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#622: Take a Tip from Doctors on Setting Appointments

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, August 2, 2011
I can't be the only independent professional with the problem of overly complex scheduling. I usually carry about five clients at any one time, some of which have more than one location. Juggling appointments and accommodating everyone's schedules are burning me out. How do others do this?

Consider the environment you are creating for yourself. It sounds like you are letting your clients schedule your time instead of the other way around. Mutual respect is the first casualty of appearing to be (and being) unwilling to manage your own time. I recognize that you want to serve your clients by accommodating their schedule. However, you may be surprised by how much more respect you'll get and, consequently, how much more valuable they'll consider your time if you restrict the times you are available for consultation.

Consider your experience with a doctor's office appointment. Their time is tightly scheduled because they need to see many patients each day and the uncertain length of time of each visit. Same with cable and appliance repair services. Now that I've compared you to service providers that are widely despised for poor scheduling (because of the unpredictability of their work), let me assure you that creative and structured scheduling can work for consultants because you have more control over your time.

What would happen if you established specific times for your office visits each week, other times (or days) for your group meetings, and still other times for your online meetings or webinars? For example, your onsite appointments are Tuesday and Thursday from 10am-2pm, your staff catch-up meetings by video are on Monday and Friday mornings, and your one-on-one calls with client sponsors are on Wednesday or Friday afternoons. Recognizing that there may need to be some exceptions, a predictable schedule will lower your stress and increase the recognition by your clients that your time is valuable.

Tip: There are technologies that may help you schedule your time or at least help you think about some of the issues about managing appointments if you don't think tools will help you better manage your time. One is Time Tracker (there are many others) that sets up available times for people to make appointments. The data flow into your Outlook calendar and gives legitimacy to your available (and valuable) time for appointments.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  consulting tools  practice management  your consulting practice 

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Comments on this post...

Michael E. Cohen CMC MBA says...
Posted Friday, August 5, 2011
Doctors have thosuands of patiients. So do cable repiar and installation companies. Comparing thse wiht managment consultants seems odd. When I was in fuill time consultant practice I had anywhere from 1- 10 clients. There were other issues in client management, but time scheduling was not one of them. Also, unlike doctors and cable repair companies, my clients did not come to my office. I don't think a predictable schedule, as you call it, would work, nor do I think it is necessary. If you don't overcommit, manage your projects and staff reasonably well, and srtrike a reasonable balance bertween client and business development work, you shouldn't need a formal time scheduling system. My current primary car physician (a conceierge doctor) has about 400 patients; he formally had close to 3,000. Either way, I don't see how his patient and other time scheduling relates to what I've done in the past wiht my man. consulting clients. I don't get it, Mark.
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Mark Haas CMC FIMC says...
Posted Friday, August 5, 2011
Each of us has to manage time, regardless of how many clients we have, each of whom may have dozens of monthly interactions (e.g., executive interviews, focus groups, briefings, staff inquiries, data calls, research sessions). A fully booked consultant (unless you spend most of your time working by yourself in your own office) is no different than a doctor or cable technician, each of whom has a 10-20 interactions per day. It is not the total number of patients/customers/clients with whom you are interacting over time, but promoting order and respect for your time during an individual day. See a related Tip (#624) about scale and finding a solution at the right scale (in this case at a scale you can and need to control - your day).
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