We often get the impression that the client sees the consultant as a kind of "magician" who can make any problem simply disappear into a "abracadabra"!
The truth is that sometimes the consultant is called in when the crisis is already in place, as a last weapon to deal with the situation in which the company or department finds itself.
Given this responsibility, it is normal for the consultant to try his best. And, wanting to please, it is also common that it ends up going beyond the limits that the consulting work you must respect - for yourself and for the customer. But what, then, would these limits be?
Diagnose and advise
First and foremost limit the consultant needs to understand: you DO NOT tell your client what they should do. Consulting work involves diagnosing the problem, suggesting possible solutions (preferably always more than one possibility), presenting possible courses of action, but NEVER making a decision.
Decision making and the implementation of actions related to this choice are restricted to your client. Your role will be to provide options, map implications and consequences, but not say which one works best for the customer or their employees.
To let the client decide is to respect each other's role in the consulting process. By understanding this limitation of consultant position, you will really help the client respond to the challenges they are facing and enable them to make their decisions and demonstrate their leadership skills.
Also, never forget that you are not an employee of your client: you are in a professional partnership. You are working with him, not for him. You have been hired to do a specific job and will be restricted to it.
So don't get caught up in the office “dramas”, staff problems, stakeholder anxiety and humor. You are not part of the team. You are an outsourced and temporary hiring that should stop the contracted agreement.
Respect another consultant's work
Nothing is less professional than criticizing or mocking someone else's work - especially when it comes to “competition”. Even if, apparently, the professional who went through the hiring company before you made glaring mistakes, keep it to yourself.
Speaking badly about someone else's work, even if you think it is overjustified, will not make you look better, more skilled, or more experienced. Perhaps, on the contrary, it just makes you look petty and arrogant.
Avoid associations with other professionals
If you have identified that in order to apply the best solution to your client's problem, you will need to hire the services of another professional, just make that suggestion.
If you know - and trust - a professional in the business that the company will need to bring, you may even make a recommendation, but it ends there. Because, maybe the company knows someone else and gives preference to him.
Also, as much as you know this professional you care about, be careful not to associate your image with his. You never know what your client's impression of this person will be.
Finally, limit yourself to price your service and do not try to anticipate or predict the value of others' work. When referring the service, do not "assume" prices, do not "deduct" forms of payment, or anything like it. It's not your job and it could be that you end up giving your client wrong information - which is boring for you.
Always follow the agreement
Especially if you are starting out in a consulting career, it is common for you to fall into the trap of doing a little more than what has been agreed upon - without charging more for it.
Most likely you are just trying to please and show goodwill. The problem is that the customer quickly gets used to this “goodwill” and acts as if he is entitled to these extra favors you are offering. And then, the moment you need to demand the deal again, it creates unease or frustration.
So right off the bat, brief your project, talk to your client as clearly as possible and set all the guidelines - and limitations - of your work agreement together. Determine schedules, processes, task frequencies, don't miss anything.
And once set, put it all on paper - make a contract. Contracts serve to protect both parties and your customer knows it. Include in your contract liability and timelines, as well as consequences, payments and corresponding fees.
A contract can only drive away customers that you would not even want to have. Because, in practice, having a contract is a sign of professionalism and commitment.
By the way, speaking of agreement and documentation, it is important that you record all your work with the client. It also serves to protect your responsibilities (and your limits).
So be sure to document and map all implemented and accomplished tasks, stakeholder conversations, set timelines, and everything else that pertains to consulting. This way you can check the progress of the project with your client.
Yes, we all prefer to work in a friendly environment. But always be careful not to cross the barrier between professional and personal relationship. This may compromise the entire progress of the project.
Needless to say, this includes flirt with employees contracting company or enter into political and religious discussions with the staff. In short, if you are unsure about boundaries, always think about what you would accept to have documented in your records.
So always treat your client as the most important of your portfolio, but never forget that there are limits to your work. This will protect you and be well regarded by contractors. Attention to these limits can be the difference between being nominated for new projects or making room for competition.