Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

Good Consultants vs Bad Consultants

Bad consultants make money off their customers, good consultants make money for their customers. That’s it. That’s the whole trick.

If you make money for your customers you can basically write your own ticket (within reason, but reason translates into ‘more than you can spend reasonably’). Bad consultants typically enter a job at some hourly rate, pull in their buddies (also at hourly rates), start ordering hardware with kick-backs (unknown to the customer) and leave right around delivery time (or are kicked out) because what they deliver is either not cost effective or simply does not work. And then usually someone more experienced gets called in to fix the mess.

This is bad for everybody in the consultancy business. It gives us all a bad name and it makes it look as if consultants are vampires that will suck their customers dry until there is no life left in them and then they move on to the next victim. But that’s really not what consultancy is all about, that’s a separate brach of consultancy called ‘scamsultancy’. I’ve seen enough of these cats in operation to know that it must be a lucrative business but I personally can’t stand it. Real consultants make money for their customers.

You can stop reading here if you don’t feel the above addresses you, but on the off chance that it does, keep reading:

If you don’t make money for your customer but you make money off your customer then you’re doing it totally, completely and utterly wrong. Your model is flawed, your reputation will suffer and in the end both you and your customer will be behind in the game. I’ve seen companies wrecked by this attitude and it is very sad whenever people lose their jobs because some joker spent the budget on unnecessary hardware, on losing IT strategies, on giving advice that cost the company money (directly or indirectly) or that derailed the company in such a way that their competitors could take away their customers or their entire market. Please stop doing this, for the sake of your employers, their employees and shareholders and ultimately yourself.

It is all a matter of speed. Making money off a customer without giving much value (or negative value) in return can seem like a good game to be in for so called IT specialists (or growth hackers) or any one of a hundred different names these people go by. It’s a huge temptation. Clueless customer, nearly unlimited budget, what could possibly go wrong?

But that’s short term thinking, you’ll make some money inititally and then:

  • you may end up getting sued

  • you may end up getting charged for fraud (if you take money from suppliers of hardware that you ordered that was not needed for the job, in general, avoid that situation entirely, never take money (‘kickbacks’) from suppliers when working in a consultancy role, that’s not where you should be making your money, you should be trying to save your customer money, which is the same as making money for them).

  • your reputation will be in the toilet after a few of these jobs (word gets around and the IT world is small enough that this will eventually result in you not being able to get another job)

  • your customers may go bankrupt, which hurts employees and shareholders (and customers!) of the companies you pluck

  • someone will end up having to clean your mess

  • you will (in the end) make much less money for yourself

Of course the company also has a role in all this, they hired you without doing due-diligence on whether or not you are capable and have a good reputation. But if you start seeing your customers as partners rather than as victims then you will be able to make much more money in the longer term. So if money is your motivation then do yourself a favor and align your customers interests with your own. Make them money and save them money, you’ll be happier, your reputation will steadily climb and you’ll be doing better financially.

Once you get on that train the problem becomes to not adjust your lifestyle too much and to realize that one of the reasons why you can charge that much is also because you will leave when the job is done. So no job security for you, just your skills and reputation, both of which you’ll have to protect zealously. Keeping your skills up can be hard work all by itself (and that’s not typically billable time either), your reputation is entirely up to you. The temptation to make money off your customer is the biggest one for screw-ups as far as I can see.

And when all that is done there is taxes and savings. So it’s not as if you get to save a million or more every year in most countries but if you’re smart about it and don’t waste your money on stuff you don’t need and a lifestyle then you’re going to look pretty good in a very few years of reasonably hard work (in so far as anything involving just a keyboard, a screen and your head is ‘hard work’).