Last week we addressed some considerations for organizations when working with consultants. This week we turn the tables and take a look at 5 things that an organization should look for and expect from consultants to help build sustainable working relationships.
- Professionalism. The creative temperament is often stereotyped as difficult and flighty, but you should expect — even demand — very different behavior from your design or marketing consultant. Consultants should be expected to meet deadlines, listen to feedback and keep an open channel about availability. There should be no temper tantrums, but you should not expect your consultant to be merely an order-taker, either. Your interactions should be marked by a thoughtful exchange of ideas on both sides and end with a summary of next steps so that everyone knows what to expect moving forward.
- They Should Bring a Diversity of Knowledge and Fresh Insight to the Work. Their insight should foster productive discussion about key topics and core elements of the project. While the client is the expert on the subject matter, the design or marketing consultant is an expert on delivery methods.Your consultant will bring a wealth of knowledge and isight to your subject matter and will suggest new approaches for getting your content in front of more people and using it to better achieve the organization’s mission. They may suggest new ways of thinking about your content to help your organization better harness the power of its communications and achieve its goals with greater efficiency.
- A Stable Relationship Governed by a Reasonable and Legally Binding Contract. Working with a marketing or design consultant is first and foremost a business transaction. The consultant may strongly support your organization’s mission, but you must remember that the consultant is not a volunteer and their livelihood depends on the concrete fruits of their labors. As such, your business relationship should be governed by a reasonable and legally binding contract. A contract will lay out exactly what work is to be done and the cost for the stated work. Importantly, a contract will also lay out what should be done if things don’t go according to plan — late payments, missed deadlines, unsatisfactory work, and even how to terminate the arrangement if necessary. A good contract will help to manage the expectations of all parties and govern the legalities of your working relationship.
- Deliverables. As an extension of the previous point, the scope of the project should be as clear as possible before beginning. A good contract will outline the scope of work and list exactly which deliverables are included and when they should be completed. When work product is required that has not been included in the contract, clients should expect to compensate the consultant for the added work. The contract will often state how out-of-scope work will be handled and this is an important detail to understand because it can be hard for a consultant to know exactly where a particular project may lead — especially when working with a new client or when developing a new product for a new or existing client.
- They’re In for the Long Haul. A design or marketing consultant should offer a reasonable sense of permanence in their practice. This is important because you don’t want to have to start over with a new consultant for every new project — that is an unsustainable practice. It may be beneficial to have a few consultants in your regular rotation, but organizations benefit from solid, long-lasting relationships with their consultants. This helps you to maintain your visual brand and corporate voice cost-effectively and with time-efficiency. It is helpful to know the consultant’s track record on this front — how long have they been in business, and how long have some of their client relationships been going on? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you gauge whether your prospective consultant is really in it for the long haul or not.
Productive vendor relationships are an important factor in building sustainable practices. Paying attention to these matters should help you start to recognize the difference between productive relationships and unproductive relationships from the beginning.