Being the best consultant you can be

Mar 05, 2018

All of us in the A/E/P business are consultants. Sure, we are either engineers or architects or planners or surveyors or designers – but we are also consultants.

I have been studying consulting firms and consultants for nearly 38 years now. I am a consultant myself – one with a $500-per-hour billing rate. My experience tells me that to be the most effective at what we do – the BEST we can be – there are certain unwritten “rules” we have to follow. Some of these include:

  1. You have to read people quickly and accurately. No quality will be more helpful to you as a consultant than being able to size-up people quickly. That means you will have to be a keen student of verbal language as well as non-verbal cues such as body language. How are people responding to you? This is one place where it may pay to stereotype and generalize.
  2. You have to manage expectations early in the selling process. If the client’s schedule is completely unrealistic – or the budget way too low – it’s best to confront these things very early on. That way you won’t be wasting any time and they won’t be wasting yours. And if you can’t get the client to be realistic with their expectations, it’s best to skip the job because otherwise they won’t be happy.
  3. You have to be honest without alienating people. This takes tact which is the hallmark of a good consultant. No tact and you’ll turn off your audience. They won’t listen to you and you won’t be effective. This is a big issue for a lot of people in this businesses – a lack of tact.
  4. You have to do what you say you will, period. Good consultants don’t make excuses. They do finish the job, however. They also do all the little things they say they will do along the way. Research something if they say they will. Call back someone when they say they will. Hit all project deadlines when they say they will. This is so crucial! It builds credibility with the client AND sets an example for those you work with. It’s a mandate as far as I am concerned. No exceptions, no matter what.
  5. You have to be willing to offer some free advice/help. Anyone who thinks you are going to get paid for every single little thing is just dead wrong. You have to give a little – especially to your BEST clients – not just your newest ones. Being helpful and not acting selfish or short-sighted are hallmarks of being a really great consultant.
  6. You have to have the highest quality standards, even for things that “don’t matter.” You want to be the best? You want happy clients? Everything matters. Every detail has to be done right. This has to be demonstrated every day to all the rest of the people in the firm so they get the idea, too. Anything less than “excellent” is not excellent.
  7. You have to know when you can and should walk away from a client. Not all clients are good. The ones you can’t be successful serving – because they are too cheap, have unrealistic expectations, or don’t treat you with respect – should be avoided. A hallmark of the best is knowing when to just say “ no” to a bad client.

There’s more – but I’m out of time. I have to go serve some clients!

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.