As a consultant, are you a business owner or a subcontractor?

The phone rings and you can see the name of your client. What’s the feeling in your gut?

Is it, “oh, great, I’m looking forward to talking to so-and-son”?

Or is it, “not again, this so-and-so is draining the life out of me”?

If it seems like the latter situation too often, you have the chance to pick different clients, and/or manage your clients to make you more excited to talk to them.

Pick the Right Clients

It’s your business. You get to decide who gets to work with you. Of course, having a full pipeline and plenty of cash flow makes that a lot easier. But if you’re on your heels, waiting for a referral to come in, and then you feel like you have to take the client, even though you have misgivings, you aren’t really a business owner– you’re a subcontractor for your referral sources. (As someone who mistook myself for a business owner, even to the point of pay payroll every month, when I was really a subcontractor who only got paid when referrals came through, I say that with lots of love.)

Who are the people you really like working with? What characteristics do they share? How hard would it be to find one– just one– more client like this (including doing more work with those people)? How much effort are you putting into that, compared to other sales and marketing work?

Build the Right Client Relationships

Sometimes, you can have a great fit, but the project is still awful. Some projects just end up as slogs– someone gets sick, some other third party can’t deliver, etc, but usually the main problem is that you didn’t manage expectations. (So I’m told.)

You’re the expert. You set the expectations for the project. If you ask for a guide to take you up Mt. Everest and they don’t tell you what to wear, you’d be worried, right? If you asked them, and they said, “whatever you like”, you’d probably cancel your expedition.

If you know the client needs to spend 4 hours with you twice a week for 4 weeks, plus involve the web designer for at least 10 hours, set that expectation at the beginning, before you agree to write a proposal. The prospect who says, “great, that makes sense, let me make sure I have that in my calendar because this is really important” is likely to be great to work with.

If the client can’t deliver on their commitments, you can’t deliver on theirs (at least not by the original dates), and they need to know that. They also need to know what happens if they miss their commitments. Will they get billed more? Will you and your team work on other projects? Whatever works well for both sides is fine, but it shouldn’t be that you have to sit there waiting on that client without being able to take on other projects or make money. Then you’re not a business owner but a subcontractor waiting on a client.

It’s your business, ask for the clients you want and ask to work with them the way you want. You have to get the clients to agree, of course, but take ownership over whether you like working with your clients and do what you need to do to make it happen.

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