Seven Tips for Effective Phone Interviews

One of the tasks that consultants are frequently called on to perform is interviewing members of a client’s organization. I usually begin an engagement with a series of interviews with key personnel to:

  • Assess support for the project
  • Gain an understanding of the client’s corporate culture
  • Determine expected outcomes
  • Identify key stakeholders

It’s always best to have face-to-face, one-on-one interviews but this is not always possible owing to time constraints or geographical distance. I’ve also found that there is a subtle pressure in an in-person meeting to fill up the available time, so in many cases, I find a telephonic interview more effective.

“Telephone interview” is a bit of a misnomer; I use Skype whenever possible. One of the main reasons for this is that I can, with permission, record my calls using a program called Pamela for Skype for later review. This saves me from having to take notes (something I’m not all that good at) and allows me to focus on the conversation.

Here are seven tips that will make your interviews more effective. Although they’re intended for telephone interviews, they work just as well with in-person interviews. Read More→

Three Reasons Consultants Get Hired

Why do clients hire consultants? The question seems simple but it can make a big difference to your project’s success. Knowing why your client has hired you can help you increase client satisfaction and can have a bearing on how you approach a project.

There are, of course, any number of reasons for seeking a consultant’s services and one must be careful not to over-generalize. In my experience, though, the reasons for hiring a consultant usually fall into one of three broad categories: time, expertise, and process.  Read More→

Five Ways to Eliminate Written Reports

Reports are such a part of a consultant’s life that we assume that they are required. This was the case recently when a prime contractor promised a potential client a written gap analysis report in our final proposal. There’s nothing wrong with this type of report but it was unnecessary for our desired project outcome and was not something I had built into my part of the project budget. If our proposal is accepted, it’s going to mean some additional work for me and an additional cost to the prime contractor.

There is only one reason to generate a written report: the client has a specific need for it. By “need” I mean something that is required to successfully complete the project or to meet administrative or audit requirements.

The simple fact is that most reports are a waste of time for both you and the client. If the client needs frequent reports to be sure you’re doing your job or you’re writing them to convince the client that you are, something isn’t working right. The real question is, “what information does the client need?” and to answer that question there are alternatives to the written report. Read More→

Six Ways to Improve Your Client Presentations

I recently received a slide deck from a strategic partner in preparation for a presentation to a potential client. We are one of several firms whose proposals made the cut and the project is substantial, so there’s a lot riding on our presentation. My colleague prepared the standard presentation: an introduction to the company we represent, followed by bullet points that quote directly from our proposed statement of work.

This type of presentation is common and it’s just terrible. It’s boring and looks just like the presentation your competitors will be giving. If you want to beat the competition, you need to stand out and demonstrate why your services are superior. A boring presentation that looks like everyone else’s  is not the answer.

Here are six ways to liven up your presentation: Read More→

Six Ways to Get Your Project Fee Faster

Lucien Canton-6We spend a lot of time focusing on getting a contract but that’s really only the first step in earning a living as a consultant. Your real goal is to get paid. This may seem self-evident but many new consultants don’t think about until the project is almost over. The time to think about getting paid is when you develop your proposal. It’s the opportunity to open a dialogue with the client about payment terms. Allowing the client to dictate payment terms is almost never to your advantage. With a bit of effort, you can actually get most, if not all of your fee, paid up front or at least on a schedule that you can live with. Read More→

Increase Your Earnings Through Retainers

Lucien Canton-6Consultants tend to work project by project. On occasion our services may be exclusive to one client but this is rare and not necessarily a good business model (what happens if you lose your single client?). But there are times when a client wants access to you but does not have a specific project in mind. Another possibility is that a client may want to be able to call you in periodically to monitor the aftermath of a successfully completed project. In cases such as these, you may want to enter into a retainer arrangement. But without understanding the different options available, it’s easy to get into trouble. Read More→

Creating a Champagne Image on a Beer Budget

Lucien-Canton-6-682x1024Image is everything. As a solo consultant you are in competition with larger firms that can afford PR departments and a stable of graphic designers. Your edge is your expertise and your nimbleness but you need to make that first good impression on a potential client. You won’t be treated as a peer if you don’t come across as professional. You want to project an image that builds trust, that shouts, “I can do this!” to the client. This means building a consistent image or brand, as it’s known in sales, across all your materials that demonstrates a commitment to quality and attention to detail.

Fortunately, modern technology and a little bit of effort can give you the image you want. Here are five ideas to get you started. Read More→

Five Tips for Getting Your Financial House in Order

Lucien-Canton-6-682x1024One of the temptations when starting out as a consultant is to focus on getting business. Now, getting clients is important and certainly worth focusing on but you really need to spend a bit of time putting in place the fiscal infrastructure to support your business. The alternative is to mix your personal and business funds and that will cause you nothing but grief come tax time. Here are five things you can do to build your business fiscal identity: Read More→

Watch For Red Flags in RFPs

Lucien Canton-6My practice involves a considerable amount of work for the government, which means I frequently have to review an RFP (Request for Proposal) and decide whether to submit a response. Since preparing a proposal can take anywhere from eight to forty hours, the decision to submit a proposal is an investment both of time and the costs associated with the preparation (printing, postage, etc.). Consequently, I need to be sure that I have a chance of recouping that investment. Part of my evaluation process is a close reading of the RFP for red flags. One of the worst is the feeling that the potential client has no real intention of issuing the RFP but is using the RFP process to fish for ideas.

Here’s an example of what I mean and some of the warning signs I look for: Read More→

Contract Pitfalls: Intellectual Property Clauses

Lucien Canton-6Whenever possible I try to avoid formal contracts. Contracts are written by lawyers intent on protecting their clients and they are almost never written to be neutral or in your favor. However, about half of my practice is in the public sector and contracts are required. While most of these contracts include fairly standard clauses, over the years I have run across a few variations that make things difficult. One such area where you can find yourself in trouble is that regarding intellectual property.

The intellectual property clause arises from the client’s legitimate desire to ensure that work you produce for them is exclusive to them and not copied for use with another client. However, as a consultant, I transfer processes from one client to another, so there is a fine line I need to walk. I consider deliverables prepared for a client as confidential and never reuse them. However, techniques and processes I develop or learn in the course of a project can be applied to other projects as they are part of the intellectual capital I bring to the project. Sometimes, however, the wording of an intellectual property clause can ask for so much it can create significant future problems and the possibility of litigation.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Read More→