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

 

 

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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

 

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