The client-consultant relationship can be a fruitful one for both parties. Over time, consultants and their clients build the kind of trust that allows for creativity and collaboration. The hardest part of building the client-consultant relationship is taking the first steps that move both parties from conversations about what they can do together to creating a plan – and a contract – that allows the client and the consultant to work together productively and equitably.
Clients can struggle with hiring consultants, strategists or knowledge providers because they have difficulty valuating their contributions as an asset. It is naturally easier to make purchasing decisions about a product than it is a service, so anything that a knowledge provider can do to preview his value or quantify her expertise is useful both to the client and to the provider. Conducting a training or a strategy session gets the consultant and the client in the room together and pushes past conversations about theoretical concepts to discussions about practical applications.
Find a Consultant Who Starts Solving Problems Right Away
When considering how, why and whether to contract with a consultant, the client faces a very real set of challenges that it is up to the consultant to resolve. Many clients fear “getting taken advantage of,” a fear that is compounded if the consultant fails to make it easy for the client to quantify the value the consultant delivers.
Service providers and consultants need to remember that their clients do not hire professionals of their type every day. Prospective clients need to learn how to navigate a new kind of working relationship that is distinctly different from hiring an employee or working with a vendor.
To take the mystery out of hiring a consultant, it is wise to pay a consultant for a defined period of time to have specific conversations or to resolve specific issues. This shows clients how the consultant works. It gives the client the necessary confidence to say yes to working with a consultant that they know they can trust.
Scheduling a paid meeting or training session shows the client and the consultant how they work together, how they communicate with each other and how the provider’s skillset and style match the client’s needs and corporate culture.
A Good Consultant Can Deliver Value Early
For a consultant, offering clients the opportunity to pay for a defined amount of time early in the relationship guards against “giving away the store” by offering too much, too soon, without compensation. It shortens the learning curve for the client, previews for both parties what it is like to work together and creates an environment that puts value at the center of the client-consultant relationship immediately.
A training, presentation or problem solving session enables the consultant to commit resources to solving the client’s problem before the contract or retainer stage in a way that helps to support the progression from prospect to full-fledged, continuing client.
With a training or problem solving session, the client pays the consultant for his time, allowing the consultant to create a customized experience for the client. If you are the consultant, with this model, you can legitimately commit resources to answering questions, developing strategies and analyzing your client’s specific needs and concerns without putting your own interests at risk.
Because you have structured it so that the client is paying for a specific amount of time, dedicated to a specific function or set of functions, you are able to provide practical solutions rather than general insight or best practices.
If you are the consultant, getting a client to pay for your time solidifies your position as an expert, confirms that your knowledge has value and allows you to commit resources to solving your client’s problems early and effectively. If you are the client, you are getting a fast return on investment, along with the confidence you need to build a lasting relationship.