20 Smart Ways to Think Like A Consultant

  1. Think about the big picture. As a consultant or freelancer, it’s easy to get caught up in the details of the immediate project at hand. efore diving in, take off the blinders and look at the big picture first. When you discover the organization’s larger goals, you can make sure that your solution is aligned with their larger objectives. This is likely to bring you more success than having tunnel vision.
  2. Be clear on what services you offer. If you’re just starting out, your service offerings may be fuzzy at first. Over time, however, you’ll be able to see which of your skills are in the greatest demand and most valuable in the marketplace. Ideally, these will intersect with your preferences. When you identify your most valued services, be sure that potential clients understand what you offer. Don’t dilute your value by performing tasks that are not one of your strengths.
  3. Communicate your worth. Many consultants are uncomfortable with the sales process, but don’t be shy about showing your value. Your business depends on it. Keep track of your accomplishments and share them on sales calls or mention briefly in relevant discussions. Although many people are averse to boasting, there are low pressure ways to let clients know of your successes.
  4. Develop positive relationships. It’s not a cliche to say that business is about relationships. When you genuinely care about your client’s struggles and challenges and work hard to solve them, your sincerity will usually be noticed.
  5. Be a magnet. People tend to gravitate toward those with a positive outlook and demeanor. If you find yourself complaining and whining, nip it. There is usually a way to flip a downer attitude and to start looking on the brighter side. Turn lemons into lemonade.
  6. Do your prep work. Avoid walking into any meeting unprepared. If it’s a sales call, make it easy to access your presentation or portfolio. If this is a first-time meeting, research the client’s organization so you have a foundation for discussion. For ongoing business meetings, be sure you’ve taken care of your deliverables and that you can show results. As appropriate, come with a prepared agenda or list of questions.
  7. Educate clients with examples. You might be surprised at how often clients don’t really understand the services or deliverables you offer. When possible, avoid misconceptions by explaining what you’ll provide through xamples, prototypes, or whatever will work to clarify communication.
  8. Identify project scope. Everyone has heard (or experienced) scope creep. This happens when a project isn’t clearly defined and begins to take on more tasks that weren’t part of the original mission. It’s difficult to make a living as a consultant or freelancer when projects creep out of scope. (For more see this article on scope creep.)
  9. Be professional. Wearing expensive business suits may not be your thing. A professional approach can also be reflected in being well-organized, articulate and timely. Need more? Avoid criticism of others (including competitors), gossip, and taking sides in organizational politics.
  10. Bring exceptional value. Try to find ways to do a memorable job by exceeding expectations. This doesn’t mean working 16-hour days. Some examples of giving exceptional value that shouldn’t take an inordinate amount of time are: send a collection of valuable article links to your client; prepare a cheat sheet or job aid to make it easier to use new software you’ve installed; or refer clients to your network of other businesses that provide great service for tasks outside your services.
  11. Establish a win-win fee structure. Don’t work for pennies. On the other hand, avoid overcharging. Negotiate a fee structure that is based on your value to the client and a good income for your business. Something to work toward.
  12. Develop excellent listening skills. Our minds are eager to predict what someone will say next and to prepare a ready-made answer. Try to turn off your internal chatter and just listen. You don’t need to respond immediately. In fact, it’s reassuring to the speaker if you simply rephrase what they’ve said to make sure you heard it correctly. Simple phrases to do this are: “So what you’re saying is …” or “Let me make sure I have this right.”
  13. Perceive the world as your clients do. Empathy is one of the most important qualities of a consultant. Take the time to put yourself in your client’s shoes. That’s the best way to understand their problems and challenges.
  14. Respect the hierarchy. A common way to get into trouble with a client is to go over their head in the organization’s hierarchy. When you’re not happy with how things are going, start with an honest but gentle discussion. If you really need to talk to their supervisor, ask for permission.
  15. Advise as needed; teach when appropriate. Some situations call for hands-off advice, others call for performing a task and still others require training your client’s employees. Learn to distinguish between the type of help that’s needed. It will prevent you from seeming overbearing or intrusive.
  16. Watch for additional opportunities. Keep your eyes and ears open for other opportunities within the same organization. Listen to what challenges managers are facing. Notice what systems are failing. What gaps are evident? Your skills and talents might be needed.
  17. Make it easy to get referrals. Every client who is pleased with your work should be given the opportunity to refer your business to others. You can achieve this by asking your client for others who might benefit from your work or by providing a simple form they can fill out. The referral strategy is described in great detail in the book The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself by John Jantsch.
  18. Protect yourself. As a small or solo business you need protection. Avoid working for long periods without pay by dividing projects into smaller chargeable deliverables. Alternatively, get clients used to monthly invoices. Purchase insurance if it’s needed for your business. Don’t take on clients that show signs of not being able to pay.
  19. Build a network of trusted partners. Create a network of top-notch consultants and freelancers with skills you don’t have but might need. When the opportunity arises, refer your client to your trusted network or subcontract some of the tasks to them.
  20. Don’t be afraid to refuse work. Okay, this might not be applicable if you can’t feed your family. But try to build your business to the point where you can refuse work. When would you do this? When you have an overly demanding client that makes your life miserable; when it’s doubtful the client can afford to pay you; or when the work is so outside the services you offer that you’ll get yourself into trouble.


  1. IAB USA says:

    Excellent article! Thank you. IAB


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