Hiring Will to sort out the gutters in our leaky Victorian terrace reminded me of some important lessons about consulting.
I hired Will because he loves roofs, has spent a lot of time on them and bothered to explain to me how mine is constructed, what the difference is between a fascia and a soffit, and could answer pretty much any question I asked him about drains and downpipes. He gave me lots of photos of roofs he’d worked on and gutters he’d transformed, plenty of options and a detailed and competitive quote. He seemed keen as mustard, busy and ambitious – and pleasant. He was friendly and polite to me and my family – and to the cat, and to the neighbours, even the ones I don’t like.
But all that counted for almost nothing in the end. Not just because the rain water is still splashing down the walls, the vent from the bathroom is now half covered in a brand new fascia (or is it soffit?) and there’s still a tree growing out of our chimney. But because:
1 Over-promising and under-delivering is much, much worse than not promising in the first place. All I wanted was the fascias, soffits and gutters replaced, but along the way Will somehow implied he would not only replace the gutters but hunt out the rot, dry out the felt, fix the tiles, uproot the tree. When all he did in the end was fascias, soffits and gutters (and not even that very well) I felt let down.
2 Not keeping to the original schedule isn’t necessarily disastrous (our gutters have been leaking for months). But how you reschedule, matters. Will rescheduled alot, each time for a couple of days ahead. Each time I think he genuinely believed he would be there. But after the first few times I stopped believing him.
3 Pointing out the obvious (‘you know you’ve got rot, don’t you?’) isn’t always the same as insight.
4 Letting your client know you’re ‘fitting them in’ doesn’t make them feel grateful for your services. It pisses them off.
5 Avoiding the client when things get tough is a very poor strategy indeed. It makes you look cowardly, and it’s much, much worse than rescheduling.
So when Will rang today promising to come round and fix a few final things, I took it all with a pinch of salt. And when he told me he’d covered up the rot he’d found, but it really ought to be dealt with, I was thinking I’d find someone else to deal with it.
And I’ll be able to afford to. Because, Will, you may not have fixed the gutters but in the end you’ve saved me a lot of money. Some of what you do I recognise in me. You’ve saved me a fortune on my own professional development, by reminding me of some important lessons in consulting. Thank you.