The word “consultant” encompasses more professions than many people realize. If you work toward changing or improving a business situation—without having direct decision power over that situation—you’re consulting. “Consultant” might be in your job description, or it might not. Business consultants and technology consultants are clear examples of consulting jobs, but project managers, sales reps, insurance brokers, and many others also have consulting roles.
As the gig economy grows, more and more of us are becoming consultants. “The gig economy…is now estimated to be about 34% of the workforce and expected to be 43% by the year 2020,” said Intuit CEO Brad Smith. As people take on freelance work, many set themselves up as consultants. Becoming a consultant appeals to people in job transitions as well as to those who value independence. There are few barriers to entry. Becoming a consultant is easy, but becoming a successful consultant takes work and time.
What is true across the board, whether as an internal consultant, an external consultant, or a freelance consultant, is that successful consultants know how to build and maintain effective client relationships. And as many of the routine consulting tasks become automated, client relationships will become an even more important way for consultants to add value.
So what are the steps to building client-focused relationships? What do successful consultants do to help this happen? Client-focused consultants tend to:
- Establish productive relationships with internal or external clients by:
- Collecting information about the client’s needs before the first meeting
- Understanding the customer as a person as well as a client
- Sharing with the client appropriate information about one’s own personal and professional background
- Establishing and maintaining a trusting, open, and honest relationship with the client
- Commit to mutual goals with the client by:
- Clarifying the client’s perspective on the present status and future goals of his/her business area
- Using questions to help the client express his/her perspective and to clearly define goals to which both parties can honestly commit themselves
- Discussing differences of opinion with the client in a way that demonstrates acceptance of and respect for the client
- Plan for results collaboratively with the client by:
- Identifying and eliminating potential barriers to a desired change or improvement before trying to implement it
- Assessing a client’s readiness to make a change by evaluating motivation, clarity of vision, and the capability to implement the change
- Encouraging a client to plan ahead even though the client may not engage in a formal planning process
- Provide ongoing support to the client by:
- Helping the client anticipate problems that may be encountered in a planned change or improvement
- Assisting the client in evaluating his/her activities to determine how they might be improved
- Providing both positive and negative feedback to the client regarding ongoing activities
- Assess the consulting relationship by:
- Soliciting feedback from the client on how the client’s needs might be better served
- Discussing the status of the relationship with the client and how it might be improved
- Recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of the client
If you are a consultant or thinking about becoming a consultant, these five steps will help ensure that your consulting relationships are client-focused. The consulting competencies listed in each step offer a way to self-assess.
Ask yourself: how well am I doing this now? How might I improve? How can I include this in planning for future client relationships? By taking the time for this type of assessment and by using these five steps, you will become a better, more client-focused consultant.