From time to time, we’ll be opening up our blog for advice from some of the “strategic doers” in our community. Today, consultant Sarah McGee shares her tips on how to be a great consultant.
While I have been a consultant for just the past four years, I have been honing my “client delight” skills for as long as I remember, starting with my first job in retail. There are a thousand ways to be a great consultant, but much of your success depends on your relationship with your client, your role on the team and your experience.
In my opinion, the best advice is the kind you can start doing today. So, here is my list of the top six things you can start doing now to help your clients achieve more.
1. Put yourself in your client’s shoes, anticipate what they’ll need and offer to help
I always try to think ahead for my client and offer help with upcoming deliverables. For example, if I know they will lead a meeting later in the week, I will offer to draft the agenda or take a first pass at an email or presentation — anything, big or small, to help my client trim down their to-do list.
2. Understand your client’s areas of opportunities and help by bridging the gap
Everyone has weaknesses. I know mine; you should know yours. I spend time getting to know where my client struggles and try to provide extra support for those areas.
One of my clients did not excel at PowerPoint, so I offered to take over presentation development so she could just review and edit. Another client was challenged with the details, so I set up a weekly review to help him stay on top of the little things.
3. Have an opinion and know when and how to share it with your client
I want to be a trusted advisor to my clients, and I can’t achieve my goal by being a “yes person.” My intent is not to force-feed clients my opinion, but rather to give another perspective. That way, my client has the full picture to make a strong decision.
If it is a sensitive situation or if my client is new to me, I will share my opinion or concern by framing it as a question (i.e. “Do you think that sentence could be taken negatively?”).
4. Always know your client’s goal
Whenever I am given a new task, I always make sure I understand my client’s end goal. Clients typically give direction (do this, then this, and then this), but rarely do they proactively define what success looks like.
Why do you need to know the end goal? Because it rarely changes. There are many ways to meet the end goal, and I want to make sure that when the project is finished, I delivered exactly what my client was looking for.
5. Customize your communications
Don’t underestimate the value of customizing your communications with your client. We all like to receive communications in different ways. I am proactive about asking my client how they prefer to receive updates from me (email vs. in-person meeting, bullet points vs. paragraphs, weekly meeting vs. phone call/text).
By prioritizing your client’s preferences, you can ensure the lines of communication are always open.
6. Don’t squander an opportunity to do your best work
Someone once said to me, “Write your emails like Bill Gates will read them.” I have never forgotten this piece of advice because once he did read one of my emails!
As a result, I always take a few extra minutes to make sure every question is answered, my email is concise (because no one has time for a long email) and it is professional. But more importantly, I keep “Bill” in mind for all my projects and try to go above and beyond to deliver great work, every time.
Sarah McGee is a communications consultant working with Microsoft. She has more than 15 years of experience developing, driving and executing communication strategies for internal and external audiences. Before joining Simplicity Consulting, she drove executive communications at T-Mobile and served as a PR professional at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide.