Business Consulting Etiquette

A lot of people ask what I do. Depending on the person, I’m a blogger, or an editor. To others I’m a WordPress consultant. Still, to others, I work with Lijit as I used to work with b5media. Notice I said with and not for.

The choice of words is very intentional. Though I own the work I do, and make it mine (or I wouldn’t do it, to be honest), I am a self-employed contractor. To that end, I am constantly getting referrals, cold call emails, etc asking if I can help company X or person Y do task A, B or C.

Generally, an email will come that says something like this (fictional):

Hey Aaron-

how are you doing? I’ve got a WordPress project that I need to have done and I was talking to [insert name]. He mentioned that you do this kind of work. I was wondering if you’re taking work right now and if maybe we could do a quick phone call this week to see if it’s something that interests you.

[insert name here]

This is a pretty standard email, and it’s for all intents and purposes perfect. It gives me a brief overview of what services I might have to perform without boring me with details. It also serves to possibly pique my interest.

Generally, if the idea (again, without the details) is interesting to me, I’ll respond and we’ll work out a time for a call. The client may need me to sign NDAs. I’m generally okay with that as well. If it’s not interesting to me or I simply don’t have time to take on work, I’ll let them know that as well.

It’s all about setting expectations early and reinforcing as often as possible.

The first call is an important call. It is the first time a prospective client and I have a chance to interact in person. It is not intended to be a “details” oriented call. It never, ever should be. In fact, a first call should be short.

In this call, there are two specific things that need to happen. Both parties are responsible for one.

  1. The client should have very specific goals, and timelines and be able to articulate them. At this time, I’m taking notes and listening. Usually, I’ll save questions for later. Again, have your 30,000 foot view ready to go in this meeting, but don’t get me into a guerrila war early. There is no contract yet, I can walk away.
  2. I should be prepared to ask probing questions about your expectations of me, your budget, your timeline, your platform. I’ll probably ask you if you have a project manager in place or if I’ll be responsible for identifying specs, milestones and goals.

Be aware that some consultants charge to be on the phone for this call. I do not, but some do. You should understand that and make sure you know the ground rules in advance. When in doubt, ask.

Tangent: It would be good to have an expected budget as well. Understand that I charge a lot, as most professional consultants do. We’re independent. We make more. It’s the game, and it’s everywhere so don’t whine when I give you a triple figure hourly rate. Thanks.

Usually, when this call ends, I will have a good idea of what you want to do and the resources you have to do it with. I’ll have a pretty good sense if I can do it (both in my own calendar, and skillset). I’ll be honest with you and decline the work if I need to. Usually, I’ll indicate a timeframe to provide a quote and we’ll be off to the races.

I say this because today I had a very bad experience with someone who didn’t outline expectations early. I received an email that gave me no indication of what I was being requested for and indicated a referral from someone I know.

Today, when we had our initial call, I was tossed into an Adobe Connect session and they asked me to share my screen. No, never, ever.

Turns out they wanted to watch me use their site and learn from how I used it. This was not communicated or articulated in any way. Second of all, as a professional, my computer is my silo. I have documents and email open that are proprietary and confidential. I will not share my screen with anyone unless I initiate it in the context of a pre-agreed on demo. In addition, the guy I talked to today had no intention of securing my services, and assumed I would just go along with his plans. This is an assumption that should never be made with a professional of any sort.

It’s the little things that matter.