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Between 2005 and 2011, IMC published Daily Tips every weekday on consulting ethics, marketing, service delivery and practice management. You may search more than 800 tips on this website using keywords in "Search all posts" or clicking on a tag in the Top Tags list to return all tips with that specific tag. Comment on individual tips (members and registered guests) or use the Contact Us form above to contact Mark Haas CMC, FIMC, Daily Tips author/editor. Daily Tips are being compiled into several volumes and will be available through IMC USA and Mark Haas.

 

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#372: Make Sure Your Consulting Products Are Section 508 Accessible

Posted By Mark Haas CMC , FIMC, Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Our client just told us all our products needed to be Section 508 compliant. I know this is a government requirement, but is this really necessary for non-public work products?

Section 508 refers to a provision of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires federal agencies (and their consultants providing work products to be used as federal products) to make their online information accessible to people with disabilities. This makes sure information is provided in a form that everyone can use and benefit from. Legally, you are likely not required to deliver section 508 compliant work products for private sector clients.

However, as consultants, we are professionally obligated to maximize the access, use, and understanding of our work products, regardless of the client. Making your work products Section 508 compliant not only assures access, it is a "good (if not best) practice" and a valuable standard by which you can improve their consistency and quality. This is not just the law, and not just a good idea, but a way to improve the usability of your products for the potentially millions of people who might eventually use your work products or derivatives (e.g., that piece of text, chart or web page your client repurposes to the public). It’s the right thing to do.

The Section 508 guidelines address page layout and formatting, fonts, page and document numbering, images, tables, video captioning, HTML and CSS formatting, web page linking formats, etc. These apply to word processing, spreadsheet, webpage, multimedia, presentation. Some very good resources such as checklists are available.

Tip: Compare the Section 508 guidelines with your own company's document creation and publication guidelines. Oh, you don't have quality assurance standards for your communications? Here is a good and rigorously developed start to enhancing your consulting value and professionalism. A good place to get the basics is http://www.section508.gov/ (fully qualified URLs are a Section 508 good practice).

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  information management  professionalism  quality  regulation  Section 508  usability  website  writing 

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#323: Streamlining Client Feedback

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Many of my engagements involve interviews of staff, customers and suppliers. These take a long time to compile and analyze. Are there any shortcuts that other consultants use?

Interviews are a logical part of organizational diagnostics, but reduction in the level of effort in just the beginning of possible improvements. Treat this activity like any formal research project, to include a research plan with explicit objectives, clear data collection, compilation and documentation processes and a formal evaluation.

Of the many ways to improve the process to streamline the interview process, here are two tips. First, standardize the interview process with a script instead of just "having a conversation" with the interviewees. Select specific questions and areas of investigation you want and review the draft script with your sponsor. This will make the time you spend in the interviews more efficient by staying on topic.

Second, use a data collection form tied to the script to make compilation and evaluation more efficient. For example, you might include a grid for interviewee estimates of future sales or resource requirements. This will help assure that your interview does not end with important data missing and will speed up compiling of responses.

Tip: Interviews are more than just conversations. Make the process efficient with a deliberate research and data collection plan and save yourself the time you seek.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  information management 

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#255: Taming the Email Monster (Part 2)

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, March 5, 2010
Updated: Friday, March 5, 2010
Your past Tips about managing email focus on controlling how much mail gets into your inbox by filtering, subscription control and filtering. Are there email management programs or add-ins programs that would also help?

There are a lot of data contained in your email beyond what is inside individual emails. Once you get control of the sheer volume of emails, to the point that you can be responsive to the content in each one, there is an opportunity to use the collective intelligence of your entire email traffic to improve the effectiveness of your communication. There are several free to low-priced applications to help you do this. Their purpose is to speed up your search for emails, show you who emails you the most, when most email traffic is sent to you, and

Xobni (inbox spelled backwards, get it?) is a clever third party application with both free and $30 versions. Xobni has really fast search, the ability to track message threads, find relationships between all the people who email you, pulls information from email signatures and content to enhance your contacts, and links your contacts to their Facebook, Twitter and other social media profiles. This kind of application creates information from your email, far more than just managing it. For example, Xobni can determine who among your email contacts responds fastest to your emails, or when they most often email you (so you know when they are most likely to respond).

Tip: There are other applications, such as NEO (Nelson Email Organizer) and you might consider collections of add-ins (e.g., Top 50 Most Popular Outlook Add-Ons). Each of these has merits that you will need to evaluate for your own needs. Remember, it often takes a combination of behavior and technology to effectively manage your email.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  information management  knowledge management  recordkeeping  social media  your consulting practice 

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#252: Taming the Email Monster

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, March 2, 2010
I am sure I am not alone but my email is out of control. I can't get to all the requests I get and feel like I am getting a reputation for being nonresponsive. Any suggestions?

There is no simple answer to this but there are a few tricks people use to resolve this growing (no pun intended) problem. First is controlling what gets to your inbox in the first place, even before we get to separating important from urgent emails. It is easy to get on any number of email lists and have lots of unsolicited mail. Get yourself a good spam filtering program (note that several "Do Not Email Registry" websites are themselves scams to get your email address). Also, instead of just deleting unwanted mail that sneaks through, put it into a junk folder and save it for unsubscribing later. Most people who provide an unsubscribe option will honor it. Every little bit helps.

Second, use filters to redirect mail into groups: clients, personal friends, mail to each of your email addresses. I use specific email addresses for various types of subscriptions, online offers, and for people I don't know. As I receive email from those addresses (they are sometimes resold despite privacy policies to the contrary), they are routed into folders to which I should, may, or won't respond. Finally, when I get a few days behind on mail (e.g., when I am on travel) I sort mail by thread or sender and can often respond in groups (i.e., a common response to several people on a common thread).

Tip: Let people with whom you correspond know that you have some rules you follow, and deliver on that expectation. For example, if you are the sole addressee in the "TO:" field, you will get back to them in X hours/days and if you are in the "CC:" field, you take it that the sender does not expect an answer from you. Also know when a "Reply All" thread is out of control - either pick up the phone and resolve the issue or remove some names for the large list in the (often growing) list. In many cases, behavior can be more effective than technology in getting some control over the monster.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  efficiency  information management  process  your consulting practice 

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#232: Giving Advice in the Best Format

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, February 2, 2010
What should a consultant do when a client wants to get their advice in a format I don't think is appropriate? For example, I hate writing reports because I don't think anyone reads them but my new client is insisting on my delivering one.

It's not for you to decide for the client what the right format is, but you can certainly recommend, if done in the right way. Depending on how well you know the client or can point to the usefulness of reporting in your comparable prior consulting engagements, you might be able to convince them of their own best interest. Starting with asking how they are going to use your work products. Ask a series of questions about how they usually receive recommendations (i.e., always the same way or is there some flexibility?). Will they be reusing it for presentation to another group (i.e., is this why they need a "killer PowerPoint presentation”)? Is this the company's preferred method of storing work recommendations (e.g., in a detailed report)? Is the format of delivery tied to the culture of the organization?

Now consider your mutual interests. An elaborate means of delivering findings and recommendations will cost your client money and time for you to prepare. Create a formal estimate of the expense and delay such a formal report would require and provide alternatives, including the relatively limited loss of content for the significant cost reduction of approaches such as executive briefings. The trick is to turn the economics around and present them in the form of an investment to save the client time and budget.

Tip: One possibility is that your client may not be able to visualize or experience a leaner or different reporting format, especially if they always do things one way. If it doesn't violate confidentiality, provide alternative formats of reports you have presented to past clients (or redact them, as appropriate). One advantage is that they might really like a reporting format for which you already have experience creating. Remember, it's not your place to tell them a report is a waste of your time and their money, but it is appropriate for you to advise them on the most effective communication mechanisms for the company. See the difference in tone?

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  customer understanding  information management  presentations  recommendations 

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