Often consultants confess that they really don’t know. They’re so busy making everything ok for everyone else that they have never really asked themselves the question.
So we asked it for you! We asked a group of seasoned consultants who work primarily in the community benefit sector, “What would you advise new consultants, for creating conditions that ensure they are at their best?”
Here’s what they told us:
• Seek out clients who cherish your partnership; contracts that are project, not hourly based; mutually supportive values and goals; opportunities to be creative.
• Set a list of questions you ask every client — based on values, culture, shared working styles, communications, — any topic that is important to you; ask every client the questions. Really listen to the answers, they also can be the “deal-makers/deal-breakers” for you. Have clarity about what your “deal-makers/deal-breakers” are.
• Spend time with yourself getting really clear on your “why,” what you are aiming for, and the favorable conditions that bring out your best. It’s your sweet spot, and just as you create the spaces to bring out the best in others, do the same for you.
• Release yourself from feeling like you must have all the answers, or know everything about X, or come in to “fix” something as the “expert.”
• Value the power of reflection and get off the productivity treadmill. BE before you DO, with yourself and with the community members you reach out to, or those who contact you.
Avoid attempting to “get” clients by adding a list of back breaking “benefits” to working with you. Listen instead to what clients value – whether or not they access the benefits. Your work should benefit clients without breaking you.
Employ the “velvet rope policy” – be selective when accepting clients. Engage with those where your expert strengths are of the utmost value towards strengthening their organization. When you engage for *just* the money, you earn e.v.e.r.y. penny! Ugh!
Kimberly Diggs Lauth
• When I started I made a commitment (and made sure my family understood it) that I would eat ramen soup for a month before taking on a client I didn’t feel great about. I haven’t had too – but I love having the understanding.
• I never work by the hour – only by project, payable in advance each month.
• All of my agreements have a 30 day clause – either party can end the agreement for any reason by giving 30 days notice. Again, it has never been used – but it is nice to know it is there. – for me and for the client.
• I always over deliver but am clear when there is real project creep – and have gotten comfortable letting clients know when we need to revisit the agreement because the scope of work has changed.
• Finally – because as a consultant you have some expert cache you need to guard against taking yourself too seriously. Never underestimate the appeal of authenticity.
Understand why you’re doing this. Remember that if what you seek is flexibility, then you should allow yourself that flexibility. It’s easy to get caught up in having to work all the time. But if your client work is weekends and evenings, then taking your spouse to the movies at 4pm is perfectly all right. Give yourself that permission.
• Learn how to judge when the fit with a client is right. Not just on paper, but at a gut-level: Do you have trust and respect for the people you’ll be working with? Do your values align? Are your work styles compatible? How do they treat their staff?
• Avoid “auto-pilot” work. Look for opportunities to do work that grows your knowledge, skills, or relationships.
• Carve out time to think and reflect about the work you do, and how you see yourself contributing to your community. This is vitally important to keeping you grounded, so don’t skimp here, though you might be tempted!
• Take time for self-care. Actually block out calendar time, (e.g., every other Friday) to take in a movie, go for a hike, read that cheesy romance novel–whatever recharges your batteries.
• Surround yourself with the company of sharp, passionate people that you feel comfortable reaching out to–we all need a support network. And ask that first question when you feel the need for help–every subsequent question after that will be easier.
People have a tendency to rise to the level of our expectations of them, so what might it make possible if you give your clients the gift of seeing them as if they were at their peak level of performance? Love them, nurture the best in them, and remember that at the end of it all, the most important thing is relationship.
What else would you add to this list? As a consultant to groups and individuals who are focused on creating a better world, how do you bring out the best in YOU?
Photo / Art: Mural on a window in downtown Toronto