Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In Business

I had to gently remind someone last week that I am in business. Many consultants face a quandary about giving away free consulting. I’m actually not talking about that. I’m pretty bad about that actually – call me and, when I become available, we’re talking. I enjoy my discipline and helping others too much sometimes, especially when I’m learning back.

But I’m not talking about that kind of free consulting. I’m talking about matchmaking consultants to projects. It’s a part of my business. So, when a colleague calls to see if I ‘have anybody’ or ‘know anybody’ who fits a profile, I want to be sure some things are understood early before we get too far into the process. I will ask many questions. If I happen to ‘know someone’ who may be a fit, that knowing is borne of many years of relationship building, industry study and record-keeping. It’s a developed asset. Most understand this. Since I place consultants, I take the paper, the risks, etc., and a fee.

Unfortunately, it’s not always understood and somebody was offended when we started talking rate and it was apparent my firm would factor into that equation in some small way. Fortunately, I made this clear early in the process before I spent too much time on it. And so should you.

Whenever the fee for what you think is a ‘service’ is questioned, you have to question whether you have truly differentiated that service. And placing consultants alone is hard to differentiate. My differentiator there, again, is my years of relationship building and industry knowledge. I know who does good work in all the nooks and crannies of my space and I know how to take a job order and make sure people are a fit, technically and otherwise. Some will still see this as ‘easy’ or a naked ‘contribution’ I make to their cause.

The experience also reminds me of a time when a company owed me a payment and tried to escape the responsibility by appealing to that fact that ‘I have savings’ or some such thing. To which I replied “Whether I need the payment to keep from starvation or not tomorrow may be evident, but my charities need it more than either one of us.” I don’t know how clever it was, but that’s what came out.

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