Is Your Client Taking Advantage of You?

There is a difference between a paying client and a strategic partner.

A paying client is someone who will sign on the dotted line and hire you to deliver your coaching or consulting services. 

A strategic partner is all together different. A strategic partner is peer who value all that you bring to the table and leverage your strengths to their fullest extent. 

Knowing the difference will dramatically change your impact, earning potential and long-term satisfaction. 

If we just wanted a paycheck, we'd stay employees. But we chose the path of consulting and coaching business ownership in part because of the control over our time and in part because we wanted to add significance to our success.

Related: How To Position Yourself as a Peer (and Stay Out of the Dreaded "Pair-Of-Hands" Trap)

Here's a few reasons to be on the lookout for as to why a client might hire you and pay you well while having zero intention of allowing you to influence them:

1. They want an "outside point of view" to bolster a decision they already had made

In many cases, a client already knows what they want to do but they have a hard time convincing others. This is the time they might hire a consultant so that they can have the consultant's "expert point of view" to further their own decision.

I had a client who hired me to help with an organization design project to deal with the unequal spans of control among the senior executives. She saw it and so did everyone else. My assessment was a way to help her influence the change that she saw but the CEO didn't care about. So after the team invested a ton of time redesigning the organization to balance spans of control, within literally a month it returned to exactly the way it was, with one leader having almost all of the lines of business.

2. They want you to do their performance management work for them

Many coaches are brought in to help turn around the performance of a leader who is extremely questionable and doesn't show a lot of teachability. As coaches, we know that this is not the best candidate for coaching. But the leaders will still hire us and pay us well because they have a hard time holding their own direct reports accountable and using their own performance management processes. So we're brought in. 

3. They need to satisfy the directive of a board to hire a consultant or coach

Many boards will ask a new CEO to hire a consultant to get an objective view of the organization and help that CEO prioritize their efforts. Or a board might ask for a consultant during times of major transition or extreme pressure. The hard thing is that the board wants the consultant and the CEO doesn't. They hire you to "check the box" for the board or to give themselves time to figure out what they want to do irregardless of what you might uncover. 

One of my worst consulting assignments was when I was hired by a holding company to help address the employee engagement challenges of their daughter company. The daughter company had extremely harsh and many times unethical people practices that were designed to maximize profit and executive bonuses at the expense of the employee's lives. When the feedback was presented to the daughter company leadership, they didn't care. They cancelled the action planning session. But I was hired by the parent company who did care. And wound up removing almost every single one of the senior leaders of the daughter company.

4. They want the illusion of change without having do the hard work of change

At the end of the day, consultants and coaches are change agents. We bring to the surface what myths, stories, leadership and operating practices need to matured in order to match the development stage of the leader and company.

Which many clients don't want to do. They may believe what got them here won't get them there but they trust and like what got them here. So they hire you to make themselves feel like they are open to change while resisting what you suggest to create the change.

The Bottom Line

As personally powerful consultants and coaches who want to make money and a difference, we have to make sure our money fears don't get in the way of assessing future clients and our long-term potential with them.

Related: 10 Questions to Determine if a Client is Worthy of You

When contracting for work with a potential client, make the evaluation process a two-way street. It's not just about how well you put a proposal together with compelling options and value-driven fees. It's almost about the conditions a client will create in order for you to your best work. 

Ask yourself when meeting a future client three things:

  • Is my expertise RELEVANT - meaning am I the right person for the needs that this client has? 
  • Is my expertise TIMELY - meaning that the client is ready to invest their time and energies towards creating the change that they say that they want?
  • Am I the right FIT - meaning that my stance on what it takes to create growth and change aligns with my clients and they will allow me to make a difference with them?

Without these things in place, you may land the work but lose your happiness and self-confidence in the process. 

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Behind-the-scene secrets from our biggest consulting successes, expert interviews, mini execution plans, actionable tips, invites to live webinars and SO MUCH MORE, delivered to your inbox for a weekly dose of consulting inspiration!