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Why you shouldn't be afraid to say it.

Maybe I’m late to this particular party, but it wasn’t until fairly recently that I realised ‘consultancy’ is not a bad word.

I must have had some unfortunate experiences in the past. Because I’ve always thought of ‘consultancy’ and ‘consultants’ in negative terms. Especially when they’re connected to my own (creative communications) industry.

The word ‘consultant’ always made me think of some kind of smooth operator who’d schmooze in, use a lot of buzzwords and schmooze right on out again. Someone who’d be more focused on billable hours than building relationships. Who would over-promise and under-deliver, and believe in their own hype more than their clients’ business.

I never described myself or my business as ‘consultant’ or ‘consultancy’. I didn’t want my clients to think they’d be dealing with a bunch of suits (don't own one) who’d host a few strokey-chin meetings, throw some PowerPoint at them and send a fat invoice. I didn’t want to see myself that way. I didn't want my team to see themselves that way.

I couldn’t tell you when light really dawned for the first time. When it suddenly hit me that I am, in fact, a consultant. I guess it was a ‘dictionary definition’ kind of moment. Because being a consultant covers all the things I (and, by extension, we) do:

  • Ask questions and analyse the answers
  • Listen carefully to client goals and assess client needs
  • Offer honest insight and bold, fresh thinking
  • Build meaningful relationships that work for both sides
  • Deliver real and sustainable change

There’s more to it, of course. The purpose of that consultation process is to effectively evaluate the client business, and to identify the gaps between ‘current’ and ‘perfect’. It’s to give us the information we need to create a strategy that will fill those gaps — and give the client what they need to get the most out of the process.

It lets us all get to know each other and find the right ways of working together. Any agency will tell you that the best client is the one who’s most open to hearing what you have to say and taking your recommendations. But that doesn’t mean they’re not allowed to have opinions and ideas of their own.

So consultation lets both sides see where the other is coming from and reach a middle ground that’s good for everyone.

It’s also the time when you get to show your client how you work. When you can lay out cost structures, lead times, rationales, results. When you can be completely transparent about how you’ll work, how you’ll invoice and how you’ll deliver what they want.

More than that, it’s the beginning of a long-term relationship. It’s the first step in an ongoing consultancy and creative service. It’s a chance to see the whole picture, not just a single brief. The long-term ask, not just the short-term issue.

So it turns out that we at WABT are consultants.

We ask questions and analyse results.

We apply expertise and insight to client issues to come up with creative solutions that — crucially — answer practical needs.

We monitor results and maintain progress.

And along the way we inspire people at every level, and actively encourage positive, measurable change.

I'm all right with that.

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