Whether or not you use the title of Consultant, chances are good that you are one.
Here's the definition of a consultant: "A person who gives expert or professional advice." No matter what your business is, I'll bet that you give expert advice every day!
Every time you make a recommendation to a customer, you're acting in the capacity of a consultant. The important thing to keep in mind is not what you're doing, but what the other person is experiencing. For them to ask for, pay for, and then act on your advice, they need one very simple thing: trust.
The fastest way to build trust, especially with a new or potential client, is to provide clear evidence of your professional values. Once you articulate and demonstrate those values, clients "magically" start asking for and follow your advice. As soon as they value your contribution, not only do they refer you to others, but they remain "clients for life."
Remember: your best customer is the one you still have!
Values-Based Consulting is built on a solid foundation of professional ethics, responsiveness, empathy and commitment. However, without one all-important value, the others won't matter: integrity.
How to Demonstrate Integrity Before a New Client Commits
1. Prove that you are a bona fide expert within your industry.
- Feature details of your relevant experience on your website, LinkedIn profile, and marketing materials.
- Publicize your professional certifications and advanced degrees. You worked hard for these, so use them!
- Highlight your continuing education on your website, newsletter, profile, fan page, etc. If you earn a certificate for taking an industry-related course, go ahead and display it. (Continuing education is a must to be a good adviser.)
2. Remain consistent and authentic to your area of expertise.
- Avoid the temptation to take an assignment for which you are not the best choice.
- Refer it to someone who is more qualified than you are and let the client know why.
- Emphasize those areas you'd like to help them with in the future. You'd be surprised how many referrals this can generate!
- Illustrate your values throughout your website and marketing materials.
3. Capitalize on social-proofing.
- Ask for client testimonials and use them. When making the request, acknowledge how busy your clients are and offer to save them time by writing a draft so they can simply edit or approve it.
- Feature testimonials on your website and marketing materials.
- Request recommendations on LinkedIn if it's appropriate.
- Publish client endorsements illustrating tangible results; they are worth their weight in gold. But don't rest on your laurels — keep them fresh and updated. Old testimonials aren't that useful. In fact, at the beginning of a new relationship, your testimonials (and referrals) from satisfied customers are the best evidence you have of living by ALL of your values.
How to Demonstrate Integrity After the Sale
1. Communication is key. Ensure client satisfaction at regular intervals during your engagement, not just at the end when it may be too late to change course. Ask your client upfront how often and in what format they would like updates and/or reports.
2. Be responsive!
3. Deliver on time and on budget. If the project gets larger or more expensive, get clearance from the client in advance, not after the work is done.
4. Be very cautious about suggesting solutions, which while legal, may be seen as less than desirable from an ethical standpoint. Your client may take your advice, but at some level you can lose their trust, and possibly their business.
The important thing to remember about Values-Based Consulting is to articulate your values and show your clients and prospects that you're serious about living by them. You'll be glad you did.
"Your customers will get better when you do." - Anonymous
What other ways do you demonstrate your integrity to your clients?
JoAnne Berg is a trusted business advisor with over 30 years of experience as an entrepreneur, CFO/COO, and CPA/advisor to closely held businesses. Read her blogs at The Art of Small Business. Her newest venture is Peer Coaching Network, Inc., which provides affordable training and peer based group coaching to small business owners. Follow her on Twitter @JoAnneBerg and Facebook.