This article was originally posted via Inc.
My business specializes in admissions, where judgment is unavoidable. For many students, the college admissions process can feel like a referendum on all their academic and personal efforts up to that point. But of course, as we all know, whether a college says "yes" or "no" is in no way the ultimate harbinger of future success. While this may be true, the harsh reality is that we as business owners in consulting capacities are being assessed all the time.
I think about this often, given the nature of my work, but also the relative variability of the college application process itself. When the final product is largely out of your control, how do you assess the quality of an experience? It's all about the process.
Create Clarity and Set Expectations
In life and in business, everyone likes knowing what to expect. The hard part, of course, is that so often the final outcome in any scenario -- particularly one in which you may be enlisting the support of an expert or consultant -- is unclear. What we can control, however, is the path to get there, wherever "there" actually ends up being. At the start of every relationship, create a clear roadmap for the process. Explain the timeline, the characters and the potential pitfalls.
Each year, we revise our processes and systems -- as well as our client contracts -- to account for the lessons we've learned along the way. For example, this year we enhanced our consulting offering to include a number of add-ons that we regularly noticed families were requesting.
This way, we can anticipate our clients' needs before they even recognize them themselves. Use the lessons you're perpetually learning to more clearly establish the steps over which you do have control, so that no matter the outcome, the process is as predictable as possible.
Don't Lead With Statistics
I've always felt that promoting a consulting firm by relying on statistics sets the wrong tone. Consulting relationships are inherently human; they can't be summed up by numbers. While positive statistics are attractive and potentially excite interest among prospective clients, they should not be a defining part of your identity or brand.
A positive referral, in my mind, is more powerful than a large sample size of data any day. Be sure to contextualize any numbers you share with prospective clients with sufficient backstory, and always offer to connect past clients with possible future ones. When families ask about how we "measure success," we share placement statistics, but our answer never stops there. We openly discuss how the numbers were calculated and even how we define somewhat subjective terminology such as "top choice school."
Be There for the Critical Moments
In any relationship where the outcome is not guaranteed, there will be lows and highs -- and surprises, too. Make sure to be there for all of these moments. As college admission counselors, after an application is submitted or a presentation is wrapped up, it might feel like the relationship is over -- but that's not the case.
This isn't to say that the outcome is all that matters in assessing the success of the relationship, but follow-up is certainly a marker of engagement, and the final chapter should be treated with the same level of delicacy and care as the initial meeting. As consultants, we all wish we could control the future -- or at the very least, predict it with complete accuracy.
An effective consulting relationship can certainly help increase the probability of success, but if there's one thing I'm reminded of every day, it's that we're all human. On one hand, that means nothing is guaranteed. But it also means that the most important thing is to recognize that we won't always have all the answers.