The best way to approach any consulting job is trying to work yourself out of it by providing a great solution. The worst consultants, ironically, can make a remarkable amount of money in the short term by becoming entrenched in a project yet never delivering. Having a 'trophy shelf' of completed projects is any consultant's pride portfolio, even if NDAs and contracts prevent them from showing it off.
But what about amazing jobs? When a consultant has a client that pays a fair rate, makes payments on time, has a neat project, and employs a smart team, it is only natural to want to continue the working relationship. Balancing the need to complete a job with the desire to continue designing great things with great people is a challenge.
Before talking about how to propose another contract to an existing contract, one must understand that the sales operation for a consultant is always running. The single best sales pitch is a track record of exemplary work. And the exemplary work must go beyond the engineering tasks. Keeping organized, updating managers and team members, offering suggestions, being generous with time and effort, and submitting invoices clearly and on time should all be a matter of habit. Maintaining personal relationships to be sure the team likes and trusts you is also important. If half of the engineering department hates your guts, maintaining credibility on new proposals will be an impossible task. The best engineer in the world is a worthless freelancer if he or she can't manage relationships.
With the momentum of a solid track record, the key to getting more work is to identify how you can continue to provide value to the client beyond the current job. A consultant's time is not cheap, and will stick out like a sore thumb on each quarterly budget report. Giving a client clear reasons that they pay for the services is a sure-fire way to keep a great client even after the initial statement of work is long forgotten.
As one of the engineers on the project, you have a unique position to identify obvious improvements, optimizations, and low hanging fruit. If you pay attention, you may even catch wind of another project that you could offer help on. These kinds of explorations can also be fun, creative work since many jobs involve only executing an idea someone else hatched. Great ideas usually come as the project carries on, so dedicate a section of your notebook right away for 'possible future work' and jot down ideas as they come. As the project nears completion, spend a considerable amount of time formalizing ideas off the clock. A client may be willing to pay for this work if asked, but offering it pro-bono is a great relationship builder and can show initiative. Money left on the table here will likely be the best sales investment ever made.
With a clear, well-defined idea of how the client can benefit and how you can help, next set up a dedicated time to meet with the manager, again off the clock. Offer the idea with humility and an open mind on how the project could be implemented. Support brainstorming on the idea, even when discussing approaches that don't involve your services. Showing that your primary goal is delivering the best solution for the company sends the right message, even if you're out of cash and wearing your underwear inside out to save money.
There are no guaranteed sales tactics, but this approach excels at taking away all barriers the client might see when deciding to sign a new contract. With luck, they will see your proposal as an added investment with a handsome payoff.
James Benson is writing a series on 'Engineers As Consultants' to educate and encourage salaried engineers to consider if hanging a shingle is right for them. New posts on the first Monday of every month.