Phil Friedman

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Tips for Successful Consulting

Tips for Successful Consultingfrom
Small Business Primer
by Phil Friedman


I read recently that the workplace and job market are shifting paradigms, from the employer/employee model to one in which work is being performed more and more on limited term contracts.

However, it seems to me that there abounds significant confusion concerning the terms “contract employee” (or “contractor”) and “consultant”. Consequently, I would like to present to you with several tips on consulting, gleaned from more than a few years earning a living as a consultant.

When marketing yourself, be specific and clear as to your skills, experience, and the work status you are seeking.


Do not confuse being a “consultant” with being a “contract worker”, notwithstanding that a consultant always works “on contract,” and never as an employee. A contract worker might be hired to handle client-defined tasks for a defined period of time, often at seasonal business peaks, with the intent of avoiding additions to permanent staff and long-term, recurring payroll. However, clients generally hire consultants for specific projects, in order to gain the benefit of a well-developed and specialized skill set and/or historical experience that might otherwise not be readily available in a permanent employee at a reasonable cost.

Beyond that, if you’re serious about building a successful consulting practice, you must avoid thinking of consulting assignments as temp-to-perm job opportunities. Consultants are generally "hired guns" who are expected to hit the ground running, get a specifically defined job done, and then move on. Wham-bam, thank you ma’am (or "sir", if you will, so as not to fall into the snare of Trumpism).

Be prepared to spend some time with a prospective client, explaining and demonstrating what you can (and possibly cannot) accomplish, if retained as a consultant.

This is always a balancing act. When you meet with a prospective client for an “initial consultation”, you need to share enough of your accumulated expertise to demonstrate competence and generate credibility. But you don’t want to end up with the client saying to him- or herself at the end of your session, “Well gee, I got the core advice I needed (for free), so there is no point in hiring and paying this consultant for an extended repeat performance.”

Of course, the more complicated and lengthy the prospective consulting gig will be, the easier it is to share teaser information with the prospective client, without giving away the entire book. And the more experienced you are, the greater the probability you will be able to recognize how to allow a prospective client see your stud cards, without showing him or her your hole cards.

Additionally, always keep in mind that, as a consultant, you are not being paid just for what you do, but rather for what you know. In other words,  you’re not collecting a fee just to accomplish “work”, but to guide your client or the project at hand onto a path of greatest time and cost efficiency. And you’re being retained to avoid false starts, dead-end excursions, and fatal pitfalls. All of which requires a firm possession of the “three E’s”   ̶   experience, experience, and… experience. One of the things I always explain to my clients is it is not that I am so much smarter than anyone else, just that I have already made just about every mistake which I am proposing to help them avoid.

Never begin a consulting assignment without a signed
Contract or Letter of Agreement.


Okay, okay. The legal eagles among you will be shaking your heads and telling me that a letter of agreement is a contract if it meets the legal definition of providing goods or services for valuable consideration. And yes, you are correct. But it's a matter of perception.  “Letter of Agreement” seems so much less adversarial than “Contract". So, my recommendation is always to use the former term as your document heading.

Understand that I do not pretend to be a lawyer, and none of this is intended to be legal advice.  But there are several provisions you will want always to include in your Letter of Agreement:

1) You will want to specify in detail the Scope of Work to be performed, the project objectives, and a projected time frame for completion of that work.

2) You will want to state clearly that any work not specifically included in the Scope of Work is specifically excluded.

3) You will want to state that subsequent changes to the terms and conditions of the Agreement can only be made by mutual agreement in writing. 

4) You will want to include a provision stating that the client’s responsibility under the Agreement includes providing you with any “tools”, information, and cooperation reasonably expected to be necessary to your performance of the detailed Scope of Work. 

5) You will absolutely need a provision that clearly specifies how, how much, and when you will be paid, including a provision to the effect you will not be required to be on hand at the client’s work site during any specific hours, except as may be reasonably dictated by the need to interface with the client or members of the client firm, and that there is nothing explicit or implied in the Agreement that requires you to perform your Scope of Work entirely at the client’s place of business. (This last item has to do with the taxing authorities’ definition of being an independent contractor versus being an employee   ̶   a distinction that makes a huge tax difference in many countries, especially the U.S.)

This list is not exhaustive, but you can find on the Internet some pretty good consulting agreement templates that can be modified to fit your specific needs. By all means, it is always preferable to consult a lawyer if a lot of money is involved, but keep in mind that no agreement or contract is worth the paper on which it is printed, if the people signing it are not of good will. My personal rule of thumb is not to stress overly much, or spend too much money in the pursuit of a completely bullet proof consulting agreement form, but instead to be careful about with whom you do business.

Go into every consulting situation with the understanding that you will almost always be viewed as an interloper by many, if not all of those members of a firm who were not involved in the decision to hire you.


The point here is to understand the workplace landscape  and to keep in mind that, as a consultant, you are an outsider.

To be sure, if you’re sufficiently friendly, unassuming, trustworthy, and transparent, you can (and will) win over many, if not most of the obstructionists.

Just don’t be surprised if you don’t. Understand that in many circumstances, you will need to be exceedingly resourceful, if you are to get your job done. And that if you’re looking for love and accolades in consulting, you’re likely looking in the wrong place.

Indeed, sometimes you will find that the better you do your job, the less you are liked (even by those who hired you in the first place). Because the better you do your job, the more it becomes evident that you were needed. And few people actually care to admit this.

Instead, be prepared to settle for being recognized, albeit grudgingly, as professionally competent, as well as for delivering high value in services rendered for payment received. Always remind yourself that your core goal is to be paid for your services, not to be loved for what you do -- however much that might be icing on the cake.

Maintain your professional objectivity and always render your best considered opinions and advice, irrespective of whether you believe that such will, or will not gain you a longer period of retention.


If you work long enough as a consultant, you will eventually be faced with the temptation to tell someone what they want to hear, or not tell them something that they should hear, in order to keep your client happy, at least temporarily. 

When that happens (which it will) remind yourself that compromising your professional integrity is not a business model for stable, long-term success.

As a consultant, your stock in trade is to speak out honestly and candidly, even if confidentially. Your client probably has enough toadies around to fill a conference room, so he or she is not looking for yet another acolyte. He or she is looking for experienced independent third-party opinion and judgment. Withholding that for the sake of possibly gaining a tenure extension or a permanent transition to being an employee will rarely turn out as you might want it to. If you cannot live with that, choose some other path than that of becoming a consultant.

̶   Phil Friedman

Author's notes:  This post is a brief excerpt from a soon-to-be-published eBook entitled "Ten Golden Rules for Becoming a Successful Consultant". For a copy of the eBook, when it becomes available, email, with "Consulting eBook" on the subject line.

If you'd  like to receive notifications of my writings on a regular basis, click the [FOLLOW] button on my beBee profile. As a writer-friend of mine says, you can always change your mind later.

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f you are interested in yachts or are allied with the yacht building industry,  or for that matter, operating a small business in another sector, you should consider joining my beBee Hive, 

THE PORT ROYAL GROUP for Yacht Builders, Buyers and Owners,

where you will find experienced industry professionals discussing a wide range of topics. The ongoing conversation is always interesting, informative, and 100% industry insider.

To read some of my other business-related writing, see:

"Selling Bull Chips in a Bag"

"5 Key Outsourcing Tips for Small Businesses"

"Maximizing Throughput on Fixed Assets and Overheads"

About me, Phil Friedman:  I have spent much of my adult working life as a technical and business consultant in the marine industry. With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. In a previous life, I taught logic and philosophy at university.

The (optional-to-read) pitch: As a professional writer, editor, university educator, and speaker, with more than 1,000 print and digital publications, I've recently launched an online program for enhancing your expository writing: learn2engage — With Confidence. My mission is to help writers and would-be writers improve the clarity of their thought and writing, master the logic of discussion, and deal confidently with criticism and disagreement.


To schedule an appointment for a free 1/2-hour consult email:

Text Copyright © 2016-2017 by Phil Friedman — All Rights Reserved
Images Credits:  Stuart Miles,



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Phil Friedman

4 years ago #11

Thanks, Kev. I think it should be a BeeZers project to find some of the early long-posts and feature them in the hive.

Phil Friedman

4 years ago #10

Thanks, Don, for the link. It's a great video, makes an important point. I would say that one should consider some spec or reduced-rate work ONLY if one does not have a sufficient portfolio of past work to demonstrate what one can deliver. Once you have such a portfolio (and recommendations -- which are so important), there is absolutely no need to do spec work, and the request for same should be a red flag to doing business with the firm in question. When I was managing an engineering firm several years ago on consulting contract, the Navy put out a full RFP in connection with its troop ship-to-shore combat ferrying program. (The SSC-1 program). After dozens of firms put together proposals at a cost in the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars to the "bidders", the Navy changed its mind, modified the requirements, and threw out all of the proposals. Put several firms out of business. The others refused to bid again. The key in submitting consulting proposals is to include sufficient teaser information to demonstrate that you know what you're talking about, but not so much as to enable the potential client to take your plan to a "cheaper" source for execution. For among other problems with that, make no mistake, you will own the failure, whether or not you got paid for the work. Cheers!

don kerr

4 years ago #9

Phil Friedman More good advice and now it's time to haul out this video on speculative work which is always tossed out to the consultant as 'opportunity'!

Kevin Pashuk

4 years ago #8

It's always good to resurrect the gems Phil... There are so many producer posts now, that I know I miss some great ones.

Phil Friedman

4 years ago #7

In the spirit of a suggestion by Gert Scholtz, here is my redux for the day in the area of small business. Cheers to all!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #6

Thank you, Elizabeth, for reading and commenting... and for the kind words. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #5

@ Irene Hackett - to continue our discussion, Irene, I agree, as well, that we are in the midst of a growing transition away from the historical model of long-term, full-time employment toward one of limited-term contractual employment. However, I think it a mistake to conflate the situation in respect of upper-level execs cast out of FT employment with that of middle and lower level people joining the ranks of unemployed. Highly paid top level execs often have the option of joining the ranks of business owners and entrepreneurs (not the same thing, BTW) whereas middle and lower level people will be seeking to reinvent themselves as consultants and contract workers. I submit that it is important to recognize and understand the differences and nuances. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #4

Thank you, Fatima, for the kind words, and for reading and taking the time to comment. Cheers!

🐝 Fatima G. Williams

5 years ago #3

@Phil Friedman Thank you for these amazing tips on Successful Consulting. Your Knowledge, experience and the way you articulate your ideas enriches my mind.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #2

Thanks Chris, for the kind words, and for reading and taking the time to comment. Cheers!

Chris Spurvey

5 years ago #1

Excellent article Phil Friedman.

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