Consultants Never Sleep (Sort of…)

In this day of global business, complex issues, and sudden change, there is no longer such a creature as a “typical work day” for your clients. That means that there shouldn’t be one for you, either. Here are some tips to make even the solo practitioner a more responsive resource.

  • Use a 24-hour voice mail system for your business line that does not ring in your home. In other words, when your line is forwarded, the message is taken onto an automated system without awakening you in the middle of the night. This is especially useful for overseas contacts, particularly in Asia and Australia. This way you can provide 24-hour message service and respond first thing in the morning when you access your system.
  • Place your fax in a place where you can’t hear it (or shut off the ringer at night) and encourage 24-hour fax communication. (This also avoids being disturbed by the “junk faxes” that have become all too common.) DO NOT combine your phone and fax lines, no matter how economical it seems. The recording that says “leave a message or begin sending your fax at the beep” is the mark of an amateur. Invest in dedicated lines. And do not shut off your fax at night, because it’s the middle of the day for a lot of people.
  • Give key clients your home number and encourage them to use it. Two or three times a year I’ll get a call from an executive with a burning issue in the evening or on the weekend. The mild inconvenience is more than compensated by the invaluable service you’re providing for your client. This availability buys you a lot of repeat business. (Don’t put your home number on your business card, because that indicates that everyone has access to it rather than a few special clients.)
  • Check your e-mail at least once as late in the evening as you’re comfortable doing so. Respond at that moment to anything urgent or time-sensitive. Your reply will be on the other person’s system when they arrive (or before they depart, depending on where they reside). Don’t worry that your sending time will appear on the reply—they’ll be impressed that you’re working late and doing so for them.
  • Get a heavy-duty postage scale, priority mail labels, a rate chart (and, obviously, a postage meter) and anything else you need to avoid the post office and be able to mail on holidays or weekends. If in doubt, FedEx it (and I mean, use that particular courier, which is by far the best). Speed will always win the day when the quality is a tie (or even just close).
  • Access your phone messages and e-mail several times a day. If you’re absolutely too immersed in client work to do so, then hire someone to do it for you during that period. I recently called several consultants to explore my need for subcontractors, and four of them never even called me back! When I can’t get through to a particular product or service provider, guess what I do? I go elsewhere, because my time is valuable. Your clients and prospects feel the same way.
  • Finally, blur the line between your private and professional life. To compensate for some of the extra hours, take time for yourself in the middle of the afternoon, or take a Monday off. Catch up on your recreational reading. Walk the dog, go for a drive, pursue your hobbies. You don’t have a personal life and a professional life. You have a life, period. Get good at it.