I’ve always considered my customer’s issues a priority, no matter how easy or challenging the issue may be. This approach has helped me establish great relationships with customers, however it has also been a source of frustration early in my career. Because of my relentless attitude towards resolving the issue, customers would conveniently put me in the “employee zone” – the zone where all their IT problems became my problem. As a consultant, being put in the “employee zone” is toxic primarily because of misaligned expectations.
A consultant has an hourly rate that he/she charges the customer for services rendered towards a specific statement of work (SOW). An employee, on the other hand, has a pre-established salary that he/she gets paid on a routine basis (weekly, bi-weekly,monthly, etc.), regardless of how many hours of services provided. You can see how being put in an “employee zone” does not align with the concept of consulting. Once in the employee zone, you will find yourself working on tasks that are out of scope, and therefore, you cannot charge the customer for that time.
Problem Solved, Establish A Consultant-Client Relationship
So how do you prevent yourself from ending up in the “employee zone”? Establish a professional consultant-client relationship; nothing more, and nothing less. A professional consultant-client relationship has clearly defined boundaries that should not be crossed. As a consultant, you have been contracted to provide a specific service because of your skills. You’re not there to get caught up in office politics, or drama, or to feel anxiety about the mood or shifting decisions of your customers.
Also keep in mind that your time is literally your money. You are not there to solve every issue in the customer’s enterprise – do not focus on tasks that are not outlined in your contract. The consultant-client relationship lets the customer know that you are doing work for them, not working for them. The distinction is an important one that will save you a lot of frustration.