Your consulting practice is as good as your golden rules

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Recently, I was supporting a friend with thoughts on building a consulting practice and — surprise! — an email I wrote turned into this article.

What follows is a combination of tips based on my experience on both sides of the table — as client (present) and consultant (past). My goal is to encourage the idea that establishing your Golden Rules for your consulting practice will ultimately strengthen your relationship to your clients. I’m covering four areas: intro call, pricing, proposal format and ‘business self-worth’.

The Intro Call

After hanging up the phone on that intro call with a potential client, it should already be clear what their problem/needs are, how you can work together to get to the solution, and actual tangible ways of doing that (not specific deliverables, but how and why you are equipped to do it). They should feel it’s very real and not all talk. And a short minute about how pricing works (not what the pricing is, but how it is structured).

For an initial call on a small-medium project… I’d say half an hour, tops. Big potential client — retainer, perhaps? The call (or meeting) should never ever ever be more than an hour, if that long. After an hour, the meter should run. That has to be a golden rule for you.

For some of us, I know it’s hard to cut opportunity off, but when you set boundaries on your time and your talent, you are showing the client you are worth it:

  • You want clients that respect themselves, so you know they are able to respect you, your time, your talent.
  • You want clients that respect quality work. Even if it’s a non-profit or early startup and you want to throw them a bone, go for it… but still place boundaries to show that your time is money.
  • You want these types of clients because they will be more helpful with word of mouth later.


There are several avenues to go with pricing, and it may well depend on size and type of client, size and type of project, and timing. But one thing is important: you don’t have to get yourself in one pricing structure. Pricing structures can fit the project. By the hour? Project price? Tiered pricing for levels of service? All are done, and all should be applied with strategy and good judgment. The key to pricing happiness on the client side is managing expectations.

Part of pricing, by the way, is establishing a sense of partnership. Maybe it’s because I’m a borderline millennial, plus my personality lends to the fact that I like to ‘partner’ with the people I am paying. I want to learn from the person I am paying. I want to feel ownership and that I am working together as a team to achieve this. This is certainly not for everyone. But feel out your customer in that intro call and see what approach may work.

A few extra thoughts on pricing structures:

  • Tier pricing: Offer three tiers of pricing for bigger projects is the way to go, no matter who the client UNLESS their project is so specifically obvious and you and client both know by the end of the intro call what exactly is needed.
  • Hourly: If it’s article or white paper writing or similar — I would stick to hourly if tons of research is involved. Otherwise, pricing by article length is a comfortable concept.
  • Baker’s dozen: For smaller ongoing clients, the model of ’X hours, Yth hour free’ is a good one, it sends a message — I am willing to go for a long term relationship with you, even if you are not my biggest client or a signed retainer.

Proposal Format

As a customer, I’ll be honest on a dirty secret I hate to admit. But most of the time (ok, all the time) when I get a long wordy proposal, I guiltily skip to the bottom to see the bottom line — the bullets, the timeline, the price. I feel guilty because I have sat at the proposal-giving side of the table. But…

  1. Tension. The tension I feel leading up to the bottom line is too much and I want to just know already.
  2. Time. Taking too much time to read a whole thing wont happen.
  3. After the intro call I should already know our goal together, why you’re worth working with, and what I should expect.

Instead of wasting precious proposal space, how about:

  • Put the ‘shpiel’ about your background and methodology at the back.
  • Start with one mission statement to condense the shpiel: “Together, XXXX Customer and YYYY Agency are going to achieve XYZ with the goal of ABC.”
  • Then the bullets of what I’ll get, then the estimated hours/timeline, then the pricing, all on the first page.
  • Recently I was sent a video proposal accompanied by a short document with bullets and bottom line pricing. This was done by a video consultant, but there’s no reason any consultant can’t do similar offbeat, alternative types of proposal layouts. It’s worth testing.

Business Self-Worth

It sounds hokey, but the power of your word is everything. And your clients can feel it, especially in your spoken word if not in polished, written words.

First, start believing your own words. Look at yourself in the mirror, repeat it to yourself on your commute: My time is worth money. I am talented and have gained valuable skills through hard work and experience and natural ability.

Create ‘Golden Rules’ for yourself

Your sense of business self-worth can be built on golden rules — the unbreakable values you feel deep in your heart, mind and gut. Be true to yourself, hold on to your integrity, and build your ‘business self-worth’.

For example…

  1. I do not let an intro call go longer than an hour for big projects, 30 minutes for smaller clients.
  2. I do not work for free; my skills and talent are worth what I get paid.
  3. I keep the long term business goals in my close up view while working to stabilize my income and business in the near term. Not sacrificing long term with short term, by setting timelines for tracking success.
  4. I request recommendations after completed projects and build my online reputation based on clients’ good opinions of my work.

So, what are your Golden Rules?

Written by

Taking notes. I’m curious. This is a series of insightful articles with career and marketing themes. I write (a bit more often) at

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