Don't Become A Courier Consultant

Don't fall into this trap.

A question from a reader:

"Hi Danilo. I'm currently delivering an implementation project, where I partnered up with another small consultancy. We're making progress, but for the first time I found myself in a strange situation where I'm often just taking notes in meetings and coordinating activities with other consultants. I feel like I could be much more helpful to the client than this. Advice?"

There's a name for this: You've become a courier consultant.

A courier consultant is a consultant who takes messages or information from one person or place to another. From what I understood, in your case you're doing the bridge between the client and the other consultants who are working on the project. That's not good.

The reason why you don't want to become a courier consultant is simple: you are not adding value.

We consultants spend a lot of time and energy cultivating specific expertise. Putting an expert to take notes means one of two things are true: (1) the client is overpaying for the work, or (2) you are not charging what you're worth. None of these end well.

How do you know if you've become a courier? If you:

  • Do mostly administrative work: Take notes, set up calls for others, etc.
  • Guess instead of advise: "I'm not the expert on this topic, but..."
  • Need permission to advise: "I will have to ask [person] what he thinks..."

If any of these are frequently happening, chances are you have become an unofficial project manager. You need to fix this since it's better and cheaper for the client to get a proper one.

It happens, and it happened to me many times - I have been a courier in a recent engagement. We're in and out of meetings, documenting ideas, processes, and priorities to be tackled. When you hit pause and look at a distance, you see you have become part of the problem.

John Kim suggests consultants to ask themselves the following 3 questions:

  1. Are you breaking down problems? (Did you help simplify and clarify the problem?  Did you turn messy data into insights?)
  2. Are you helping the client make tough decisions? (Can you look back on your week’s work and identify how you helped the client decide?)
  3. Are you helping to create change? (Did you help "move the ball" this week? If this were a football game, did you get a first-down or score a field goal?)

If you're not doing at least one of those, you are a courier. Time for a change.

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