The Successful Consulting Series is a set of articles that are being written to both, help decisions on joining the consulting field and also, help existing consultants in their professional development initiatives. Please visit, “Successful Consulting Series” for a full listing of each part in this series.
Consulting is a lot like Christmas. You get to unwrap a new SQL Server environment and find out what all fun stuff awaits inside of it. But wait, there’s another present under the tree, a new client comes with it! Some may think I’m crazy but I like that part of the job too. I am exposed all the time to new clients, and new glimpses of how a new set of people work together (or don’t). I get to see a new business and the dynamics of the people who work there. I have some clients who are great and I consider great friends now. I also have worked with plenty of, well let’s just say more challenging clients. If you go into each new client prepared for both ends of the spectrum, which will probably help your sanity.
Not all clients are an Etch A Sketch
Everyone is different and they all work differently. When you work full time at corporate gig, you have all the time in the world to figure out that Betty in accounting is close talker and Bob from payroll is a pushover when you mention his favorite sports team. When you are a consultant you are more than likely going to be on a quicker timeframe to get the job done so don’t have time for that kind of people reconnaissance work. I still do some though but at a very quick clip. I am often fairly quiet when I first get in with a new client. I am trying to do more listening than talking initially. Not only do I listen to the technical details but also trying to pick up on how people interact and work together. I am trying to size up the people involved so I can better interact with them. I can’t cookie cutter how I interact with people. I have to be flexible in order to work with people in the way that best gets the job done.
There are times when I am pulled into hostile environments. Projects that have been derailed or disaster situations and pressure is on the whole team. Make sure you are prepared for non-friendly environments. In these situations I typically will make sure I have my game face on and sense of humor. I will make sure to turn the hugely smart aleck side of my sense of humor off though temporarily, you don’t want to be that guy/gal who makes a bad situation worse. I try to keep calm, focused and make sure to stay professional and poised. I also try to understand where these people are coming from and the situation and just always come from the I’m-here-to-help-you angle.
Curse you consultant!
A good DBA will take the role of protector of data very seriously and rule with an iron fist. When you are the consultant though it can be extremely frustrating that you can’t do that many times. A client could pay you good money for your opinion on best practices but then turn around and tell you to do the exact opposite. It happens more times than I ever imagined it would, enough so that I have a special color coding system for emails in those situations. I have seen situations where clients will ask for a new consultant to work with them because they were too argumentative and inflexible even if they were right in recommendations. Don’t be a pushover though, make your opinions known. Keep fighting the good fight! Push back if you see the iceberg in the distance. If they still aren’t listening to reason, get it in writing and save it. When they are floating in the icy water, you have proof that you told them the iceberg was coming while you help them into your life boat.
See I told you there was an iceberg!
When you are a consultant you have to make sure you are doing right by your client at all times. Whether you have one client or 100, consulting is very customer service driven. That means a lot of interaction with people. You will get everything that comes with it too like the politics and corporate culture. Some places run on auto-pilot because “it’s just always been that way”. Other places are very wild wild west and will implement anything shiny. You never know what you are going to get. There are egos and baggage and all kinds of other fun stuff. It may not be rainbows and gumdrops all the time but no job ever is and at the end of the day I still love it. Even the most difficult clients are really just lessons to be learned. And when you are done on the extremely bad days, there is always beer.