Technical Development

5 Consultant Best Practices to Create Better Client Relationships

With an ever-increasing need for subject matter experts, the amount of consultants a company hires is on the rise. While the benefits of having additional help on a project are immense, it can take some time to create and foster a productive relationship.
From a consultant perspective, there are a number of best practices, listed below, that you can follow to mitigate the potential challenges that can arise when working with a new client.

1- Recognizing Areas of Risk Before They Happen

Recognizing a potential issue from a previous project and proactively working to correct it comes from experience. Being aware of common issues that can occur before they actually happen, and taking steps to fix them, can make all the difference in a project’s success. Some of the ways to avoid common hazards are:

  • Schedule in advance: Help keep the project timeline realistic by considering days away from work.
  • Ensure redundant knowledge: Have at least two people who understand all aspects of the code in case someone is unavailable.
  • Know the breadth of the task: Allow yourself time to conduct research before completing the estimate. If that’s not possible, make sure to include time for research into the estimate.
  • Understand testing needs: Early on, identify your project functionality that will require additional resources to test. For example, can this only be tested in production? Does it require a large dataset? Or you do you need to automate testing because there’s too much to test manually?
  • Determine deployment complexity: Does content have to be added before/after/simultaneously with the code deployment? Decide on a deployment plan as early as you can and have a fallback in place.
  • Minimize 3rd party dependencies: In the planning phases of the project, enlist the cooperation of the client to make requesting information or resources from other vendors a priority.  Start these conversations early and have them again during the project as needed.

2- Give Accurate Estimations

At the onset of the project, timelines and expectations are crucial to manage. Accuracy, as well as transparency, are the keys to starting on the same page and working toward shared goals. You can help to ensure a well scoped project with the following tips:

  • Assume nothing: This is the only time not to rely on your past experience; go in with a clean slate. If any assumptions need to be made, clearly note them.
  • Pad your estimate: Build in additional time on tickets that have a higher amount of uncertainty regarding how they will be implemented, or tickets that are dependent on other deliverables.
  • Don’t take the short side of a range: A 4-6 week timeframe should be allotted 6 weeks; best case you finish early, worst case you have the time you need to adjust.
  • Know your audience: Not every team member needs to know all of the technical details; getting weighed down in granular information only takes time away from the important stuff.
  • Give the client options: Part of being a good consultant is offering up scenarios and outcomes; respect the choice of your client.

3- Set Expectations Early

Open communication between the client and consultants from the onset, along with any others involved in the project, is imperative. Too many times, everyone is eager to jump over the starting line. Just a few conversations about scheduling, check-ins, and outcomes can go along way. Its important to openly discuss these kinds of topics:

  • Alert client to changes: If schedules have to change for any number of reasons, the client should be the first to know.
  • Take responsibility: If things go wrong, own up and work to fix them.

4- Identify Areas for Improvement

Working on a new project is a great way to hone your skills and add some new ones. But being in unfamiliar territory with a new client or initiative can sometimes have a tougher learning curve. The best you can do is stay positive and be a team player. Three ways you can contribute to a positive and successful environment are:

  • Realize no one’s perfect: We all make mistakes; embrace them as opportunities to learn. If you realize there are issues with the process, don’t be afraid to talk to your team and client and make the necessary changes.
  • Accept constructive feedback: Take notes and try to improve; ask questions, ask for clarity, and understand their perspective.
  • Give peers constructive feedback: Don’t just state the problem, offer up ways to fix it or improve the situation; make it a teaching moment.

5- Take Initiative

By definition, taking the initiative is doing things that you know need to be done without being asked. Simple, but the key is understanding the right opportunities to be proactive. That is the difference between helping, and potentially hurting a project. A few ways you can be an asset to an engagement are:

  • Understand the full scope: Get full clarification on tickets before you begin.
  • Offer alternative ideas: Use your experience to suggest different or more comprehensive solutions (within reason and scope of course).
  • Speak your mind: If there are issues, make sure you address them with the right person in a professional manner.

For a partnership to be successful, it takes work from both sides. And with more and more clients seeking help from multiple partners on different aspects of an engagement, the need to set expectations, and follow through to deliver them, is even more important to ensure goals are met. Following a few simple, logical ideals when procuring a relationship will go along way in both yours and the client’s satisfaction with the project.
Tweet us @iCiDIGITAL and let us know what tips you have as a consultant.

Paul Goodrich
Paul is a web development consultant at iCiDIGITAL with a long history of system analysis. He has a strong commitment to leveraging the best-fit technology and processes for the situation. His current development focuses are in AEM, Java, JavaScript, and responsive design. In his spare time he can be found reading, practicing the viola, enjoying the great outdoors, or planning for and playing any number of team-based tactical games such as Ultimate Frisbee.
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