It goes without saying that just about any product you buy will come with some degree of guarantee as to its quality. The same is also true of most services.
But how can you possibly guarantee your consulting services, when your clients’ outcomes depend as much upon their own part in the relationship as on yours?
The role of a consultant can be likened to that of a physician. When you go to a doctor, the consultation is paid for, by you, your healthcare insurer, or your public health program (depending on which country you live in). Your doctor will not however, have to provide a refund if she identifies a condition which later remains uncured.
Similarly, when you are hired for your consulting skills, the outcomes of your efforts tend to lie in your clients’ hands. Unlike those in the medical profession though, you should probably guarantee your consulting services, at least with respect to their quality, especially in the formative years of your new business.
Guarantee Your Way to Good Repute
Contrary to what some may believe, the offer of a guarantee sends a signal that you are confident in your abilities to diagnose and recommend effective solutions to your client’s problem. When you promise to waive fees in the event of client-dissatisfaction, or to continue working at no extra charge until satisfaction is achieved, you are telling your client she has nothing to lose by engaging you.
Such a guarantee can assuage skepticism amongst consulting leads, especially as testimonials will be thin on the ground until you have been consulting for a couple of years. In these early days, to guarantee your consulting services is to unburden clients of risk, compelling them to engage you and ultimately, to help establish your professional reputation.
Golden Rules of Consulting Guarantees
Of course, this begs the obvious question: what can you do about the risk you shoulder when you guarantee your consulting services? It’s actually not such a formidable prospect, as long as you follow a few golden rules:
1) Be explicit in detailing your role in the client’s project, setting out in writing what you consider to be your responsibilities and which lie in the client’s hands. Don’t commence any work until your client has agreed the distribution of tasks and responsibilities.
2) Clearly document what is covered by your guarantee, which ideally should relate mainly to the diagnosis of problems and the recommendations you provide. Unless you are truly confident that you can assure successful implementation, refrain from guaranteeing quantified cost savings or performance-improvement measures.
3) Safeguard your own interests, and make sure that honouring your guarantee will not cost you dearly. Throughout the time you work with the client, pause frequently and ask her to evaluate the contribution you are making. If at any point, the client expresses dissatisfaction, you can make adjustments to resolve issues and increase perceived value.
4) Cut your losses early. If it becomes clear that you are simply unable to deliver the value expected by the client, you can terminate the consulting relationship and minimise your losses. Naturally you will need to comply with your guarantee of returned fees (or of charging no fees).
However it’s better to swallow that pill sooner rather than later, when you’ve run up huge marginal and opportunity costs by working on a project which will not pay you. In reality though, frequent client evaluations should prevent such a situation from arising, since you’ll be able to refine your approach as the project proceeds.
The Golden Rules Are Your Guarantee
From my own experience and that of many other consulting professionals, adherence to the golden rules above will keep the need for free work or refunds from ever arising. At the same time, the client-reassurance afforded by your consulting service guarantee will help you win the business you need to get your fledgling business off the ground.