October 21, 2014
Guide to effective use of consultants

This article first appeared as "World’s ‘worst’ client on a good assn/consultant relationship" in Association TRENDS.
By GREG FINE, CAE

Full disclosure…I can be a terrible client.

I set extremely high expectations, require regular and effective communication and set metrics by which the relationship can be measured. While I have felt like the “client from hell” on more than one occasion. I have been told that, in fact, I am not the “world’s worst client.” If the longevity of the friendships and business partnerships I have created over the years are any indication, perhaps my partners are correct. Here are tips for a successful client/consultant partnership:

• Do your homework and take time to learn about the consultants you are considering. Talk to other people, ask for samples, engage in conversations that help each party understand the other. Yes, this can take time, but it is always worth the investment. If doesn’t feel like a good fit, then don’t engage. Remember, it doesn’t matter how great their performance was with another client, this is about you!

• Declare dissatisfaction early. It is never fun to deliver bad news. But if you are unhappy and don’t declare so at the first sign, how can the consultant have a chance to fix the problem? If the consultant is truly committed to the long haul, they will welcome the opportunity to address issues at the beginning of the partnership.

• Be reasonable and remember you are not the only client. Yes, a great consultant will jump through hoops for you. Just remember that they are often jumping through hoops for others. If you wanted them full time, you could make them staff. Just because they are consultants doesn’t mean they are available at your whim – unless you are willing to pay the “at-your-whim” fee.

• Know what you expect, clearly articulate it and then measure it. Once this is established, if the project drifts from the original scope, make sure both parties agree to and understand the new expectations.

• Pay in a timely manner. A good client pays, a great client pays in less than 30 days!

And finally...be patient when you hit a roadblock. No matter how great the consultant, there is bound to be hiccup or two along the way. If you expect the consultant to take the long view, then you should as well. A breakdown offers the perfect opportunity for both sides to learn and improve the partnership. Use it as such and often the event becomes the “remember when” story you will be sharing for years.

At the time this article was written, Fine was communications and marketing director, Association Forum of Chicagoland. He is now marketing & communications VP at Association for Corporate Growth, Chicago. He also is a past TRENDS Young & Aspiring Association Professional.

Association TRENDS