Leaving a Client

    1 FREE Audiobook RISK-FREE from AudibleOne of the great benefits of consulting is the variety of different projects and different clients.  Since much of consulting is Consultant leaving a project-based, consultants tend to work with a client for some period of time and roll off the project in anticipation of their next client.  In this week’s podcast, we will discuss the etiquette and procedures a consultant should follow when leaving a client at the end of a project.

    1. First of all, is leaving a client a happy or sad occasion?
      1. That really depends on the situation.  I’ve always left my clients on good terms.  But I’ve seen enough consultants leave on bad or at least on tense terms.
      2. For me, it’s usually been bitter-sweet where there is some happiness and sadness combined.  At almost every client I’ve worked at, I’ve developed some strong relationships with the employees at the client.
      3. We all know that as a consultant, I’m there on a temporary basis, but it doesn’t make us enjoy saying goodbye to each other.
      4. We often have some form of outing to go out for a lunch or for drinks after work.
      5. We also promise to stay in touch.  That’s a lot easier with a lot of the social media. We most likely are already linked on LinkedIn.
      6. But sometimes, you just finish your last day and you’re done.  And that’s just the way it is in consulting.  You finish your job and move on.
      7. There have been times when I’ve seen a consultant over-stay their welcome or actually be asked to leave.  This usually happens when they no longer provide value that justifies their rates.
      8. But sometimes an individual consultant doesn’t mesh with the team or the client team just decides they don’t want this consultant around anymore.
      9. If they’re part of a consulting firm, the firm will usually find a replacement.  They’ll bring a new person to replace them and, depending on how complex the situation is, they’ll spend anywhere from a day to several days doing a knowledge transfer.
      10. The outgoing consultant’s last day is usually fairly unceremonious.  They just want to get out of there.
      11. And I’ve seen situations where the client has had it with the entire firm, they’re tired of the high billing rates or don’t think the firm is providing the value they expected.  So they essentially boot the consulting firm.  Sometimes they’re sorry to see the individuals, or at least some of the individuals go.  But if they didn’t like the firm they were working with, the individuals are usually guilty by association.
      12. When an entire firm is asked to leave, there usually isn’t a knowledge transfer period. They just revoke their security access and that’s the end of it.
      13. But the majority of the situations are where you’ve finished a successful project and you or the firm are leaving on good terms.
    2. What should a consultant keep in mind when they leave a client
      1. Regardless of the situation, you want to make sure you’re professional about your departure and ensure a smooth transition.
      2. I often think about, here in the US, and around the world in democracies, we have political races where the incumbent loses to a challenger.  These two people may not like each other, but after a very difficult election, they work together to ensure a smooth transition.
      3. I’ve always figured if they can do that, then I can work with the client employee, or even a competitor that will be assuming my role after I leave.
      4. In my experience, it’s usually been a client employee that’s assuming support of a project that I managed.  And often, they’ve been involved in the project, so they know what’s going on for the most part.
      5. But one thing you want to do is make sure the client identifies at least one contact that you can transfer your knowledge to.  When I roll off of a project, I always make sure they have at least one person designated for me to transfer any specialized knowledge.  I always give them my contact information in case they have questions after I leave.
      6. And as long as it doesn’t take time away from another client, I’m always willing to help them out with any questions they have after I’ve left.
      7. Another thing I make sure I do is update the client’s document repository.  In most cases, I keep all of my documents in their repository already.  I assume that any documents I created while I was consulting for them are their property.  My firm may have some proprietary templates and documents that we keep, but any deliverable to the client is their property.
      8. I make sure all of those documents are in their repository and that they know where they’re located.
      9. I also try to make sure I document the transition.  Once they assign someone to me for the transition, I sit down with that person and have a document that lists everything you routinely do – status reports, meetings you attend or host.  It should cover the things you do and where you’ve stored any documents and anything you think will be helpful for them to know.
      10. As you’re getting ready to leave the client site for the last time, turn in any equipment you may have used, like computers or cell phones.  Hand in your badge and any client property to the appropriate source.
      11. I also try to make sure they give me some form of documentation that shows that I handed it in just in case it gets lost or misplaced after you leave.
      12. And then, if you haven’t already, I would make sure to connect with your client colleagues via LinkedIn.  It’s a great way to stay connected.
      13. I think LinkedIn is a great tool for professional networking.  Some people are more active on it than others, but at the very minimum, they will always be able to get ahold of you.  And if you regularly post interesting articles and make updates on LinkedIn, it keeps your name top of mind long after you’ve left the client.
      14. The final thing I want to say, which should be in the way you do all of these things I’ve suggested is to always take the high road.
      15. Even in a situation where the client may have asked you or your firm to leave and there are some bad feelings.  Always be professional and help them make a transition.
    3. Have you known consultants that didn’t take the high-road and left behind some burned bridges?
      1. I’ve never known it first hand, but I’ve heard stories from both my fellow consultants who have witnessed it and from clients who have had it happen to them.
      2. I’ve heard of situations where an outgoing consultant deleted critical files or took them out on their laptop rather than handing them over to the client.
      3. Then when the client tried to contact them, their calls are not returned.
      4. I knew of a consultant who had been told that the next day would be her last day on the project and that they wanted her to meet with the client team to do knowledge transfer.  Then the next day she called in sick, so they were unable to get the information from her.
      5. Whenever I’ve heard stories like this, it’s usually been an independent who was asked to leave when they weren’t providing the value they had promised.
      6. Legal and ethical issues could be involved.  If valuable data is deleted that the client is unable to get it back, it could result in a legal battle.
      7. Most of the time they just do some dirty deeds that set the client back a little bit.  It’s just a little bit of spit in their eye. But when consultants do this, they really make the profession look bad.  And they’re burning bridges.  They don’t realize the long term ramifications to that.
      8. Just a personal story about that.  I worked for a consulting firm once here in the Chicago area.  Now you would think that Chicago is a large market and you can just stay incognito, but in reality, I’ve found it to be a pretty small market.
      9. So as it turned out, I was abruptly laid off in the middle of an acquisition.  I wasn’t happy about it; I had two young children at the time.
      10. But as I left, I sent out a farewell email to everyone that I had worked with that was still there.  I thanked them for their support and told them how much I had enjoyed working with them and with that firm.
      11. There were other people laid off that day that didn’t send such nice emails.
      12. After my departure, I spoke to one of my former colleagues there and he mentioned that he had gotten several comments from different people that I sent my email to.  They commented that it was very positive and professional.
      13. So fast-forward about two years ahead and I’m working at another firm that assigns me to a client.
      14. The manager at that client turns out to be one of my former colleagues that I sent my email to.  She left my former firm and took that management job.
      15. If I had burned a bridge, she probably wouldn’t have wanted me to be on be project.
      16. I’ve continuously run into people I’ve known from previous employers and previous clients.  Every time I’m at a conference or somewhere where I run into a former colleague, I think about that.
      17. So in the third largest market in the US, you’d be amazed how often you run into your past.  So if you’ve burned bridges, you may be surprised to see that those burned bridges could come back to haunt you.
    4. Any final thoughts about leaving a client?
      1. Well, I’ve summarized a number of things you should do when you leave a client.  One other thing that’s really important and it may sound ridiculously obvious.
      2. Say goodbye.  I talked about the email I sent out when I left my previous consulting firm.  It’s something I do whenever I leave a client.
      3. Whenever I leave a client, I send out an email to all of the client employees that I worked with and thank them for their support – whether they were really supportive or not.  I also give them my contact information in case they have any questions.
      4. Even if the client has asked you to leave for some reason, I still think it’s good to send out a friendly email to indicate, ‘no hard feelings’ and wish them luck.
      5. And when you send an email like that, make sure that it’s not too much about you.  You’re thanking them for being supportive and you might say how much you enjoyed working there.
      6. But don’t go into a diatribe about everything that you learned.  The people at the client just don’t care that much.
      7. Also, don’t get into the details about why you’re leaving.  It’s just not appropriate.
      8. One other thing you shouldn’t do is get too sentimental.  You may have developed some good relationships and maybe it’s hard to say goodbye, but keep it professional and not too personal.
      9. You just want to keep it positive and keep it short.
      10.  In addition to that, if there is a client employee that you either reported to or worked closely with, it’s always a good idea to stop by their office and personally thank them and say goodbye.
      11. If it’s appropriate, you could take that person to lunch to thank them, but it really depends on the relationship you had with them.

    Next week: The importance of having a thick skin in consulting.

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