Consulting Commandments

All Rights Reserved 2016  Ask TPJ, LLC

1. Thou shall not do work for a client without a signed letter of agreement

Working with no letter of agreement is the biggest mistake any novice consultant would make. You are not an employee, you are not a friend, you are a consultant providing a service and possibly products to bring additional value to your client while solving a particular problem. It is good business practice to do all work with a signed letter of agreement. Think of it as a business prenuptial agreement. It’s best to outline the scope of the project and identify the deliverables, so both parties have a clear understanding of what is to be expected on both sides. This is a wise practice. Signed letters of agreement have saved friendships and work relationships for ages. It has also been a means of protection for the consultant, so there is no ambiguity and therefore room for manipulation.

2. Thou shall be sure to provide valuable information on each proposal

As the information expert, it is imperative that you are very detailed within that letter of agreement for your client. This ensures that even if your client feels they are not happy with the services you have provided, there is a benchmark for each of you to reference and discuss appropriately. Each letter of agreement should always include:

  • Objectives
  • Metrics
  • Value
  • Options
  • Terms & Conditions

Objectives detail what outcomes will be achieved upon hiring you as the consultant for the project. What does the client need you to do? Metrics will list indicators to mark progress and completion of each step to complete the project along with a timeline to which this information is to be completed. Finally, clients are seeking some bang for their buck. It’s your job as the expert to ensure that you translate your skill set into a necessity the buyer cannot resist for the project on the table. Because every client is on a budget or will try to go the cheap route on you in an attempt to prove themselves fiscally responsible: It is a smart move for the consultant to provide at least three price options detailing what you can accomplish for your client. Detail who is in charge of what to ensure each team member, including you, is accountable throughout the project. How long will it take to accomplish the listed objectives? What are the choices for implementation? How much value does each option will bring to your client? And we can’t forget terms & conditions. Terms & conditions ensure each party is protected. Additional clauses include: project cancellation, cancellation fees, project postponement, quality of work.

3. Thou shall always ask for ratings, referrals & testimonies

I have this gift. If I co-sign a small business on my personal Facebook page, the people will pay for the product or service when they are in need of that particular amenity. I mean seriously, it’s how potential clients jump off of the fence and into your clientele. Someone else took the risk for them! Until you gain the trust of a potential client, they will continue to opt for all of the free information you offer. Ratings on your business page are the most watched area of your social media, thus providing someone on the fence with paramount information. Referrals and testimonies of previous clients bridge the gap of trust. For those customers who wish to remain anonymous, a referral will do just fine. The goal is to continue to build your list and ultimately increase your profit margin. References, testimonies, and email addresses are gold in the consulting world.

4. Thou shall never discuss client information with the staff of your client

There are two things you should never, ever, never discuss with their workforce: confidential information and client flaws. You are the consultant for a reason. You did not take on this project to make friends, join the coolest workplace cliques, or to gossip about the latest and greatest news everyone has heard around the office. When you hear information like this: Do not participate! While it’s true you may not be able to change the culture of the company; you do not have to yield to such unprofessional measures. Doing either of the two could lead to immediate termination of your consulting contract. If your contract is terminated, I can guarantee you will not be invited back for a future project.

5. Thou shall never let your clients add on additional responsibility without adding additional fees to the invoice

Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go straight to your contract agreement! Never allow the client to grab you “since you’re here anyway” to do additional work since you are “on their payroll.” Let’s face it: being a business owner is tough. There are times where the CEO feels it necessary to pinch every penny earned. If you as the consultant are not careful, you will be doing additional work to prove your worth to yourself and keep the client happy. Do not fall for this trap. When the agreement was signed, there was an objective, scope, metrics, timeframe, and pricing that was agreed upon. It is not of any concern to you that the client wants to ensure they get their money worth by providing additional services without extra costs paid to the consultant. To be clear, it’s fair to ask for an opinion of a logo or branding color “since you’re here anyway,” but should the client attempt to add additional tasks, be sure to reframe politely. For example, you reframe by ensuring they want you to complete the current project, which is of top priority and inform the client that you could send an additional proposal or amended proposal to ensure those extra tasks are completed as well for a nominal fee of course. Moral of the story: even if your client is s non-profit you are for profit. Your time, talent, and know-how are of high value. Do not fall for the "add on" trick.

6. Thou shall know your worth

Your client pays to execute concerning three gems you possess:

  1. Degrees/Certificates
  2. Experience
  3. Knowledge

Your execution by implementing a successful strategy or completing a project your client is pleased with all due to the gems you possess. In all fairness, because you can’t resend your degree to Sallie Mae or Navient, it’s best that you put that degree to work for you. Your fees are indeed justified because you have the experience, but also years of educational training further confirming your expertise. Don’t apologize for the rate you charge. Be sure to charge enough so that you are adequately compensated and able to complete the project without taking a financial loss. Translate your price by knowing your value. What do you bring to the table? How are you able to translate those three possession gems into a winning formula for your client? Once you know your worth, you can convey to your client why they need your services and how valuable it is to them for their current project.

7. Thou shall always negotiate

If you don’t negotiate, you will always cheat yourself. Let me break the news to you now; you will regret that decision later should you decide to move forward by accepting the position and being underpaid for everything you bring to the table. Word of advice: deals come, and they go. Do not feel compelled to say ‘yes’ to the first deal that is placed on the table. There is always room for negotiation. Adding insult to injury, there is significant gender pay inequality, and I’m led to believe that it is because women forego negotiating better salary packages to maintain the positive reputation of “the nice girl” instead of being perceived as demanding when asking for more. If you need to walk away from a deal, do so respectfully, but negotiating is necessary. As a woman, mother, and a businessperson, I’m not negotiating to be rude or greedy, I'm negotiating for my family of seven in addition to any other financial obligations. Not only are you worthy of negotiating, but it is also very necessary that you do so to earn what you are worth instead of what the client is willing to offer. 

8. Thou shall always be visible

As a leader in your field of expertise, it is imperative that you are visible on many platforms. Your customers are on various platforms and let’s face it: it’s more advantageous to spread the knowledge to catch new clients in places like:

  •   Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Snap Chat, Periscope, Linked In, etc.)
  •   YouTube
  •   Blogs
  •   Magazines
  •   Online Articles
  •   Press Releases
  •   Speaking Engagements

Opportunities come the more visible you are. People don’t care that you are the next thought leader of your generation or best influential architect (leader) in your area of expertise if you cannot be found. Share the wealth. Hook your potential client by sharing useful information (for free) on various platforms. The clients you secure from magazines may not be the same as your podcast audience and may also differentiate from your YouTube subscribers.

9. Thou shall always open your mouth

The more you open your mouth, the more you grow your business. I’ve been guilty of this in my beginning days of consulting. I’ve been guilty of not using titles for humility sake and to stay in my comfort zone. And as a result, I had little to no paid clients. And I was up to my eyeballs with pro bono work. I’d given enough free work to build my portfolio. Don’t do it. Sometimes it’s a small gesture such as sharing your accomplishments and skill set is necessary to yield those lucrative projects you so desire. Opportunities didn’t start to come until I began to open my mouth. The anxiety was real! I didn’t want to come off as braggadocios but, as the saying goes, “closed mouths don’t get fed!” For those who struggled with being perceived as cocky instead of unapologetically knowledgeable: “It’s not bragging if you have the receipts!” You’ll thank me later. Be clear about what it is you can do for the client, what problems you can solve, and what value you bring to the table. You sell what you know, always be learning, and always be sharing. Open your mouth strategically.

10. Thou shall not betray your moral compass

I’m not opposed to passing on a sound financial opportunity where I would be forced to betray my moral compass. As a consultant, do not be afraid to trust your gut. Do not betray your moral compass for monetary gain. All money is not good money! If it causes you to betray your values and code of ethics, chances are it will cost you more than you ever stand to gain from accepting the position. Believe me; it’s the experience you’d wish you’d learned from someone else instead of having to go through the unproductive experience yourself. Your personal and professional values frame the type of client and projects you are willing to accept. Do not betray the framework meant to protect your sanity as well as your brand. Follow these commandments and watch your consulting practice flourish.

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The CEO, published author, and servant leader, Ask TPJ, is a millennial M.B.A. graduate in love with helping others fulfill their purpose by walking in the areas of business, leadership, writing, personal development, and project management . Specializes in non-profit organizations, operations, project management, business administration, organizational strategy, social media, and small businesses. She's also a mom to a starting lineup of 5 little A's affectionately known as "The A-Team!" She loves to cook and is an active member of The Junior League of Birmingham Michigan!