16 April 2024

It’s not easy to be a consultant, or freelancer. But don’t make it harder on yourself than it needs to be.

It’s not easy to be a consultant, or freelancer. But don’t make it harder on yourself than it needs to be. Try avoiding the ten biggest and most costly mistakes that consultants make.

I’ve been a consultant for many years and have actively coached and helped a pile of consultants from every industry imaginable to grow their businesses. I have come across the same business blunders time and time again, enough for me to draw the conclusion that the following list really does make up the ten biggest, most costly and sadly the most common consultant mistakes.

Of course any consultant who manages to avoid making these mistakes will build a fantastic business. They will become that trusted advisor, charging what they should be charging, with a long list of valued clients who not only keep coming back for more projects but also refer them

So what are the ten biggest and most costly mistakes that consultants make?

  1. They have a confusing offering.

In other words, it is really hard for potential clients to figure out what services they are providing and what problems they will be able to solve. Being able to sell yourself and what you do is vital to the long-term success of any freelance business. Often the client doesn’t really know what they need, but they know that they need a particular consultant to help them, so make it easy for them to buy the services you are offering.

  1. They are poor communicators, with clients continually having to chase the consultant.

This is normally the biggest complaint made against consultants-they are lousy communicators. If you want to build a really successful business as a consultant, become exceptional at following up. Get back to people before they expect you to, even if you have nothing to update them about.

  1. They don’t differentiate themselves in any way from their competitors.

In fact, it is even worse, they tend to tell their potential clients how they are exactly the same as their competitors. Check out a range of consultants from the same niche and you will find that they list all of the things they do (like accountants who say they do tax and provide business advice-imagine that?) as opposed to explaining what makes them significantly different.

  1. They are reactive to business development not proactive.

They wait for business to come to them as opposed to chasing it, or even working with existing clients to develop more business over a longer period of time. Business development tends to be done based on need (as in “quick we need more work”) as opposed to a strategic business development plan, working with their clients over a longer period of time, being more active within the business.

  1. They are lousy at asking for referrals.

Often consultants are very reluctant to ask their clients to refer them. Feedback that I’ve had is that it feels a bit pushy and too much like a sales person. Well I hate to break the bad news but if you aren’t selling you aren’t eating. Consultants who do a great job should never be afraid to ask for referrals, and they will get them naturally anyway.

  1. They bill without showing details, leading to client dissatisfaction.

I remember a few years back I received a bill from my lawyer-it had a one- line description, “Legal services rendered $25,000”. There was no description, no explanation, certainly no sense of value. It just looked like a number was plucked out of thin air. You have to provide itemised and detailed invoices, explaining exactly what you did, including anything you did for free, to show value for money.

  1. The client gets fobbed off to lower level staff.

This is typical in a growing business. In the early stages you get the full attention of the business owner, but over time, you get passed onto someone else and you feel less valued or important. Not long after this, you change consultants. There is nothing wrong with getting other members of your team to manage a client’s work, but explain to the client how it will work and make sure they are OK with it. Stay in touch with them and make sure they know that you are always available to them if they need you.

  1. They provide bad advice, more as a lack of attention to detail than anything else.

This tends to be a problem in a business that has really taken off and the consultant is holding a tiger by the tail, just trying to get through their huge workload on a daily basis. They don’t pay attention to the details simply because they don’t have the time. Their service suffers, which clients will deal with for a while, but when the advice suffers, the situation becomes unacceptable. As consultants we need to manage our own workloads closely and be honest enough to know when we are slipping, and smart enough to do something about it immediately.

  1. They don’t manage their client relationships.

When the client stops feeling that loving feeling with their consultant, they move on. Smart consultants always build and maintain their client relationships. In fact it becomes the backbone of their marketing activity. They communicate, they are proactive with the advice they offer and they acknowledge the relationship and the fact that they value it.

  1. They lack proactivity.

A proactive consultant, one who comes to you with ideas, thoughts, suggestions, strategies – is generally worth their weight in gold. Rather than just reacting to what’s being asked of them, they provide much more value by proactively offering advice and solutions. This is also a great business move – because most of the time if a consultant comes to us with a great idea that makes sense, we’re probably going to get them to action it.

The consulting world is highly competitive and there’s no reason to think this will change. To be successful generally means doing the things that others won’t or can’t do. Most of the areas where consultants fall down could be easily remedied, but it takes the right attitude and mindset about meeting and ideally exceeding expectations.

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