’m confident that depression wasn’t a problem for it. Some buyers fail to buy. We all have bad days. The prey escapes. Learn and improve, but stop moping and whining. Or take the advice I give clients who complain about their fate: “Shut up.”
12. Poor financial planning
The time to start a retirement plan is now, and the time to contribute to it is continually. You need life, health, disability, malpractice, and liability insurance, along with long-term care and umbrella liability. You need a SEP IRA, or 401K, or some equivalents. Pay yourself first, and make sure that you’re building powerful net worth with sufficient liquidity. If you’re taking the risks of this business, you’d better be acquiring the rewards.
13. Failure to reinvent
I don’t care how good you are at whatever you do, it will become stale to you and to others. Life is not about doing the same thing over and over, it’s about becoming so good that you can start doing other things. Jump the “S-Curve” to new heights. Only you can reinvent yourself. That’s how you stay ahead in any economy, technology, or society.
© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.