The most important work I do as a consultant is to help my clients with strategies in communications, business systems and even creative output. A lot of very cool tools and initiatives come from the work and many of these, my company, The A Group, gets to produce. Recently during an interview, I was asked: “in your consulting work, what are the red flags your deal is in trouble?” It’s not a hard question to answer, but it’s a painful place to be. Whether you’re a consultant, a freelancer, an employee or a partner, the following red flags could mean your deal is in jeopardy:
- Communication Blackout. Your emails, phone calls, text messages and even Twitter direct messages are not being answered in a timely matter or not at all. When people “go under” often means there’s trouble ahead. You better figure out what’s causing it before the deal is completely derailed.
- Justification Inquisition. There’s a healthy amount of information your client needs about what you’re doing, especially if you’re charging them by the hour; however, when you hear something like “I need everything you’re doing for us documented,” brace yourself. Usually this comes about not because your client wants to send you a thank you note for all the hours you’re working on his projects. Trust has been lost and your work is under scrutiny.
- Internal Teamer. Someone figures out they can replace you with an internal position for less than what you cost. Even though it hurts being replaced, sometimes that’s the best thing for your client. A lot of times it’s a bad move for them. They might get cheaper labor but they often discount the true overhead cost of a new hire and the lack of expertise and objectivity they bring to the job. Play nice. I’ve seen clients do a 180 once they realize that the internal position was a bad idea. If you don’t burn bridges, then they’ll come back to you.
- More for Less. Times are tough, so now you’re asked to lower your fees and increase your output, because, well, times are tough. If your margins are healthy and you want to make concessions, that’s an acceptable compromise, but the moment you devalue your work to hold on to a demanding client and acquiesce to an unreasonable request, you have embarked into a non-returnable trip. Your client will depreciate your work while you risk losing money in hopes you can return to a profitable position sometime soon. But you never will.
In your experience what other red flags have you seen before a relationship went bad?