It’s 10:15 Thursday morning. You are seated at your desk, phone in hand – headset on – ready to call Phyllis at 10:30.
Phyllis reached out to you Monday afternoon from the contact form on your website.
In her message, she stated that she was looking for someone to build a simple website. Would you be able to call her at 10:30 Thursday morning?
Yes, you agreed.
There are two people involved in this conversation, and you’re both going through your own (fairly predictable) emotional rollercoaster.
You, in your head: “Please let this person want something more than a $500 website. My car needs a $600 cooling system, the dishwasher is leaking, and we have a new baby on the way. PLEASE LET THIS PERSON BUY A BIG WEBSITE.”
Let’s call this experience HOPE.
Ten minutes later, you, perhaps talking to your cat: “Dear God, please don’t make them a trainwreck. PLEASE don’t make them a trainwreck. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t make them a trainwreck.”
We’ll call that experience FEAR.
At 10:15 Thursday morning, Phyllis is ALSO thinking about the upcoming call, her emotions are ALSO in conflict.
Them, in THEIR head, and perhaps their cat: “Please let them know what to do. Please let this work. Please, please, please let this work.”
We can also call this experience HOPE.
Ten minutes later, them, same cat: “Oh, Lord. Please don’t this be weird. Please let me not sound like an idiot. Please don’t let them sell me something I can’t afford.”
We can also call this experience FEAR.
You hope they’re a cool person, and that they recently came into a large inheritance, won the lottery, or perhaps awarded alimony.
You fear they’re batshit crazy and bankrupt.
They hope you can solve their problems, ideally for a price they’re comfortable paying.
They fear that you cannot.
Fear and hope are pretty far apart on the emotional spectrum. Feeling both at the same time tends to turn people into a hot mess.
So YOU are full of hope, and fear, and turning into a hot mess.
And THEY are full of hope, and fear, and turning into a hot mess.
The first few minutes of that first meeting can be really weird.
You’re nervous, for all the obvious reasons.
And they’re nervous, too.
– They’re afraid you’re going to think they’re an idiot.
– They’re afraid you’re going to gouge them.
– They’re afraid this is going to be a really awkward waste of time.
So they’ll posture.
They’ll pretend they’ve got their shit together when they don’t, or they’ll pretend they’re a disaster when they’re not.
They put a social mask on, which makes any communication at all, let alone truth, near impossible.
They don’t mean to do this. It’s just the hopefear thing makes people crazy.
SOMEONE HAS TO STOP THE WEIRDNESS.
Since you’re the one asking for money, that someone has to be you.
You’ve got to do something to break the hopefear tension, get the masks off and the walls down, cope with mixed motivation, and deal with issues of control.
You’ve got to get to know this person well enough to accurately assess whether or not you can help them, establish that the responsibility of the project is 50/50, and you’ve got a very limited time in which to do it.
In other words, you must take charge, run this meeting, and function as a consultant.
Remember: When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
7 REASONS WHY EVERY FREELANCER NEEDS TO BECOME A CONSULTANT
Reason #1: You’re basically already a consultant, so start acting like one.
Think about it. As a freelancer, you are getting hired for your expertise. The problem is most freelancers see themselves as a person who gets hired for a particular skill.
Reason #2: Become a consultant so you can charge like one.
Anyone who takes consulting seriously can tell you that they make more money in this capacity than they did as a freelancer. People who tend to only see themselves as a person with a skill, end up charging for the skill instead of also charging for their expertise.
Reason #3: Your time is a limited resource.
How much time a project takes literally affects whether or not you’ll be able to take on another project. Consultants know this and differentiate their pricing based on the roles they perform: heads, hands, collaborative.
Reason #4: Your brain is expensive.
Have you ever had a client who keeps asking to get on the phone with you? Or a client who asks for your advice? If you do, then you’ve already ventured into consultant territory.
Reason #5: This mindset shift helps you move from freelancer to CEO of your business.
When a freelancer makes the mental shift to become a consultant, it helps them move into more of a business owner mindset. Even though they are still a contractor, the very act of thinking differently is a step in the right direction.
Reason #6: If you value yourself, others will likely value you too.
As a therapist turned coach, I do a lot of work with freelancers, solopreneurs, and other service professionals. One of the things I’ve noticed is sometimes people don’t value themselves, their work or their expertise. This causes them to charge very little, never close a deal or get taken for a ride.
Reason #7: People are going to start asking you for advice anyway.
Once you make it to a certain level in your freelance business, people are going to start asking you for advice. Even if it’s not happening to you now, it will. This is why freelancers need to start thinking of ways to shift their mindset to a consultant sooner rather than later.
In his landmark bestseller Flawless Consulting, Peter Block defines 5 phases of consulting. Today we only have time to touch on the first phase—Entry and Contracting.
This phase is the conversation that takes place prior to money exchanging hands—the one with the hopefear tension on both sides of the table that makes people crazy.
When we—you and I—talk about our business disasters, if we are honest with ourselves, our conclusion is usually that the project was faulty in this initial contracting stage.
THE TWO WORD ONE QUESTION METHOD
Ask them what hurts.
I use a “let’s roll up our sleeves and see what we can do here” voice, not a “tell me about your wounded inner child” voice.
I bring my most present, grounded, practical self to the moment and ask, “What hurts?”
Occasionally, I’ll ask, “What sucks?”
(A few times I’ve tried changing it to, “What seems to be the problem?” but that doesn’t ever get a good answer.)
WHEN I ASK, “WHAT HURTS?” PEOPLE TELL ME WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON.
They don’t give me the filtered, edited, curated version of the story. They don’t pretend it’s better, or worse than it is.
Most importantly, they don’t feel they have to do my job for me.
They use perfectly comprehensible, buzz-word-free language. They answer directly. They use their own vocabulary, their own voice. They are 100% real.
Let’s put this into a more physical context.
Imagine you go to a doctor.
You have no energy in the mornings.
The doctor doesn’t expect you to tell her that you think you have an underactive thyroid and low-grade depression, and you want 20 mg of citalopram and weekly B12 shots.
She wants you to say, “I have no energy in the mornings” and let her take it from there.
When you ask a big, open-ended, compassionate and genuine question like “What hurts?”, right at the outset, you give your prospective client a gift, one they may have never received before.
YOU RELIEVE THEM OF THE RESPONSIBILITY OF SELF-DIAGNOSIS.
We hire service providers because we want them to take responsibility for the hard stuff.
Starting like this shows that I’m both willing and able to do so.
I take leadership of the situation.
I let them, sometimes for the very first time, put down the mantle of figuring it all out.
They tell me what hurts—I’ll take care of the rest.
That’s why I don’t use those big, 15-question essay style questionnaires before a prospective client even gets on the phone with me. Those things make the client think WAY too hard about something that’s not their job.
I want them to relax. I want them to know it’s SAFE to relax. I want them to know that I’ll take over from here.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
One, I ask strategic questions. Specifically, I say, “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” which lets people know they don’t have to keep thinking up things to say and that I’ll take over.
It generally doesn’t take too long to figure out if I can help. Usually, I can, because my content and services are targeted enough that I don’t get a lot of random internet weirdos coming in from left field.
If I can help, I’ll usually start right away. I’ll give them my initial thoughts. I have no interest in the whole, “Don’t give them free coaching until they pay you.” thing. I start now, to prove I can do it, and to provide a sense of hope. Usually, there’s something really easy that I can resolve right now.
THEN WE’LL TALK ABOUT MONEY.
I don’t ask for budget. Budget is a scary word, and it brings the mask back. Instead, I say:
“Do you want to talk about money?”
By this point, they’re pretty relaxed and confident that I’m not going to take their home, so they’re happy to say yes. Plus, they’re curious. Then I say:
“I’m not going to ask you for your budget, because I know that’s a weird question. Instead, I’m going to ask you, what were you envisioning paying for this?”
That always throws people for a loop, and it causes them to again, take a moment to think. They’re being asked, possibly for the first time, what THEY feel comfortable with.
Then, because I don’t have set packages, I ask them how they envisioned us working together, and I give them a few options.
They tell me what they were kinda sorta thinking.
I tell them how that would work out, based on their budget.
I ask them if they want some time to think, or if they want to get started.
I tell them Sarah will send them a service agreement or follow up in a few days.
And we’re done.
The essay type questions aren’t thrown out the window. After you have earned the trust and privilege to ask them, go for it.
(Next Step: Phase 2 of the consulting process: Discovery and Dialogue. A talk for another day.)