Get To Know the Compulsive Consultant

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Consultant types are by nature compulsive people. One of the basic reasons for their quitting the table of organization is the need to get on with the job. They cannot abide management telling them all the things that won't work. As independent freelancers, they are in a better position to get their ideas across, work wherever and whenever they wish, and work as hard as they wish. Consultants are problem-solvers, not problem-makers. Whenever a consultant sees a mess, he or she feels compelled to clean it up - immediately. Unfortunately and amazingly, this need is usually greater for the consultant than it is for the client!

All of this is highly laudatory. However, a compulsive person is always prone to impulsive behavior. And that is where the consultant gets himself into trouble.

Because of the need to get on with the job and complete a project as quickly as possible, the consultant impulsively:

  1. quotes fees too hastily,
  2. starts to work on a project before being officially retained,
  3. attends meetings at which he has no business,
  4. gives away free advice before his proposal is officially accepted,
  5. telephones when he should write, and
  6. answers questions from clients when he should be asking them.
Case History #1

I was called to an urgent meeting by the executive vice-president of a large non-profit organization. The urgency was due to the fact that the client was very late in his schedule of publishing a book. At the meeting I was asked whether I could and would a) edit the finished manuscript, b) supervise typesetting, printing, binding, and jacket art, and c) index the book. Also, could I have the entire work completed in five months. (Average time for this is nine months to one year.) I said that I could and would. The vice-president then asked my fee. Eager to get started on the project, I blurted, "$9,000." "Done," he quickly responded, and requested his accounting office to draw a check for half the fee as an advance payment. I was then given two large files pertinent to the project for perusal at my office. The files contained the organization's contract with the author as well as minutes of the meetings concerning the book project. A committee had decided, I learned then, to hire three experts for the job: an editor, a book production consultant, and an indexer. That committee obviously had no idea that one person could do it all. As a consequence, the allotted budget was far more than the fee I requested (and which was agreed to so readily and eagerly).If I had waited one day and gathered the intelligence handed to me, the job could easily have commanded double the fee quoted.

Case History #2

A client for whom I had done a lot of work asked to see me. I arrived at his office at the appointed time. Due to our previous pleasant relationship, the meeting with the client and three members of his staff was quite congenial. The client asked whether I would consider planning and supervising a marketing project. I affirmed that I would. He then asked how I would go about it. I gave him a step-by-step verbal rundown before I realized that his staff was taking down copious notes. The client then turned to his staff members and asked, "Is there any reason why you guys can't do this?" A loaded question from a boss to his subordinates, if I ever heard one. To a man, they shook their heads forcefully. The client stood up, shook my hand, thanked me, and asked that I bill him for the two hours.

As my grade school teacher would have scolded, "Go to the blackboard, and write I'LL GET BACK TO YOU one hundred times." Other people absent-mindedly doodle flowers, stars, or other designs on their notepads. I keep writing, "I'll get back to you. I'll get back to you. I'll get back to you." When the client asks about the fee for a project, say, "I'll get back to you." Go back to your office, weigh all the facts, and think it over carefully.

When the prospective client wants information, say, "I'll get back to you." Mull things over, and decide on the best, most professional way of exacting payment for your expertise.

When the client wants information over the phone, say, "I'll get back to you." Whenever possible, get back to him with a letter rather than a phone call. A letter says everything you want said, the way how you want to say it. Back-and-forth telephone conversation with a client has too much of an urgent, anxious aura about it, and it leads to impulsive talk, which is dangerous to your professional health. As a matter of fact, in any circumstance, a letter is always better than a phone call. Telephone calls have no carbon copies for filing and future verification.

Even when you write, don't mail whatever it is for twenty-four hours. That important letter, proposal, etc. will look different to you tomorrow morning. It always does, after due reflection. Don't be impulsive. Usually nothing is burning, and that extra day to give you a fresh look at the matter can make all the difference in the world. I have a complete file of things that I never mailed but rewrote entirely the following day. A book was published of all the letters that President Truman wrote but never sent.

To make an intelligent decision, you need as much information as you can get. As Andrew P. Garvin wrote in his book HOW TO WIN WITH INFORMATION: Or Lose Without It, information makes the difference between a decision and a guess. The information you need as a working consultant rests with the client. The only way to get that information is by asking the client for it. If he is secretive, he's a recalcitrant client and worthless to you (as well as to himself).
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