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You Don’t Really Partner With Your Clients

Blair Enns writes on the Win Without Pitching blog:

Many agencies like to boast on their websites and in their pitch decks that they “partner” with their clients. It’s bullshit of course. What they mean is they aspire to have their clients treat them like partners instead of vendors. I get it. It’s good to have a goal. But putting it on the website doesn’t make it true.

[…]

As an industry, we need to let go of this need to claim partnership with our clients and embrace the fact that some of these relationships are purely transactional. At the same time, however, we should keep an eye open for those wonderful but rare opportunities for true partnership. 

You Don’t Really Partner With Your Clients | Win Without Pitching

Also his observation about client mix is worth mulling over:

A Normal Distribution of Client Types

In a healthy client roster you will have a mix of client types. On the left-hand tail you will have a small number of transactional price-buyers to whom you are effectively selling excess capacity, and once-good clients on their way out.

In the middle you will find the bulk of your clients, made mostly of value buyers who, though they might be price sensitive, understand they need to invest in your services to generate value in the marketplace.

And out on the right-hand tail you might possibly have a coveted partner. Maybe even three.

Once you get the hang of this performance pay thing, you may decide to be more selective about your clients with the goal of one day having all of your clients be partners. But that’s a path few firms will choose and fewer still will be able to master. Most will choose instead to spread the risk across many engagement types with the bulk of their engagements being in the low risk, low reward category.

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Linked

Putting a Final Nail in the Timekeeping Coffin

David C. Baker writes on his blog:

The only reason to track time is to create a feedback loop that allows you to do a better job estimating the next time around. And when you’re pretty good at that, you drop timekeeping altogether and step up to value pricing. By the way, this gets easier if your client relationships slowly begin to look more and more alike as your positioning creeps into your service offerings.

Putting a Final Nail in the Timekeeping Coffin — David C. Baker

Good insights here, particularly for folks straddling the (supposed) fence between hourly billing and fixed/ value-based fees. It’s not as simple as just throwing out hourly billing or time tracking. It’s more nuanced than that (particularly at first).

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Linked

You Can Only Win if You Keep on Pushing

This is a powerful essay from former consultant and long-time entrepreneur Justin Couto. I think any entrepreneur can well relate to it. He writes:

No one starts a business to have it fail, but unfortunately, that is what happens all too often. I know I certainly had many close calls with business failure while running my former companies, and the weight of those seemingly inevitable failures baring down on you is crushing. It can be kryptonite to the point that your paralyzed and utterly ineffective at finding a way out.

SoCreate – Bootstrapping Ain’t Easy: You Can Only Win if You Keep on Pushing

Anyone who has ever tried to create/ build something meaningful – whether a business, a non-profit, a movement or piece of art – can relate to the things shared in this essay. Inherently a lot of tears, frustration, second-guessing, uncertainty, setbacks, and personal growth are behind just about every step – or leap – forward.

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Quotes

On Change

Growth is painful. Change is painful. But, nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong.

N. R. Narayana Murthy
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Linked

7 Things Tsavo Neal Learned From “The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide To Winning Clients” by David Fields

Tsavo Neal wrote up a handy overview on his blog of one David Fields’ consulting business books:

Who doesn’t want to run a more profitable and enjoyable consulting business? To do this, you need to learn from consultants who have done it themselves and can teach you how.

That said, many non-fiction business books are stiff.  A lot of books on consulting are downright boring. The knowledge you gain makes up for it, but they can be a drag to get through.

With The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients, consultant David Fields has written a concise, actionable, and enjoyable book on building the consulting business of your dreams.

7 Things I Learned From The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide To Winning Clients by David Fields – Tsavo Neal
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Linked

What Makes a Productive Designer and Client Relationship?

Jamie Syke, independent designer, writes on his blog:

Trust is the main ingredient in any successful relationship, and client projects are no different. Without that element of trust, everything else will be more challenging and negative things like micromanagement can creep in. That trust comes from a solid foundation and building a good back-and-forth during the early stages of planning out the project.

What Makes a Productive Designer and Client Relationship?
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Linked

Advertising Doesn’t Equal Marketing

I’ve touched on this numerous times in the past, but it’s worth repeating over and over: grasping marketing is critical to building the professional practice you really want. But marketing also is not what many think it is – advertising – as C.J. Hayden points out:

It’s a common mistake for professional service providers to make. You don’t have a background in sales and marketing, so when you try to figure out how to get clients for your business, you copy what you see. You look around at what other businesses are doing and you see ads everywhere, so you think you’d better have some, too. But what you’re seeing is not the whole story.

[…]

Most successful professionals in fields like consulting, coaching, training, design, business and financial services, accounting, law, real estate, and healing professions report that they get more clients — and better clients — from activities at the opposite pole of the marketing iceberg from advertising. The focus of their marketing is on building relationships, following up personally with contacts, nurturing referral sources, and serving as a resource in their area of expertise.

Advertising Doesn’t Equal Marketing | Get Clients Now!

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Linked

Would a consultant by any other name smell so sweet?

Brian L. Hill for AEC Forensics writes:

If you want to be a true consultant, make sure that the efforts of your client work produce measurable results, and ideally, implement value-based fees as opposed to billing based on increments of time.

But ultimately, perhaps the real test for who is and who is not a consultant comes down to their relationship with their client. A real consultant is a peer of their client, engaged in a collaborative process.

Would a consultant by any other name smell so sweet? – AEC Forensics

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Linked

The Uncertainty Arbitrage

Victor Cheng writes on the CaseInterview.com blog:

In short, many clients have a (relatively speaking) poor ability to either absorb or reduce uncertainty in making big, high stakes decisions.

[…]

The greater the uncertainty and the greater the consequence of a wrong decision, the greater the anxiety the client feels. When a consulting firm comes and can legitimately reduce the uncertainty the client faces, the consulting firm charges a fee that on a relative basis is a small portion of the anxiety to be relieved — even though on an absolute basis might seem like a very high fee to you and me.

[…]

The reasonableness or outrageousness of the fee you charge has nothing to do with the fee itself. It has to do with the magnitude and severity of the problem that disappears once the fee has been paid.

The Uncertainty Arbitrage
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Articles

We’re not always hired for the reasons we think

We consultants get hired for all sorts of reasons, not all of them initially obvious. Sometimes we’re hired …

… to solve a problem. This is probably what we’re most used to expecting.

… to confirm there is a problem. This is a weird one and there’s always more to the story. Perhaps not all the stakeholders agree there is even a problem. Or maybe they disagree on what it is.

… to validate a solution already on the table. The internal folks either aren’t confident they have the right approach or they aren’t confident they can get internal support for it without validation from a third-party.

… to INvalidate a solution already on the table. This is another weird one where there’s always more to the story, but in this case it’s usually that there’s some disagreement among the internal stakeholders and they’re looking to get it settled.

… to provide cover for a buyer … that is on their way out. As in you’re getting hired to assist with something important so they can step out without feeling like they’re completely leaving in a lurch.

… to go up against the buyer. i.e. to speak truth to power

… to implement a solution that has already been predefined (either internally or by another consultant). If we’re just the implementer, it’s generally good to try to learn why they didn’t implement it for them. Maybe the implementer doesn’t do implementation. Maybe they started but failed to complete the job. Maybe they were fired by the client. Maybe they ran away … Also not a bad idea to make sure we’re comfortable with the solution.

… to improve upon an already defined solution. This is fine, but generally wise to poke it a bit and be honest if we think the solution needs more than just some tweaks.

… to possibly provide some inadvertent gossip on the competition. This is unlikely even though we may work for competing clients at times, since we’re professionals and treat the things we learn while working with a client in confidence. But it doesn’t stop people from trying.

These different types of situations make our work a mixture of humorous and intellectually stimulating as well emotionally draining and frustrating – depending on the day, our perspective, and our original expectations. But either way, it’s important to properly assess every situation we are diving into – or have already stepped inside of – and make sure we’re looking closely at what’s below the surface.

I constantly work at making fewer assumptions about a situation and the people involved. My best countermeasure is asking more questions.

This business is probably one half problem solving and one half sizing up people. And even there I’m probably being presumptuous.