How to prepare for the initial call with a consultant

For whatever reason, I have received a steadily increasing number of calls/emails about consulting for Social Networking Sites (SNSs).  My initial call with any potential client is always free to them – and unless I (or they) have schedule restraints, I don’t set a time limit on it.

But I can help save you (and me) a lot of time if you are interested in engaging me:

1) Have an NDA ready for me to execute.  Before we talk.  I feel much more comfortable talking to you under NDA.  If you do not have an NDA, ask me for one – I have a generic one that we can mutually execute.  If, after receiving and reviewing the NDA you have questions about it, please feel free to take it to an attorney for review (or even a friend who has experience with NDAs).

2) Write an outline of your idea – email it to me after we have executed the NDA, but before we talk.  It’ll save a lot of time and questions if I have some idea of what you will be proposing.  Even better – draw pictures, scan them, and email them to me.  Pictures of your idea (basically, a storyboard) will usually get your point across very quickly.

3) Think about the following questions (you don’t have to have them answered – just think about them):

a) Who is your customer?

b) How will you make money?

c) What problem are you solving?

d) What are the barriers to entry that will prevent (or slow down) someone else from duplicating your idea?  This isn’t always a bad thing – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – but you should understand your market and/or product enough to know this (and it is certainly something I can help you figure out).

e) What are your goals?  To build a sustainable business you can manage and live off of long term, build a community with little regard for profit, build something you plan on selling in the first couple of years?  I ask this because knowing where you want to go up front is very helpful in figuring out how to get you there.

f) How passionate are you about this?  Are you willing to put your money, and the money of friend’s and relative’s on the line?  Are you willing to spend almost every free moment refining your plan, rethinking your goals, and questioning your assumptions? If not – who do you expect to believe in your idea enough to back you?  If you are trying to build a business without any personal risk, it’s my experience that getting investment money will be nearly impossible.  Investors (good ones) invest in people with passion more readily than they invest in “ideas”.

g) What do you expect me to help you with?  Try to list as many things as you can – it gives me a good idea of how much time and effort it will take on my behalf, and it also helps me gauge what your strengths and weaknesses are.  Knowing that about you is probably the best way I can help you getting started.

4) Realize that at some point, I expect to get paid something.  If our conversation goes beyond the initial consultation, I expect to be paid for my time.  It’s how I feed my kids, and pay my mortgage. 

5) Be honest with me.  We’ll be under NDA, and even more important than that – I won’t cheat you.  If I think your idea is stupid, I’ll find a polite way to tell you that.  But don’t withhold information that I may need in order to help you.  Until you give me a reason not to – I trust you.  Trust me.

I plan on this being a living document, and I’ll affix it to the bottom of my Consulting Page (above left).  If you are interested, the latest version will always be there.

As always, I love talking to people with ideas – I don’t mean this list to be a set of rules – I’ll talk to you even if you ignore this list completely.  But I do know through experience that I’ll be best prepared to help you if you think about these things before we talk.

Rob