Perhaps Minnesota politician Al Franken’s character on Saturday Night Live said it best when Stuart Smalley declared “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” A good consultant is not just measured by their productivity, but by their professionalism and personality as well. Building a rapport with decision makers at clients is what gets return business, along with the results of course. Many developers are good enough and smart enough, but to be a good consultant, people should like you too!
To be a well rounded consultant, an individual should have the people skills necessary to integrate into all facets of the team he or she is joining. This is even more important if this consultant is expected to lead the team and/or teach those he or she is working with. In this context, people skills means more than just being able to look somebody in the eye while talking to them or not curling up into a ball, sucking a thumb when somebody attractive speaks to you. We need to be, to borrow a phrase from a co-worker, socially capable geeks! You want to get to know people on a personal level, it isn’t just business. Get coffee with clients when you can. Go to lunch with people you are working with or, even better, those you are working FOR. So much of the consulting business these days is built upon relationships. When sales critters get wind of a project somewhere, the first order of business is finding somebody on staff who knows the people in charge of that project. They want to leverage a relationship to first get on the radar and to later pitch their story. Knowing somebody, not just working for them, is very important.
Like me + remember me = return business
Having the personality to be memorable goes a long way in todays market. When a decision maker decides to enlist the help of a consultant, they will often seek out folks they have worked with before. If you did great work, but nothing that was exceptional enough to be MEMORABLE work, chances are you will be forgotten. However, if you had the personality that was memorable and/or forged a relationship with this person, then chances are you will be in the forefront of their mind and get the call. Being a rock star at the keyboard isn’t always enough. Sometimes, the fact that you are a rock star can even go unnoticed if all you do is hide in the corner writing code and reading developer forums while you eat lunch. In today’s agile team environments, its very hard for a manager to keep tabs on which of the developers is keeping the project on track. Finding ways to stand out from the crowd, in a positive light of course, becomes essential to obtaining return business.
In summation, if you call yourself a consultant and can’t look at your email address book, cell phone contacts or facebook friends and find at least a couple people from each client you have worked at in the past, you probably aren’t doing your best. You haven’t forged those relationships that are of the utmost importance in today’s business climate. Unless you write the greatest code in the world (in the eyes of your client, not your own opinion) or solved a monumental problem, you probably aren’t going to be remembered. Start getting involved with your client and the people at the client personally, it’ll pay dividends down the road!