10 Unwritten Rules for a Consultant to Live By

by Volker Weber

  1. You work for the client, not the consulting firm. No matter who cuts the payroll check, the client is the one paying for your services. Do the right thing for the client, not the consulting firm (or anyone else).
  2. Your network of consultants is your most important asset.
  3. Consultants should keep a blacklist of firms and other consultants that should be avoided, and why. Share this list with your network of consultants but not to the general public.
  4. Do not make negative comments about another consultant within ear shot of an employee of a client, and especially around the sales and marketing people of a consulting firm. Negative comments are fine between consultants, but, keep it "in the family". But, never break rule # 1. When dealing with non-consultants, do like your mom always told you, "if you don 't have anything nice to say about someone, don't say anything at all".
  5. When your consulting firm takes you out to lunch, remember, you are really the one buying lunch. It is coming out of the consulting firm's cut out of your rate, so just pretend you are picking up the check. Would you really want to pay to have lunch with this person? The same thing holds true for all events and gifts you may get from the consulting firm.
  6. Avoid giving consulting firms information on possible leads without first getting everything in writing (especially your commission). And even then, the contract usually isn't worth the paper it is written on. Don't expect to get any money for info on leads, so be careful who you give them out to.
  7. When referring another consultant to a consulting firm, expect a finder's fee. $2 per hour is the minimum that they should offer. Flat fees typically benefit the consulting firm not you, so try to avoid them. Remember, your finder's fee is coming out of the consultant's pocket. So if the consultant is part of your network, you should waive the fee. Your network keeps you employed.
  8. If you didn't negotiate your rate starting at the consulting firms billing rate to the client don 't try to find out what it is, unless you are prepared for the consequences. That knowledge will usually just make you disgruntled.
  9. Never tell the client what the consulting firm is paying you. If they need to know, it is up to the firm to disclose that info (see rules #1 and #8).
  10. Avoid professional days. You don't bill for hours you don't work, so you shouldn't work for hours that you don 't bill. A good project plan, with a budget to match it, is a must. Unless of course you created the project plan, then you should live with the mess that you created.

[DonXML via jimmiz]


This is an excellent set of rules. I've never tried to really codify my personal ethics code, but I doubt it would be much different.

Surely different, but not at its core.

I can also say that those times (fortunately much earlier in my career) where I ran into trouble I'd say most could be traced to a poorly or downright not followed one of these tenats.


Andrew Pollack, 2004-09-01

Ou...especially #1 is most important and useful for some consultants from the big 5 Agencys.


ingo harpel, 2004-09-01

I'm glad to see that people are reading the list. Now, we all just need to remember to follow them (it isn't always easy).


DonXML Demsak, 2004-09-01

I asked Don for clarification what "professional days" are. Here is what he said:

Here, in the States, some companies want to pay based on a professional day. Basically, you will only get paid for 8 hours work, even if you work 10, as a professional courtesy. It is a holdover from fulltime employee world, where there are hourly employees and salaried employees, and the salaried employees are considered "professionals" and don't get paid for working more than a normal day (8 hours), but get "paid" a yearly bonus. Some clients and/or consulting firms try to get the consultants to do this too. I know of consulting firms that do this to their consultants, but still bill the client for the extra hours.

Thanks, Don, that has made it perfectly clear now.

Volker Weber, 2004-09-01

One particular extension to rule #1 that deserves a note:
What, if your client is itself a consultancy? What, if these guys hire you to work at their own client's sites? This is the situation I regularly face. Anyway, if you employ rule #1, you inevitably come to acknowledge that your client's client is -NOT YOUR- client. The rest follows straightforward: What is good for your consultancy is good for you. What is good for your consultancy's client is good for you -if and only if- it is also good for your consultancy-client. That's the extension to rule #1: subcontractor's benefit rule.

Volker, 2004-09-02

It does not matter whether you are a subcontractor or an employee of the consultant. Rule #1 is trivial if there is no conflict of interest.

Volker Weber, 2004-09-02

I like this list, but I would maybe refine #1 a little to include: "Make sure the customer understands what s/he is buying", meaning, you (the consultant) need to articulate at some point what you are and are not willing to do as part of the gig.

"I will tell you the truth as I see it, whether it's what you want to hear or not"

"I will not reveal secret stuff I might know about what your compeitors are doing. I will afford you the same confidentiality"

"I will not spy on your employees for you"

Bob Balaban, 2004-09-05

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