Most readers of Civil + Structural Engineer are consultants. Sure, we are engineers or surveyors or designers — but, we are also consultants.
Besides being the publisher of this magazine, I am also a consultant and have been studying consulting firms and consultants for nearly 38 years. My experience tells me that to be the most effective at what we do — the best consultants we can be — we must do certain things, including the following:
Read people quickly and accurately — No quality will be more helpful to you as a consultant than being able to size up people quickly. That means you will have to be a keen student of verbal communication as well as non-verbal cues such as body language. How are people responding to you?
Manage expectations early in the selling process — If the client’s schedule is completely unrealistic — or budget way too low — it’s best to confront these things very early on. That way you won’t be wasting their time and they won’t be wasting yours. And if you can’t get those expectations realistic, it is best to skip the job because otherwise you’ll have an unhappy client.
Be honest without alienating — This takes tact, which is the hallmark of a good consultant. Be tactless and you’ll turn off your audience. They won’t listen to you and you won’t be effective. A lack of tact is a big issue for a lot of engineers and other technical people.
Do what you say you will, period — Good consultants don’t make excuses, they finish the job. They also do all the little things they say they will along the way such as research something if they say they will; call back someone when they say they will; hit all project deadlines when they say they will. This is so crucial! It builds credibility with the client and sets an example for others you work with. It’s a mandate as far as I am concerned — no exceptions, no matter what.
Be willing to offer some free advice/help — Anyone who thinks you are going to get paid for every single little thing is just dead wrong. You have to give a little, especially to your best clients, not just your newest ones. Being helpful and not acting selfish or shortsighted are hallmarks of being a really great consultant.
Maintain the highest quality standards, even for things that “don’t matter” — You want to be the best? You want happy clients? Everything matters. Every detail has to be done right. This has to be demonstrated every day to all the rest of the people in the firm so they get the idea, too. Anything less than “excellent” is “not excellent.”
Know when you can and should walk away from a client — Not all clients are good. The ones you can’t be successful serving — because they are too cheap, have unrealistic expectations, or don’t treat you with respect — should be avoided. A hallmark of the best consultants is knowing when to just say “no” to a bad client.
There’s more, but I’m out of time. Enjoy the April issue of Civil + Structural Engineer magazine!
Mark C. Zweig