5 Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Consulting

Originally published > www.inc.com/brenda-della-casa

5 Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Consulting

Take note: If you’re afraid to offer a contract, you shouldn’t be in business.

 

There are few things more fulfilling for new business owners than signing that first client and having the chance to do what they love under the structure of their own business and brand. Freelancing is an exciting venture, and in today’s market, it’s big business. A 2016 study by Upwork showed that there are 55 million freelancers in the U.S., making up 35 percent of the American work force.

If you’re thinking of joining the consulting club, let me be the first to congratulate you. You’re in for one of the most rewarding experiences of your professional life, but only if you do the work to ensure that you protect yourself. Ignore this important step and you’ll set yourself up for a lot of unnecessary stress and possible burnout.

Here are five tried and tested ways to avoid some of the more common mistakes made by new consultants.

1. Mistake: Not setting the right tone.

Because most freelancers are usually so excited to have their first one or two clients, it’s not uncommon for them to fall into the trap of doing a little extra (read: free) work here and there. They will eagerly respond to messages and emails immediately and take calls when they really should have been scheduled. They think they’re being generous and accommodating (and they are), but the clients see this as setting a tone for the rest of the contract. This tends to backfire as clients become accustomed to having responses in real time, all of the time. Before you know it, confusion ensues. The consultant is overwhelmed and both parties are frustrated and resentful.

Protect yourself: Put your guidelines in writing — and stick by them.

Have a very clear discussion laying out your professional boundaries and ask your client to do the same. Come to an understanding about working hours and response times and agree on how you will schedule calls, meetings, and Skype sessions. Once you are in agreement, put all of this information into your contract (see below) and have both parties sign it. If you are going on vacation or going to be unavailable on certain days, let your clients know as far ahead of time as possible. Ask them to do the same.

2. Mistake: Being afraid to put a contract in place.

I recently asked 15 consultants if they offered their clients contracts and was surprised to find that only three had one in place. The most common reason for not offering up a formal agreement? Consultants were worried that doing so would cost them a gig. The best way to move past this costly concern is to understand that quality contracts are put into place to protect both parties, not for one to strong-arm the other. This is done by making responsibilities and timelines clear, securing payments and fees, and putting a formal agreement in place if the relationship does not work out.

Protect yourself: Make it legal.

For most professionals, a contract is a basic step in the process of doing good business. Put bluntly, anyone who is unwilling to put his signature where his mouth is isn’t someone you want to be in business with. In fact, several business owners I spoke with claimed they would steer clear of a consultant who didn’t offer one, out of fear that that consultant would be unprofessional or untrustworthy. Paying a few hundred dollars to have a lawyer look over your verbiage (to ensure that you have covered everything properly and are fully protected) is a worthwhile investment.

3. Mistake: Not holding clients accountable.

Whether it is allowing clients to hand in deliverables late, jumping through hoops to complete tasks by unreasonable deadlines, or working with an unpaid invoice, many freelancers help create a culture of chaos by not drawing a line in the sand when clients behave badly.

Protect yourself: Create consequences.

Though revisions and delays are inevitable on most large-scale projects, there needs to be a clear understanding as to who is doing what and when it is due. I personally like to use a task-management system to manage to-do lists and follow-up with a weekly email outlining what is being worked on and what is outstanding. It is also important to remember that accountability goes beyond checking items off a list. If a client schedules a call and goes MIA, doesn’t pay an invoice on time, or crosses a line, you need to have a system in place to deal with it. Charging the client for a percentage or the full amount of time you set aside for the call is not inappropriate and stopping all work until an invoice is paid is acceptable. Just be clear to have these guidelines laid out in the contract beforehand. Once they are in place, it is up to you to abide by them.

4. Mistake: Allowing them to treat you like their employee.

One of the biggest struggles freelancers face is forgetting that they are in a professional partnership with their clients. You are doing work for them, not working for them. The distinction is an important one.

Protect yourself: Remember that boundaries are a good thing.

As a consultant, you are not privy to the benefits of a full-time employee, nor are you involved in the day-to-day running of the business. You have been contracted to do a specific job because of your talent, not to get caught up in office politics or drama or to feel anxiety about the mood or shifting decisions of your client every day. Additionally, when on-site, you are not there to “jump in and be a team player” on tasks that are not outlined in your contract.

5. Mistake: Getting too friendly with clients.

We all want to work in a friendly environment, but getting too familiar with a client will inevitably blur the line between the personal and professional relationships. This can make objective decision-making and clear communication difficult in the long-run.

Protect yourself: Keep a professional distance.

No one is saying not to open up a little bit or that you need to turn down every cocktail invitation, but it is important to know what to share and when to leave. This is where that age-old advice still rings true: Do not open up about or do anything you’d be embarrassed to have in print. Simple.

PUBLISHED ON: MAY 8, 2017

 

 

ICOs, Cryptos & CCOs. The differences. Stuff worth knowing from The Bankers’ Plumber

Two out of three ain’t bad. You have probably heard of the expression crypto currency; Bitcoin is the poster child, and Ether its sibling. ICOs are likely just as familiar; Initial Coin Offerings, which are a a variation on IPOs. What about CCOs? Never heard of them? The extra C is for Collateral; collateralised coin offering. I am advising a client on a really interesting CCO offering, so now seems a good time to offer a view on what might be the new, new thing in the digital space.

ICO

An ICO is a means of raising capital. Rather than a traditional prospectus or offering memorandum, it is based on a White Paper, which outlines what the company will do with the proceeds.

This activity is very similar in nature to what happens in the traditional securities & banking world, with the result that regulators are beginning to flex their muscles and draw some lines to weed out bad actors. The SEC has just closed down PlexCorp for fraud; the company was promising monthly returns north of 1’000%.

As far as I can tell, most ICOs are simply asking for money saying they will do A, B or something completely different, without much in the way of a concrete business plan. The rise of the internet and the instantaneous nature of global communication means that it is very easy to spread a message about any ICO and as a result it is more likely you can find somebody, somewhere to give you money. If you invest, you need to be able to lose your money. As the saying goes: not for widows or orphans.

Crypto

A crypto currency is largely a digital figment of the imagination; an imaginary value is placed on them. My view is that they are the same as art; they may be scarce and they are simply worth what somebody is wiling to pay. In truth, they have the same backing as any government issued currency; none. They both rely on trust. So far at least, officials believe that people have more trust in government than in private companies. At least this was the view offered by a Fed Governor recently on why a crypto currency would not undermine the US dollar. In Venezuela right now, you would be mad to suggest the same rules apply. You gotta have faith; in the former there is some, in the latter there is none.

A digital dollar

The same article cited the Head of the NY Fed as saying the Fed is looking at Crypto currency. This would be really welcome. In my opinion, the Fed and its fellow Central Banks are too slow on the uptake here.

For the CCO project, we will need to collect both fiat and crypto payments from buyers of the CCO. Crypto is easy and we can make it very close to a PvP, Payment vs. Payment process. Very close rather than exactly, because we need to do an FX trade to move from crypto to fiat to buy the underlying asset. Fiat is actually hard and involves some good old fashioned settlement risk for our clients; we have to collect up their subscriptions before we issue the coins. It would be a lot easier if we could accept digital Euro and Swiss Francs.

Actually, there is a digital version of the Euro and the USD; Tether. It is a private offering and claims to be 100% backed by deposits in fiat currency. This is really very much the same as somebody in Kenya giving money to their local mobile phone operator to load an M-Pesa balance on their phone. But, and it is a big but, these Tether coins will not be fungible with any other offerings doing the same thing. Imagine if you could not move the dollars in your account at Citibank to your account at JP Morgan. Add to this, you are moving your trust from banks to a start-up enterprise that is not a bank and does not have all the checks & balances that a bank has. Novel, perhaps even necessary in short-term as a step on a longer journey, but not an answer for the long term and not fit for purpose for the institutional market.

CCO, the Collateralised Coin Offering

This is like an Asset Backed Security. Understanding that you are making a sound investment means knowing a couple of things about the underlying asset; is that asset both liquid and non-volatile? Bitcoin is none of these, and even some of the major ABS products of the past turned out to have a lot more price volatility than anybody envisaged. MBS, Mortgage Backed Securities, offered comfort in in that there was an underlying asset if the payments were not made; as we now know, not all of those mortgages were equally sound.

The second factor is about the transparency of the underlying assets. This is where a certain Bernie Madoff hoodwinked all and sundry. The assets were not there. Now Tether, cited above, may be technically brilliant and it says it has the assets, but it is fatally flawed in a worst case scenario. The only place Tether can keep its $800+ million in assets is at one or more commercial banks. That is a lot of credit risk. Cash assets have very limited protection in a bankruptcy; the 100k or so that might be backed by one or other government depositor insurance schemes will not help much.

Lessons to be Learned

The ideal source of power for transactions in a digital global economy would be CBDM; central bank digital money, with the government acting as transfer agent, providing a 1:1 instant on-demand exchange facility and then locking up the fiat currency at the central bank.

Singapore is getting there with its project UBIN. The banks are trying to fill this void; UBS is leading a consortium developing a Universal Settlement Coin.

Those individual efforts are a necessary stage of the journey; regulators and central banks may well observe from the touchlines and then support the infrastructure with carefully worded regulatory guidance. This has happened in FX, with the BCBS stating in BCBS 241 on FX Settlement Risk that PvP, Payment vs. Payment, is the preferred settlement option. There is only one PvP utility available; CLS.

CCOs have the potential to establish themselves in the same generally positive way that the traditional ABS products did. To do that, they ideally need to be linked to an asset that does not have a volatile price and where the underlying assets are transparent and not subject to further issuer risk.

The CCO I am working on promises to do both those things. Super exciting. More in due course.

About the Author: The Bankers’ Plumber. I help banks and FinTechs master their processing; optimising control, capacity and cost.

If it exists and is not working, I analyse it, design optimised processes and guide the work to get to optimal. If there is a new product or business, I work to identify the target operating model and design the business architecture to deliver those optimal processes and the customer experience.

I am an expert-generalist in FS matters. I understand the full front-to-back and end-to-end impact of what we do in banks. That allows me to build the best processes for my clients; ones that deliver on the three key dimensions of Operations: control, capacity and cost.

 

Originally published on the 3C Advisory website.

ICOs, Cryptos & CCOs. The differences.  Stuff worth knowing from The Bankers’ Plumber

 

The difference between a contractor and a freelancer.

You have probably seen the terms ‘contractor’ and ‘freelancer’. If you’re self employed you’ll likely fall into one of these two categories.

A contractor is a person who provides services to a person or organisation (a client) for a specified and finite period of time. A contractor usually meets the following characteristics:

  • Works on one contract at a time for one client
  • Does not operate under standard employment, but rather a contract that defines their arrangement with their client for a defined period of time
  • Are not on their client’s payroll
  • Is set up as a sole trader, a limited company contractor or an umbrella company contractor
  • Commonly found in the IT, engineering, public sector, health, education, social work, finance and consulting industries

A contractor’s contract will stipulate their working arrangements, which will determine whether they are genuinely self-employed or temporarily employed under the guise of self-employment. This is referred to as being outside or inside ‘IR35 legislation’.

A freelancer also provides services to a client for a finite period of time. However, this period of time is not always specified. Here are the characteristics of a typical freelancer:

  • Might be working on several freelance projects at once for different clients
  • May not necessarily operate under a contract the same way as a contractor
  • More often works from home or from their own office than the client’s office, because as they are less likely to have stipulated working hours. They are more likely to have to dedicate a certain amount of hours per day or week, but not at specific times
  • Similarly to contractors, freelancers aren’t on their client’s payroll
  • Will also be set up as either a sole trader, as a limited company director or will be getting paid via an umbrella company
  • Commonly found in creative industries such as digital marketing, graphic design, media, publishing, and architecture

Contractors and freelancers aren’t subject to the same employment rights as permanent employees. The term ‘freelancer’ is simply a way to describe the nature of your work; it is not a legal term – therefore a freelancer will still fall under the term of ‘self-employed person’. As such, freelancers will also have to consider their working circumstances to determine if they work inside or outside IR35.

How they get paid

Because freelancers are free to set their own rates per-project and based on how much experience they have, it is more financially beneficial to contract through a limited company as they can open themselves up to more opportunities with clients whilst maximising their take-home pay.

That’s not to say that contractors can’t chase the rates they desire, but more often than not the rates for a contract are already pre-set by the client or the agency. If the contractor is not satisfied with the rate, they can try to negotiate for higher pay.

If your assignment is deemed to be inside IR35, you have some options:

  • Continue working through your limited company – you could continue to contract in the public sector through your limited company, and accept the lower take home pay you will receive. You will also no longer be able to claim certain expenses.
  • Negotiate a higher rate – adjusting your rate to make up for the loss in take home pay is an option, although an adjustment that your client will agree to might not make up for the loss.
  • Switch to umbrella – switching to a compliant umbrella company means you won’t have to pay any Corporation Tax or dividend tax on top of paying income tax and employees NI, and you will receive employee benefits unavailable to you when contracting through a limited company. Find out more about switching to umbrella.
  • Leave the public sector – as many contractors have chosen, you also have the option to leave the public sector for the private sector, where these rules to do not apply to the same extent.

Source: https://www.churchill-knight.co.uk

Trust Exercise – ‘Falling Back’ on Your Network – Alex Williams

As a consultant, there is no substitute for being ‘in the room’ when discussions about change are taking place. Getting your message across and building trust with your client that you or your team has the ability to deliver a working solution to an apparently unworkable deadline is a lot easier while the requirements are being aired with urgency. 
 
If you are not, you could use a colleague who is onsite, a consultant/recruiter with access or utilise your own network to get to someone who is in the room. If you are, according to the well-worn phrase, a maximum of 6 times removed from everyone on Earth then you are effectively in the same Northern line train carriage as everyone in the City. 
 
To extend the metaphor, this does not mean that networking in financial services is any more comfortable a proposition than striking up a conversation on the Tube. How does a motley bunch of your family, friends, family friends, ex-colleagues and names-from-business-cards help you gain access to The Project Sponsor?
 
Who knows you well? Who trusts you? Who do they know? All of these are either known, searchable or guess-able. The key to finding out which of a network’s connections are actually the working neurons of mutually beneficial exchange is to know, of your allies: who trusts them? 
 
There are no shortcuts here – clarity of communication and honesty of purpose are the only ways to stand out from the spam. So pick your target, plan your route to them and bring people into your confidence by asking, about their connections: how well do you know them? 
Author ALEX WILLIAMS

PBOC “sorry, what?”

PBOC was one of the earliest words spoken to me by my manager at a global bank.

“Sorry, what?” was my response, which was clearly what the manager wanted me to say.

“Plan. Build. Operate. Control”, came the reply.

Well I was sure it was working out well for them but wondered why not just say that in the first place. Jargon is used by people who want to pretend they know more than you. When in fact, all they have managed to achieve is a sense of disconnect or worse, rivalry.

A few years later I was headhunted out to a rival and on my last day I walked past that manager and quipped ‘ILT’ for my own amusement.

Relationship Management

Being a ‘middleman’ is possibly one of the toughest acts to pull off. You are everyone’s friend yet often you are only paid by one side which obviously affects your decision making. However, to let this happen is a short term view. A network recruiter can maintain a healthy network of contacts over a career if done right. I’ve me a few successful ones and they have several tips. Luckily all are straightforward and anyone can follow them.

  1. be honest … lies (even small ones) come back to haunt you and besides it is hard to remember them all! Your relationships with budget owners and the freelancers will be enhanced by respect for the truth.
  2. be thankful … your honesty will propagate and others will respect you for it. You can also choose your relationships using honesty as a baseline for doing business.
  3. be responsive … this tip is also known as setting expectations. If you can respond then do. If you cannot then tell the contact when you can. It’s probably my no1 tip actually.
  4. do your research … asking questions on topics which you could have researched in advance is annoying and unnecessary.
  5. be interested … ask about your counterparts needs and challenges. Finding the balance between 4 and 5 is the difference between good and great… (aim for great!).
  6. be adaptable … when things change (and they will) those able to change with it achieve.

Written by Andy Barnes, Founder www.6prog.com

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