Clients develop new ways of challenging IT consultants every year. My consulting firm has been asked to install and configure VoIP phone systems; we've been charged with physically moving server racks and equipment between facilities; I've even found myself installing and terminating Ethernet cabling in new buildings. But just because IT consultants are asked to complete ancillary projects doesn't mean they should.
It's a hard lesson to learn. Not many IT consultants want to tell a client no, even when the client requests services outside the consultant's area of expertise. Not all consultancies specialize in building Web sites, developing proprietary applications, installing or configuring VoIP systems, moving server rooms, installing associated electrical and HVAC systems, or running cabling; however, many consultancies are still tempted to say, "yes, we can do that for you" in response to almost any client request.
Do what you do
The trouble is many of the ancillary tasks clients request require specialized skills and expertise. Cabling is a perfect example. While a well-meaning consultant might agree to run three or four new cable drops for a long-time client to save delays and the hassle of identifying a qualified cable installer, such favors can prove troublesome. I know because I've run my share of cabling.
Some cabling adventures remind me of lessons I learned from installing drywall myself during a home remodel. Hanging four or five sheets of drywall took me an entire Saturday. First I had to get the drywall from the home improvement warehouse to my home, and I didn't have the right truck, which complicated the effort. Then I struggled to maneuver the drywall, hang it in place, and secure it properly. Taping and mudding consumed another day. Later I watched a home improvement show in which professional drywall installers completed the same work in approximately one hour.
The lesson is simple: Different professions require different skills, tools, and expertise. That's why I don't think most IT consultants should install cabling. IT consultants who are used to wearing business dress clothing and not to carrying a toolbox are probably not well suited to hefting rolls of cabling up stairs, running plenum-grade wiring in tight spaces, or fishing Ethernet through finished walls. It's a dirty job that requires specialized tools and a solid understanding of industry standards and even building codes.
Establish a value-added partnership
This doesn't mean that you need to leave clients who require cabling assistance out in the cold. Instead, consider establishing a tight partnership with a cabling contractor. By working closely with a qualified contractor, your office can assist clients in addressing all their cabling needs, going so far as to serve as the centralized contact and invoicing party. If you cut a fair deal with the contractor, you can even make some extra money in the process.
Have you ever run cabling for any of your clients? What other ancillary projects or dirty jobs have you worked on for clients? Do you partner with contractors for any type of work that falls outside your area of expertise? Let us know in the discussion.Get weekly consulting tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Consultant newsletter, delivered each Monday, offers tips on how to attract customers, build your business, and increase your technical skills in order to get the job done. Automatically sign up today!
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.