Consulting: Professionalism

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At the beginning of this series on consulting, I discussed the role of consultants in the rental housing industry and explained that interpreting information and formulating recommendations for clients can be a complex challenge that requires experience, knowledge, problem-solving, and professionalism, attributes which not every consultant possesses. In this last post in the series, I’m going to talk about professionalism.

What do I mean by professionalism among consultants? Here’s a list of professional practices I think consultants should follow.

  • Consultants should always listen carefully to what their clients want. At the start of every consulting project, consultants should have careful, detailed, and thorough discussions with clients to figure out exactly what their clients want and don’t want, and what their know and don’t know.
  • Consultants should not attempt to advise clients on things about which the clients are already experts. Not only is it presumptive to do so, it’s also a sure-fire way to get laughed at after you leave the room.
  • Consultants should not try to be all things to clients. Don’t try to sell your clients services that aren’t core to your consulting business or which suggest to your clients that you may have conflicting business goals or interests. Be a consultant first, second, and last, and do it right.
  • Consultants shouldn’t be constantly trying to bombard clients with additional products and services. If you do a good job clients will come back to you for more down the road.
  • Consultants should not offer approval or disapproval of client’s projects. Restrict yourself to laying out options, explaining the pros and cons of each option, and backing it up with the data, information, and analysis that your clients need to make their own choices.
  • Consultants should only announce findings that are supportable by data and/or direct observation and should ensure that recommendations flow directly from analysis. I recognize that consulting sometimes seems more like an art than a science, but, because clients often rely on your deliverables when making very expensive business and project decisions, your findings and recommendations must be supportable, replicable, and reliable.
  • Consultants should be prepared to make changes to deliverables when clients request them, but don’t compromise your integrity or reputation when doing so.
  • Consultants should not set fees based on their opinion of a client’s ability to pay. Not only does it imply that your professionalism is up for sale, clients talk to each other and they’ll quickly find out if you’re charging them a higher fee than others for the same work.
  • Consultants should always preserve confidentiality. Consultants create value for clients by collecting and sharing information, but this cannot include documents and other information which clients make available about their current and future projects. You don’t want to be known as the industry gossip.
  • Consultants should be friendly with other consultants. Consulting isn’t a winner-takes-all, “there can be only one” contest. Ontario’s rental housing industry generates enough demand for consulting services to keep several small and medium sized consulting firms busy. Consultants should be prepared to eat their mistakes. Don’t expect to get paid if you screw up badly and/or don’t fix your mistakes.

That’s a pretty good list, I think. It’s not exhaustive, but if consultants followed it they’d keep their reputations intact and their clients happy!