December 08, 2000, 10:10 AM — Since we started this column, we have emphasized many of the positive aspects of
consulting. After all, successful consultants need positive dispositions. But there is
one negative aspect that should be addressed: a widespread negative attitude toward
consultants. Such feelings are not necessarily as hostile as those felt toward other
unnamed professions, but they are relatively common. Consultants are often perceived by
other employees as overly expensive hires who re-engineer companies to no positive
effect and threaten to eliminate jobs.
First, this column will focus on individual (or smaller-firm) consultancies. Those
high-level firms that focus on management consultants or deploy corporate-wide systems
can be effective, but they are not the laser weapon that you are. Make this clear to
your client immediately. You are an expert in a particular area, and your job is to
solve very specific problems for your client. That will not necessarily put you in the
clear because your fees may still seem exorbitant, especially to lower-level managers.
There is also the issue of trust: Why should a manager put his job on the line by
hiring you? What you need is a phased campaign that transforms you from an unknown
quantity into a trusted and respected resource.
We'll discuss fees in detail in the next column, but quite simply, the client must
perceive your fee as a good investment. The cost of not hiring you, incurred by delays
or ineffective results, must be much higher than the cost of hiring you. Your fee will
then be much less of an issue, even if on an hourly basis it is higher than what your
hiring manager earns. Upper-level managers are more likely to appreciate the value of
getting projects done faster, so always negotiate at the highest possible management
To ensure a basis of trust, you must minimize the risk your client undertakes by
hiring you. The best method I have found, especially with a new client, is to carve off
a well-defined initial piece of work. Tell your client that the rest of the project
will depend on how satisfied the client is with that first piece. In the advanced-
technology arena, I have found most managers can easily justify an initial fee of
$5,000. By keeping this first payment small, you can reduce the amount of paperwork and
approval needed, get started faster, and deliver a positive result quickly.
Once you have established initial credibility, getting signed on for the remainder
of the project is often easy. Just make sure that the objectives and deadlines are well-
defined so an objective assessment of your results is possible. If the objectives are
too nebulous, create an intermediate milestone that clarifies them. This can also serve
as one of your first deliverables.