If you're an IT consultant, the goal is for clients to view you as a valued partner. Whether or not that happens depends on your ability to nurture relationships with them.
You know that many businesses are too small to have an in-house IT person, so they already look to you to solve their technical problems. They may even lean on you for answers to questions like…
- What type of accounting software should we purchase?
- Should we buy Macs or PCs?
- Is there a particular security protocol we should follow?
But you can take your relationship a step further – and encourage their long-term retention of your services – by getting to know your client. It could be as simple as learning the employees' names to asking about the long-term goals for the business.
By getting to know your IT clients, you can position yourself as a trusted partner – not just the person they call if they get hit with ransomware. Here's how.
Onboard a New Client
When you take on a new client, it's important to learn the ins and outs of their company. You want to know what type of industry the client is in, how many employees they have, and what they actually do. It's also important to get a sense of how tech-savvy the client is. Some might simply need you to execute specific tasks, but a lot will require more advice and guidance on IT best practices.
"If they have nobody in the office in the IT world, you need to spend a tremendous amount of time educating the client on options, practices, and what they should consider," says
CEO and founder of IT services company
(@businessways). "But if they are experienced and they're very focused on what they need, it's a different situation."
Once you get a better read on the client, it can help you implement IT solutions designed specifically for them.
"What you need to do as an IT consultant first and foremost is get to know their business," says
chief information officer at IT consulting firm
(@AnterisIT). He recommends asking clients a lot of questions in the beginning, such as:
- How do you acquire new customers?
- What's the flow of information?
- Who is processing that information?
- Where are your computers relative to the flow of people?
- Where is that information stored?
"There are many questions that can open up from understanding a person's business, including what their future goals are," says Buono. "For example, you could ask them if they want to sell over the Internet in the next three years. That will determine some of the technology that we implement today. And people appreciate when you get to know their business."
So by taking a long view with the types of questions you ask, you position yourself as someone who can be a long-term IT partner, not just a short-term solution provider.
Show that You Add Value
Often businesses hire an IT consultant because they need a specific task completed and lack the technical know-how to do it themselves. These types of gigs can bring in quick cash, but you don't want to spend your career chasing one-and-done jobs. Ideally, you want to create a relationship with a client so you can handle their IT needs for years to come.
"Anyone can come in and install a new computer, but the consulting really should be about adding value on top of technology, not just technology for itself," says Buono. "There has been a tendency in the industry for technologists to focus on technology, and that worked for a number of years because technology was so new and so unfamiliar to most people. But now that the technology itself has become a commodity in many ways, what really sells now are solutions."
So when you meet a potential client for the first time, you want them to understand that you have the experience to offer solutions to their most pressing problems. Be ready to explain how their problems and your solutions may evolve as their company grows.
Be Ready to Teach Your Clients
When you walk through the door, your customers look to you as the expert. While you may have only been asked to perform a specific task, such as install a firewall,
J. J. Micro LLC IT Consulting
(@JJMicroLLC), suggests IT consultants be prepared to spend some additional time teaching their less tech-savvy clients.
"It is imperative that IT consultants spend time educating their clients on IT best practices while on site," says Jacobsen. "Part of being a consultant is looking out for a client's best interests. If you notice a client is doing something dangerous or impractical, what better time to educate them on the right way to perform that process?"
The truth is that people don't know what they don't know. It's up to you to ask questions about a company's current IT protocols to make sure they are following best practices. One resource that you may want to direct your customers to is our eBook Small Business Guide to Identity Theft Prevention and Data Security, which offers tips on preventing identify theft and data breaches.
Tech can be confusing to the layperson, but if they know the reason you're doing it, they will have an easier time understanding it.
"There are a lot of things that we end up doing that they don't see at all," says
Soaring Eagle Database Consulting
(@SoaringEagleDBA). "So we try to educate a little bit on what we do, how we do it, what our decision process looks like. I'm not necessarily trying to teach clients how to do what I do, but I want to let them know that I'm not making decisions in isolation. I try to teach them a little bit about what needs to go on in the future."
Don't overwhelm clients with too much technical jargon. Instead, focus on making sure clients know the basics, like not opening an attachment from someone they don't know. And when you do recommend a strategy to a client, make sure they understand what you're proposing – and why.
Dig Deeper to Find Out What a Client Really Needs
Many times you'll arrive on site ready to take care of one task, only to find out the client needs something else entirely. That's why it's important to understand not only what the client wants, but why. Once you have a longer conversation, you may come up with a solution that is a better fit than what they initially asked for. It could even save them time or money to boot.
"Some clients will be very specific with respect to what their needs and wishes are," says Amico. "They'll say, 'I'm looking for a managed cloud service solution.' But when you start drilling down, you find out that they're either very well-versed on the subject or are really just unsure. So, depending on their skill set, there are times where we will educate the client with respect to what it is that they're looking for, and why they should or shouldn't even look for it."
(Related reading: "Key Talking Points for When Your Small-Business Clients Ask about Cloud-Based Software.")
Again, your clients are hiring you because they aren't IT experts – you are. By asking questions about what your client hopes to accomplish, you can provide a better immediate solution and demonstrate the long-term value you can bring. Basically, you want your clients to feel like you've got their back so that they keep you around.
Need some tips on how to land more clients? Read our article "Want More IT Consulting Jobs? 4 Tips for Impressing Potential Clients."
About the Contributors
Rich Amico is the CEO and managing partner of BusinessWays, a global telecom, IT, managed services, and software design & development firm. He has an extensive technical background, spanning years of strategic, tactical, and hands-on experience in successfully building, improving, directing, and guiding healthcare companies, high-technology software organizations, financial services institutions, and IT departments.
Christopher Buono is chief information officer at Anteris Solutions, Inc., an IT services provider in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He has worked in the information technology field for more than 20 years, including 12 years in leadership roles. He holds numerous legacy technical certifications, including Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, Certified Novell Engineer, Certified Information Systems Security Professional, and Cisco Certified Network Administration.
Jeff Garbus is the owner of Soaring Eagle Database Consulting. He has decades of IT experience, with a special emphasis on performance and tuning, scaling, and database administration of large databases. He is very well known in the industry, having spoken at user conferences and user groups since the early 1990s, written articles and columns for many magazines nationally and internationally, and published 20 books on database management systems.
Julian Jacobsen is an IT consultant and owner of J.J. Micro LLC IT Consulting. He supports over 120 clients in the St. Louis, Missouri, area. Julian has over 10 years of consulting experience and specializes in small business Windows Server environments.