30 Second Launch Pad: A very different 3 R’s

by Peter Osborne on November 30, 2010 · 0 comments

“Making the very complex…awesomely simple” is no mere catch phrase, it is truly John Spence’s mission in life. Driven by an insatiable curiosity to understand the fundamental aspects of what it takes to achieve and sustain excellence in business and life, John Spence has earned a reputation as a leading authority in the areas of Business Excellence, High-Performance Teams, and Advanced Leadership Development, making him one of the most highly sought after executive educators and professional speakers in America.  John has presented workshops, speeches and management consulting to more than 300 organizations including Microsoft, AT&T, IBM, GE Capital, Merrill Lynch, Abbot Labs, Qualcomm and dozens of private companies, government offices and not-for-profits. John is also the author of “Excellence by Design: Leadership” and “Awesomely Simple” and has been a guest lecturer at more than 90 colleges and universities across the United States.  John is on Twitter as @awesomelysimple and you can find him on LinkedIn here

John Spence, author of Awesomely Simple

What do you know today that you wish you knew when you were starting out?  That to be successful in the consulting business you must be not only be a superb thinker, a truly exceptional listener and know your material inside and out – but you also have to be excellent in sales.  If you are an independent consultant or the managing partner of consulting firm, a large portion of your time will be spent growing the business and cultivating new clients.  If you do a spectacular job with your current clients, the vast majority of your future business will come from positive word-of-mouth referrals, but even then there is still going to be a portion that you have to go out and hunt for.  So you need to be enthusiastic about being a highly professional consultative salesperson and positioning yourself as a true Trusted Advisor in order to keep expanding your business and moving into new markets.

What was your most important decision starting out (e.g., financial, organizational, marketing)?  That unless requested by the client I would not use any contracts in my business.  I’ve been a consultant, speaker and executive trainer for 18 years and have done probably 90% of my engagements… some in excess of $250,000… all on a handshake.  I let my clients know that if I do a great job they can simply pay me what we agreed on, if I do an absolutely spectacular job they should feel free to give me a bonus, and if I did not live up to their expectations in any way – they should pay me nothing.  This lets them know clearly that I’m focused on helping them and doing whatever I need to do to earn their business and deliver more value than they expected.  By the way, after working for more than 300 companies worldwide, I have never had a single client failed to pay the full amount we agreed to… or more.

Can you offer one piece of advice to help a new consultant get through the first six months?  Focus on two key things:  1. Be absolutely superb at what you do, spend hours and hours and hours in preparation, strive to be so incredibly valuable that the client feels like they would be a fool not to keep you around to help them. 2.  People pay for results not for ideas.  It’s great if you’re a fantastic thinker and have amazingly cool theories and ideas – but clients pay for results… ROI, increased profits, decreased expenses, new competitive advantage, accelerated processes, higher efficiencies, expanded markets, more loyal customers… never ever just for ideas. 

What’s your elevator speech?   I have built my entire career around making the very complex awesomely simple.  I base this on what I call the three R’s.  The first R is Research; I have read a minimum of 100 business books a year every year since 1989 as well as thousands of pages of articles and research in the areas I focus on… leadership, high-performance teams, building a winning culture, strategic thinking and superior customer service.  The second R stands for Real Life; at the age of 26 I was named CEO of an international Rockefeller foundation with offices in 20 countries around the world and have owned or operated eight other companies since that time.  The last R stands for ROI; in  every speech I deliver and every workshop I facilitate I’m driving as hard as I possibly can for ACTION.  It is nice to get motivated and excited about really great ideas and cool concepts,  but at the end of the day it all comes down to turning those fantastic ideas into successful results in your business. That is what I do.

If you’re interested in John’s book, you can order it here (affiliate link):

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Weekly post roundup: Some traction for new consultants

by Peter Osborne on November 14, 2010 · 0 comments

So much good stuff this week.  I realized I had queued up a few posts from My Escape Velocity but rather than highlight just one (although I really liked Chris Garrett’s Who or What is Your Real Target), I decided to link to the entire site and recommend you bookmark it or get the feed.  One indicator of the extent to which this site — which is designed for people like you who are decided or have decided to strike out on their own  — has taken hold, this site is a top search result when you plug in Brogan’s tagline of “your second-favorite blog.”  As always, if you came across something great this week, please highlight it in the Comments.

The Reason Why Your Personal Brand Sucks.   A lot of what I do is help people figure out what makes them or their businesses remarkable and then communicate it in a simple way.  Successful consultants who have figured that out can focus less on marketing and more on delivering quality to their clients. Boy oh boy, does Chris Penn get it.  Want to start thinking about your personal brand in a different way?  Read and print out this post…and hang it up somewhere really visible.

5 Lessons Madison Avenue Can Learn from Startups.  Even if your consultancy doesn’t focus on advertising or marketing, this post from Pedro Sorrentino (the first international student to attend the Boulder Digital Works graduate school) will get you thinking about better ways to approach your marketing and growth strategies.

The Simple Way To Get Everything You Want From Online Marketing.  Do you have a great product or service? Are you still falling short each month when it comes to selling?  Have you spent a lot of time designing your website or trying to let people know what you do or offer? Sonia Simone’s post on Copyblogger addresses the challenges of simply asking for the sale.

Business Consulting Agreement.  Pure and simple, it’s a downloadable template from Inc. magazine that you can modify however you see fit. Resources like this enable you to focus on doing what you do…and that’s critical during the early stages of creating a business. 

3 Perspectives You Need for Strategic Business Success.   Mike Brown (not our co-founder) offers suggestions on who you should involve in the strategic planning process.  Great advice for consultants to make sure they maximize their results on a planning project.

Mobile Compact Office: A Tim Vinik design (which probably means as much to you as it did to me, nevertheless…) that is very cool.  Might be really useful if you’re a new consultant and aren’t sure whether you want to set up a separate home office.  A warning:  Although I clicked three times, I am still not sure exactly what it costs, which may irritate you if you decide you want one.

Google Alerts for Beginners.  The second of a two-part post (with perhaps more to come) by Dawn Westerberg explaining how to maximize the free Google Alerts service, which directs news articles, website mentions, and Twitters in your mailbox.  Part 2 focuses on your verticle/niche markets and keywords; the first (which you can find from a link at the bottom of the post) is on Google Alerts for customers.  Make sure you also set one up for yourself and your business!

Airplane Reading.  A couple of longer pieces that I chose because they’ll give you some perspective.  I suggest The Buzz on Buzz by Jonah Lehrer of the Wall Street Journal and John Sculley on Steve Jobs, the transcript of an interview conducted by Leander Kahney of the Cult of Mac website.  The Sculley interview is a great CEO interview but be careful if you’re printing it out: There are 135+ comments.

What Is Success?  Thanks to Kneale Mann, who was the first to point me toward this great 2-minute video clip of actor Kevin Spacey offering his view of success to a group of acting students.  I’m using a direct link to this clip, but Kneale argues in his post that “you could spend the rest of your life reading about the secrets of success and Academy Award winning actor Kevin Spacey sums it up in a minute and 52 seconds.”  Here’s a link to Kneale’s blog; it’s always worth a read.

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Two principles for keeping project management simple

by Peter Osborne on November 12, 2010 · 0 comments

I ran into someone earlier this year who was evaluating consultants to help the chief executive of a mid-sized company manage the creation of a business plan that would ultimately go to prospective investors.  I quickly pointed him toward a couple of other companies where I had done something similar.  But no, he wanted to test my expertise so he started throwing around a bunch of “project management phrases,” for lack of a better term.  No, I had to tell him.  I don’t use Gantt Charts, Risk Impact/Probability Tables, Influence Maps, or Critical Path Analysis.  Silly me.  My approach to project management is far simpler, but it historically had been difficult to put into words.

Until I subscribed to and listened to the Manager Tools podcast on iTunes.  I remember I was on a long drive to King of Prussia (PA) and nodding as I listened to the hosts describe (Mark) Hortsman’s Law of Project Management.  It described my strategy perfectly, in simple terms that a Bulldog like me could embrace. 

I’ve managed dozens of projects over the year and didn’t realize my philosophy was Who Does What By When.  When everyone focuses on that simple principle, reporting is easier and everyone understands his or her role. Layer on the constant reminder that People Are the Engine of Project Success and you’re pretty much there.  My job as a project manager is to see the threats to project completion when things are going well and make the appropriate adjustments, and to eliminate any barriers to the job getting done the rest of the time. 

There are those who will say you should get certified through the Project Management Institute or some such organization — and maybe they’re right for huge, complex projects but I’m not so sure.  I think you can be very successful if you make sure everyone does their job and leaves enough time for the next person to do theirs.   Recognize people throughout, especially when they make it easier for someone else to succeed.

What strategies do you use to manage projects to completion, in time and on budget?  Have I oversimplified the process?

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So many good posts from the past week that a few good things fell by the wayside.  I’m glad I’m now offering different links over on Bulldog Simplicity that focus on, not surprisingly, ways to remove the complexity in your business and personal life.  Enjoy these; I hope one or more have an impact on your consulting business.  And, as always, please provide a link in the Comments to posts that you found helpful recently.

Is It Stupidity or Laziness?  Who should you be focusing your marketing efforts on — new customers or prospects? Bill Kennedy has a no-nonsense answer.

15 Insights from 15 Years.   A look back at 15 years in the advertising and PR business, but most of Indra Gardiner’s observations are dead-on for consultants and small business owners too.

Arm Your Sales Team With the Necessary Tools to Grow.  You can look at this post in one of two ways — if you’re moving past the entry-level consultant point you need to be thinking about this kind of stuff.  And if you’re not, the companies that Mark Suster is talking about may need your help implementing these processes.  Go find them.

The 11 Harsh Realities of Being an Entrepreneur.  Keeping in mind that the target audience for this site are people who are new to consulting and/or new small-business owners, this list from the OnStartups.com site provides a good grounding of the challenges you face.  There’s another interesting post on this site this week called 23 Tweetable  Startup Insights from Seth Godin, where the writer says he followed Seth’s blog for the past few months and captured a bunch of thoughts that work for startups and entrepreneurs.  Also worth a click.

No, That IS NOT a Competitive Advantage.  I’m cheating here a bit, because this post was published this past summer but someone tweeted it this week.  The writer, Jason Cohen, has a blog that is now one of my favorites because it focuses a lot of attention on differentiating yourself in competitive markets.  Read this post, but explore the A Smart Bear site a bit (starting with the rest of this series). 

Top 25 Small Business Tips.  A very quick read of 25 ways to run your business more effectively from a variety of successful consultants and online marketing experts via Marco Carbajo.  There will certainly be a few you think are obvious,  but it’s worth a couple of minutes to see if there are any you aren’t doing today.

Professional Services Firms and Social Media.  This post provides a summary of some recent research (and the recommendations) around how professional-services forms are using (or are not using) social media. 

The 39 Social Media Tools I’ll Use Today.  The headline alone does not scream simplicity, but this post by Jay Baer does provide a great overview of what people use to keep track of everything they’re doing with social media.  Worth a look.  You probably won’t use all 39, but you may find a few new ones to try.  Jay also did a nice interview this week with SmartBlog on how to build a better corporate blog that’s worth a look.

22 Tips to Differentiate Your Brand Presence.  There are a lot of consultants and small businesses jockeying for position against people with similar products, services, and approaches.  Is yours differentiated from the person down the street?  Pam Moore offers some suggestions.

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“Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, non-committal language.” — Rule 12

There’s no shortage of blogs about new and favorite business books.  In the past week, I’ve stumbled across lists from Chris Brogan (he linked this week to a number of video reviews — click on the Escape Velocity Bookshelf one on page 2) and Beth Harte (with a list of Social Media primers).  I write periodic “Must Read” posts that include my weekly roundup of great posts and there’s an Amazon affiliate link in the right-hand column to some I think are best for new consultants.

Recent (and future) inclusions to these Must Read lists include Unmarketing by Scott Stratton, Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson, Brains on Fire by the principals of a South Carolina agency, Resonate by Nancy Duarte, The Referral Engine by John Jantsch, Leadership Rules by Chris Widener, and the soon-to-be-released Content Rules by Ann Handle and C.C. Chapman.  In each case, these books will help you be more efficient, serve customers more effectively, or change your approach to marketing. 

As someone who sees a lot of writing in the course of a day, I think many consultants and small-business owners could benefit from reading a tome that was published in 1919.

Did memories of 11th Grade English just cause your heart to stop for a second?

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.  Buy it.  It’s that simple.

“Seven rules of usage, eleven principles of composition, a few matters of form, and a list of words and expressions commonly misused — that was the sum and substance of Professor Strunk’s work,” said E.B. White who added a fifth chapter in 1957 called “An Approach to Style.”   A student of Professor Strunk’s in 1919 at Cornell University, Mr. White eventually added four rules of usage and some “words and expressions of a recent vintage” to the professor’s original book.

Need I say more?  To paraphrase the movie Jerry Maguire, I probably had you at Strunk and White (unless you had a particularly scary run of English teachers in high school).  Between IMs and Tweets and other barriers to even marginally coherent writing, this book screams to be picked up every few months and reviewed.  A chapter here, a rule there.  Have a question?  Is it effect or affect? Its or it’s? Leave it on your desk.  And trust me, many people aren’t using it and should be.

My copy (the 50th anniversary edition) only runs 85 pages (not counting the glossary and index).  The Contents page provides the full list of “elements.”

One more thing: Buy a copy for the children in your life – regardless of their ages.  Our kids are growing up with little regard for the English language.  It would be a heckuva gift to give them — even if they moan a bit when they unwrap it.

And with that, I’ll stop.  Because, as Rule 17 clearly states, “Avoid needless words.”

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Never. Burn. Bridges.

by Peter Osborne on November 2, 2010 · 3 comments

A decision I made 22 months ago turned out to be the right one.

I decided not to burn a bridge. I had just been laid off with a lot of friends I made over 16 years.  People who were very good at their jobs — and some who admittedly probably weren’t — were told there was no room for them in a smaller organization.  They were taken care of financially, but a layoff offers an opportunity to “tell people how you really feel.”  But while others packed up their personal things and left that Wednesday morning, I had a decision to make.  I was near the end of a long, difficult contract renewal and knew that my successor would have to start over and the deal most likely wouldn’t get done.

So I asked if I could stay through the end of the week and get the contract signed.  My friend Dan was in a similar situation and made the same request.  We had no expectations that we’d ever be back; it just seemed like the right thing to do.  We both got the deals signed…at 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon with our manager graciously waiting to escort us out and go to a family function.

I never thought I’d be back.  Except now I am.  Different role, different part of the bank.  But the reason I’m back is because people respected the way I left.

You just never know...

Never burn bridges.

There was a point in my life where I probably embraced Don Henley’s view that ”sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge,” but no longer.

As you make the decision to leave a job and become a consultant, don’t unleash your frustrations because now you’re going to be “your own boss.”  You never know who might be in a position to hire you for a project or refer you to a new client.  You never know if your boss in a crappy situation could move and become a cool boss who brings you into a great situation.

If you’re mad at a reporter who you feel misquoted you, remember that you should never get into a fight with someone who buys their ink by the barrel (metaphorically speaking in the new world of digital news).

If you’ve got a consulting client who hasn’t paid you or delayed a project or has been a total pain to work with, don’t unload.  You never know.

Now that doesn’t mean you should take whatever people shovel at you.  But there’s a difference between providing feedback or standing up for yourself and burning a bridge.  No matter how good you think it will feel — or how good it felt — it will almost always come back to haunt you.  It becomes part of your brand with some segment of your audience and changing a brand is very difficult.

I have a reputation as a bulldog.  I — and others — viewed that as an expression of my tenacity and endurance, of my ability to get things done.  But there are some who saw that as an expression of me as a “bull in a china shop,” of someone who was quick to push back and whose “What” was great but whose “How” sometimes resulted in “high body counts.”  That view probably impacted the decision to include me in the layoff and it affected other things (bonuses, promotions, job opportunities).  But I had heard the criticism and changed my approach in the year leading up to my departure.

So when people started talking about this new role and my name was brought up, I am told that how I left the bank played a big role in the hiring decision. Frankly, it had never occurred to me how important that decision would be.

Don’t burn bridges.

Does anyone else have good examples of where the decision not to burn a bridge paid off later on?

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I realized this week that there are so many great writers and bloggers putting together so much good content that it didn’t make sense to just copy this weekly posting and put it on both my sites.  So I’m going to try to split some of the great stuff I see each week into two posts.  I’ll have links for one set of readers — new and experienced consultants and small-business owners — here and then ask you to consider traveling over to Bulldog Simplicity and checking out the mostly-different links there on ways to simplify your business life.  I’m making the same invitation to the readers over there.

Five Easy Ways to Gather Client Testimonials.  Found on one of my favorite sites, MarketingProfs, this actually came from e-mail marketing guru AWeber’s blog.  A short post that offers tips for pulling together praise from clients.  Some will think these obvious, but others may have an ah-ha moment. 

Four Myths About Starting Your Itty Business.  Remembering that this blog is geared toward new consultants trying to get some traction, this is a very nice post from Rachael Acklin that should remind you why you’re not a failure if you aren’t a multi-million-dollar business within six months.

How to Get the Best Deal on Business Travel.  Self-explanatory post from the always-helpful John Jantsch at Duct Tape Marketing.

57 Things I’ve Learned Founding Three Companies.  My view on lists like this one from Jason Goldberg, founder of Fabulis, Jobster, and Socialmedian, is that they’re worth reading if you can pluck 3-5 good ideas from them.  I think you’ll get more from this one.

Best Business Blogging Guides and Tips from 2010.  If you’re thinking about writing a blog to support your consultancy or small business, here’s a nice collection of advice…all in one place.  These are all great sources, but I have to admit that I’m a bit surprised that Chris Brogan and Copyblogger didn’t make the list.  Go to either site and you’ll also find plenty of great posts on this subject.

7 Simple Ways to Serve, Solve, and Delight Customers.  Jonathan Fields has a great writing style that is simple and to the point.  Another post of actionable ideas that can have an immediate impact on customer satisfaction, regardless of whether you’re a sole proprietor, small business owner, and employee in a large company.  And while you’re on Jonathan’s sites, I can’t recommend more highly his 7 Keynote MBA post, which includes seven terrific speeches that do indeed provide the viewer with a great overview of what’s important to know if you’re going to run a business.  Bookmark the seven keynotes so you can come back regularly.

How to Deal With Nightmare Clients and Projects Gone Wrong.  This is clearly a subject that resonates with readers.  Things don’t always go right and there are some great suggestions for coping with that situation.  I wasn’t familiar with the site that this post was on but TutToaster is worth a look; they describe themselves as offering free tutorials on a variety of web-based subjects.  I approached this same general subject from a bit different direction recently if you missed it the first time around.

Do Your B2B Communications Bore? If you’re doing social media, have you committed — really committed – to it?  This post by Jon Buscall highlights two people who do it right — Gini Dietrich and Mitch Joel.  You owe it to yourself to do a gut check on whether you’re demonstrating passion as you engage with prospective and existing customers by reading this post.  And then go ahead and read cartoonist Hugh MacLeod’s view of this issue over on his Gaping Void website.

And then there’s the multi-media suggestion of the week…

Game Changers.  Thanks to Mitch Joel for pointing me toward this documentary series from Bloomberg TV.  Rather than link you to his blog post so that you can link to the Bloomberg site, I’ve just given you the link to Bloomberg and you can choose between links to the 30-minute shows on Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Jon Stewart, and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

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Useful posts for new consultants and small businesses

by Peter Osborne on October 23, 2010 · 0 comments

Fast ride today.  As always, I’m trying to gear these links toward new consultants and small-business owners who don’t have time to surf the net and are more interested in finding ways to grow their businesses than in deep contemplation of some of the more technical online discussion points.  If I’m wrong, let me know!  This week, we add links to a couple of longer videos that are worth an additional time commitment.

Whose Permission Are You Waiting For?  Another strong contribution to the bookmarkable Escape Velocity blog, this one from Pam Slim (the author of Escape From Cubicle Nation), who talks about the anxiety that many of her coaching clients feel about launching their new businesses.  This post provides some good actionable steps for getting past that fear. 

Is an App a Tool or a Behavior?  Have you thought about an mobile-phone (or iPad) application that would be really useful AND promote your business?  Lots of people are, and this post from John Jantsch at Duct Tape Marketing could get you focused on coming up with that next, great (hugely popular) app.   And then,  a day later, comes a post from Jolie O’Dell at Mashable on how to build an application for your small business.

Just a Quick Question… I didn’t fully agree with Kim Woodbridge’s point in this posting about the issue of getting calls and e-mail questions from former clients.  But it raises an important issue and it’s worth taking a couple of extra minutes to read the comments (my own included).  Some good suggestions and it will get you thinking about your philosophy on the subject.

How to Focus on Your Ideal Customer.  Do you know the person who’s most likely to buy your services (or your products)? The more you know, the more easy it is to target them and figure out the best marketing strategy.  Maria Ross of Red Slice offers some great tips on picturing your perfect customer.

Four Easy to Use Tools to Monitor Your Brand Online.  Sure, there are great paid services out there, but for most of us some combination of these free services will let us keep an eye on what people are saying about your brand or within your industry.

Sales and Marketing Pipeline Funnels.   Focus.com went out and asked 14 experts from various industries to map their sales process as a one-page picture to help others better understand the revenue “funnel,” which serves as the basis of your sales and marketing strategy.  As Focus.com see it, once you understand your funnel, you are better informed about what metrics you should concentrate on, resource decisions and planning.  This is a download of a 20-page PowerPoint deck and requires you to provide some basic information, no doubt for future marketing.  But this is a great learning tool, so it’s your call.

And now, a few things in the multi-media category…

The cool webinar of the week comes from Michael Port, the author of Book Yourself Solid, who talked about the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Marketers.  There are lots of great tips in this for consultants and small-business owners trying to generate new business or reinforce their relationships with current or past clients/customers, but be warned: He’s also promoting a new program he’s selling so there’s some of that in this webinar.

How Duct Tape Marketing Legend John Jantsch Uses Social Media.  No, not too much pressure there.  As Trey Pennington (who conducted the interview) explains, “John has a gorgeously balanced approach” to building communities online and offline.

And my favorite video of the week…Scott Stratten’s keynote address to open BlogWorld a few weeks ago.  It’s terrific for anyone who blogs, is thinking about blogging, and/or worries about how to market.  Scott is the author of UnMarketing, which I highlighted last week as a column by Ann Handley but here’s Scott in person.  It’s long — but you can immediately advance it because all you get in the first 19 minutes is background music and a few introductions from the event’s organizers (sorry about the 30-second ad at the beginning).

Here you go.  Have  a great week and don’t forget to please–please–add your links to great stuff you’ve read recently to the comments.  Thanks.

And one more tip: If you still have the energy after looking at these, go take a look at Marjorie Clayman’s 30Thursday version.  She brings a lot of heart to her choices of 30 posts each week…and many will bring a tear to your eye or get you thinking.  Have a great week!

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How To Avoid Getting Stuck With A “Bad” Client

by Peter Osborne on October 19, 2010 · 8 comments

Early steps can help prevent client relationships from imploding

I was irritated the other night so I took the opportunity to ask Chris Brogan how he deals with consulting clients who some might charitably describe as “bad.”  You know the type — slow pays, no-pays, scope-creeps, and/or people who want to steal your time for free (with the promise of more paid work later).  Chris laughed and said (and I’m paraphrasing), “you tend not to have that problem when you write one of the five most popular marketing blogs on the Internet.”

Some people will tell you that there’s really no such thing as a “bad” client….

New consultants seem surprised by the amount of time they spend on business development.  Their list of great friends from their last job doesn’t necessarily translate into actual contracts (referrals, maybe), no matter how interested they seemed in your idea when you left the company.  Within a very short time, consultants in that situation start to get nervous — OK, they panic – and may make some decisions that come back to bite them. 

Add  a slow economy to the mix – many businesses are looking for ways to manage their cash flow (a nice way to say, “hey, I’ve got an idea, let’s save money by not paying our vendors this month”).  If I sound bitter, it’s because I am.  I’ve just gone through that with a client.  Here are a few things I’ve learned in the past few months that you should think about:

  • Don’t discount your rate in hopes of getting more business down the line. Set your price and stand firm. Rather than cutting your rate, look for ways to add value (this assumes your rate is reasonable).  If someone expresses willingness to commit to a longer engagement, that’s one thing (if you’re going to have an hourly rate, also have a daily, weekly, and monthly rate that provides some kind of discount).  But don’t just charge them less to try to get them committed so they “can see what you can do.”  And other reason to be careful around this sort of client: I’ve found that the cheaper a clients wants something, the more likely they are to also have unreasonable expectations that they’ll bring to the project.
  • Listen to your gut (or other people), particularly if the voice(s) is about the person’s willingness or ability to pay you on time. If someone has a history of paying late (or not paying at all), why would you think you’re going to be different? If what they’re saying sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  You can’t put lipstick on a pig.  
  • Get some of it upfront.  Net 30 (or its really ugly stepsister, Net 60) means they may not cut a check for a month or two after you FINISH the work and invoice it.  Unless your cash flow is great or you’re sitting on a pile of savings, that will get frustrating (and painful) fast.  Many service businesses require their clients to put something down before they begin work.  Be that person.
  • Be wary of a client whose primary skill is sales.  He or she will convince you that you’re working for the greatest concept ever (“Huge, I tell you, we’re going to be huge.  I have big investors begging me to let them in on the ground floor…How about I pay you less but give you stock?”).  You’re going to want to believe this is the monster client (as Robert Shaw said in Jaws, “I think we’re going to need a bigger boat.”).  It’s more likely that big fish is a minnow.
  • Collections take time away from doing the work or finding new business.  It’s bad enough when you don’t get paid.  Chasing them down is exhausting. Sending e-mails. Calling them.  Calling them again.  Carefully crafting more e-mails.  Reading their e-mails that say all start-ups have cash-flow problems (“yeah, buddy, including mine, thanks to you.”) or there’s been a family emergency.  Or something.  It’s always something.  Add up the hours you spend chasing them…or thinking about chasing them…or complaining to other people about having to chase them and you’ll find your discounted rate suddenly got uglier.
  • Define your project scope very carefully and get an agreement in writing.  Discussions about a project in a conference room, by e-mail, or on the phone tend to result in less-than-perfect project scopes.  Put it in writing with specific bullets about deliverables, timelines, objectives, and pricing and get the other person to send it to you.  Don’t start a project — no matter how smoothly everything is going — until the paper is signed and, if advance payment is due (see above), the check arrives and clears.
  • Be the expert, not the vendor.  Perception is reality and your clients are less likely to treat you badly if they respect your knowledge and experience.  Frankly, it’s best when clients find you.  That way they’re seeking your advice rather than you asking them for work. As a result, more value is put on your input and you have fewer issues.

And now, I turn it over to you.  We’ve all had bad clients.  What do you do to avoid the problem?

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The perfect encore career? Consulting

October 19, 2010

This post was written by Consultant Launch Pad co-founder Michael D Brown, who has worked in the chemicals industry for more than 30 years, 12 of that as a consultant.  Peter and I have written in the past about consulting as part of a portfolio career – a career made up of many different diverse careers.  There [...]

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