“Can you make this small change to our website?” How many times have you heard that from a client or some variation and thought, “if they only knew what it took to make that ‘small change’ to their site” or “I wish they could understand the impact of doing what they’re asking”?
Probably more times than you’d care to count.
I find most of us will fit into one of two roles when we’re asked by clients to make changes or updates – a technician or a consultant.
What’s the difference?
Let’s start with being a technician.
Most of us started here. We are technically intelligent people (aka nerds! Don’t be ashamed of that word!) who understand the mechanics of how websites are built, function, and fixed.
This is why people hire us and, hopefully, pay us good money to build and/or care for their websites, right?
The problem is you can quickly find yourself pigeon-holed as “the computer person” who updates the client’s site. This means that client’s see you as nothing more than someone who knows how to do tasks they either don’t know how to do or don’t have the time to do themselves.
You may be asking, “but, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that the reason we stay in business?”
There’s nothing wrong with that if you’re content to be bossed around by people who don’t understand the technology nearly as well as you do and will hire someone else in your place that will do what they ask for cheaper.
Congratulations.You’ve just become a commodity.
However, I’m willing to bet most of you would like to elevate your status in the minds of your clients and form long term relationships that generate revenue month over month because you’re just so darn valuable.
If that’s you, keep reading.
If it’s not, the people who will keep reading might want to hire you to work for them because their businesses are likely going to be growing.
Now that we’ve settled that, let’s talk about how to become a consultant for your clients instead of staying a technician.
How to become a consultant
This is where shift happens (see what I did there?!).
Becoming a consultant isn’t about wearing suits, taking clients to lunch, or fancy 25-page retainers. Although, who doesn’t like a free lunch?! This is about becoming more than your list of skills.
This is about becoming someone whose insight, advice, and thoughts are sought after because they add value to the organization.
While there are certainly giant listicles and lengthy books you can read about being a consultant (some are actually helpful), I will share with you what I’ve learned and what has been working for me.
Push back… respectfully
There will be times to just say, “yes, Mr. or Mrs. Client” and do what you’ve been asked, but you need to start breaking yourself from that habit.
Your first question shouldn’t be “when do you need this done?”, it should be closer to “what problem is this solving?”
It will feel awkward at first. Like taking a shower with your socks on.
But, you’ll eventually find your voice and develop your style that allows you to question your client’s request with respect.
Technicians are reactive. Something breaks. They fix it.
Consultants are proactive. They see problems coming before they are problems and suggest a solution to prevent them.
Aside from saving your client from losing money caused by downtime, inefficiencies, or a pagerank thumping from Google because their algorithm changed for the millionth time, there are psychological benefits. Proactively suggesting solutions shows you are invested in their business – not just there to collect a check. You’ll start to show them that you are a valuable part of their team. You’ll also help your business because new projects mean additional revenue is coming in.
While I don’t have space to debate the value of project-based versus retainer-based work, I would recommend you think about a middle ground – a series of projects that function like a retainer.
Get to know their real challenges
Trying to help someone without a deep knowledge of what their real challenges are will ultimately come back to bite you.
If your suggested solutions are only solutions for symptoms and not for the core illness, you can quickly find yourself out of clients, because your solutions are generating a return-on-investment (ROI) and you start to seem more like an expense than an investment.
Most clients do not like having 20 different vendors to go to for external services. So, why not add value by giving them fewer people to go to for their needs?
I’m not advocating that you offer every service under the sun. That rarely works out well. Instead, you should be keenly aware of, if not friendly with, other agencies or freelancers who can fill in the gaps. That way you not only provide services to your client, but you also become a kind of concierge that they can go to trust for great recommendations.
Heck, even offer to coordinate those other teams on behalf of your client. They DO NOT need or want one more thing to do!
For example, we know that AMP is becoming more and more important to the success of websites.If you’re a technician, you’ll learn everything about it and how to implement it for your clients. And that’s great, if you have the time.
However, if you’re trying to grow your business, then you likely don’t have that kind of time. So, what do you do? What I’m doing is learning as much as I can to have a proper understanding of it and why it’s so important so that I can intelligently consult my current and future clients on it and why they should have it on their sites.
Then, my agency, The PHNX21creative Agency, will be hiring the team over at AMP for WP to do the implementation. I recently spoke with their CEO, Ahmed Kaludi, and their services are reasonably priced and they are experts in this technology. Having the leading AMP plugin that connects with the Automattic AMP plugin doesn’t hurt either.
Conclusion: Act like a partner
This sums up the heart of the previous points.
In life and in business, we teach people how to treat us.
So, teach people how to treat you like a partner in their business by becoming a consultant for your clients. It won’t happen overnight and, frankly, it’s harder to be a consultant than it is to be a technician. But, if you want to charge more for your services (who doesn’t?!) and create a steady stream of revenue with current clients and be treated better, than this is the path you want to walk.
It’ll pay off.