I have two prospective clients asking for my time over the next few months. Neither is a sure thing but I don't want to tell either one that I can't provide consulting services because I might be busy (I can't do both at the same time and this is something I have unique knowledge of, so I can't subcontract it). Should I just hope that I get one and not the other?
There seem to be two issues at play. The first is your desire to run your business by serving clients and keeping your client pipeline full. The second is your responsibility to your clients and your reputation by being honest with your prospects and yourself. This conflict is a pretty common one. Another factor is that of all the strategic planning methods proven to be effective, "hope" is not one of them. You should, and can, deal with this directly.
Despite the temptation to play the odds on this, your reputation depends on not getting caught promising, or letting your client infer, that you are available to do the work when there is a chance that you might not. Be honest with your prospects. Let them know that the nature of the consulting business is that not everything is certain and project delays, especially on ones that consume a lot of your time, are costly to your business. Tell them that you are not gaming or hard selling them but that you are being responsible just as you expect they would be to their shareholders or employees in the same circumstances. Let them know that all of your clients are important to you, that you value your reputation, and you want to be absolutely clear that you have potentially competing claims on your time.Tip
: There may be a way, depending on your prospects' circumstances, to alter the timing of your potential commitments so that a delay or part time availability may work for one or both. Be creative. They may be willing to offer you a retainer to be available but if they do not use your time, you still get paid and maybe even provide a partial credit for your time in the future. Maybe you really can train someone to help out if both prospect come to fruition. The one thing you don't want is for filling your pipeline to ruin your reputation by having to tell a client who is counting on your commitment that you have to break it. © 2008 Institute of Management Consultants USA