How to Fail as an Email Consultant: 4 Fallacies That Thwart Your Success


“Wanna go on a road trip?”– my mom would randomly ask when we were kids.

Of course, my little brother and I would yell “Yes!!!” We had no clue where we were going but we knew we’d have fun in the car, listening to music and playing the word game where we’d get points for finding words on license plates. We’d eat something fun and maybe stay in a hotel, which we loved to do.

The stakes were low. My mom led us wherever. We were kids, under 12. It didn’t take much to make us happy. We knew nothing about anything. There was no plan, and it was tons of fun.

Much of my life as a kid was like this. You never knew what would happen on any given day. So sometimes, in my adulthood, I have to shake this habit. When I started consulting, I didn’t shake it quite quick enough before failing miserably. Let me tell you what mistakes I made so you don’t have to.

Fallacy #1 - All email is created equal

“Email is email”, I thought. “Lifecycle is lifecycle.”

I had worked in various industries and thought I could quickly learn another. Sometimes yes, other times, absolutely not. Some industries are quite niche and not as transferable as others. The more niche the audience and their needs, the more specialized your skillset will need to be. That does not mean you are not good at what you do. That just means you’re not good at doing what you do in that particular vertical. And that's ok, as long as you acknowledge and accept that. It’s when you do not admit this to yourself that you’re going to have problems.

Some examples of these specialized industries:

  • Healthcare
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Compliance
  • Government
  • Financial services

Entering a new vertical is not unreasonable or impossible. The importance here is to be honest with your client and yourself. Be aware of client expectations. Do they expect you to have direct experience in their specific vertical? The project may not be for you if so.

Action Steps:

  • Evaluate Your Expertise: Assess your skillset and determine whether it aligns with the requirements of the new industry. Understand the specific nuances and demands of the vertical you are entering.
  • Research Thoroughly: Spend time researching the new industry. Learn about its challenges, regulations, best practices, and common customer pain points. This will help you understand the context in which you’ll be working.
  • Seek Guidance: Connect with experts or colleagues who have experience in the industry. Ask for insights, advice, and potential pitfalls to avoid. Networking can also open doors to new learning opportunities.
  • Set Realistic Expectations: Be upfront with your client about your level of experience in their industry. Discuss how your existing skills can be adapted to meet their needs and agree on a realistic plan and timeline for your work.
  • Invest in Learning: Consider taking courses or reading books and articles relevant to the new vertical. Continuous learning will not only improve your competence but also build credibility with your clients.

Fallacy #2 - The ambiguous will become clear in time

No. Just no. Your job as a consultant is to ask the right questions. Consider it impossible to arrive at your destination without ALL of the directions you need. We could wander aimlessly on our unplanned road trips because there were no KPIs at stake. It didn’t matter what time we got to our destination because nothing depended on our arrival. As an email consultant, a part of the client’s business is in your hands. And if you don’t arrive at the correct destination (or at least an acceptable one) within the right time frame, their business, and frankly yours, could be at risk.

Action Steps:

  • Identify Key Information: Determine the critical information needed to achieve the project goals. This includes understanding the client’s business objectives, target audience, KPIs, and any specific challenges they face.
  • Prepare Questions: Write down a comprehensive list of questions that will help you gather the necessary information. Be thorough and think through various aspects of the project.
  • Conduct Initial Meetings: Schedule meetings with key stakeholders to discuss the project in detail. Use your prepared questions to guide these conversations and ensure you cover all essential topics.
  • Clarify Ambiguities: If any information remains unclear after initial meetings, follow up promptly to seek clarification. Do not proceed with assumptions; instead, confirm details with the client.
  • Document Everything: Keep detailed notes of all communications and decisions. Documentation will serve as a reference throughout the project and help prevent misunderstandings.
  • Review and Adjust: Regularly review the gathered information and adjust your plan as needed. Ensure that any new insights or changes are integrated into your strategy promptly.

Fallacy #3 - I’m a member of the team now

You’re not. When you’re onboarded as an employee, you are literally welcomed to the team and added to the roster automatically. As a consultant, you are more like a walk-on. The onus is on you to meet the key players and uncover whatever inside knowledge you need to do your job.

This is where asking the right questions comes into play again. Don’t sit and wait for people and information to come to you. Seek and you shall find.

As a consultant, your role is inherently different from that of a permanent team member. The company's employees have a level of institutional knowledge, internal relationships, and a sense of belonging that you don't automatically gain by being contracted for a project. Recognize that you will need to take proactive steps to bridge this gap.

Action Steps:

  • Identify Key Stakeholders: Determine who the decision-makers and influencers are within the organization. These individuals can provide you with critical insights and help you navigate internal politics.
  • Build Relationships: Make an effort to connect with team members. Attend meetings and show genuine interest in their work and perspectives.
  • Gather Information: Actively seek out the information you need by asking targeted questions. Understand the company's culture, workflows, pain points, and objectives.
  • Integrate Gradually: Rather than expecting immediate inclusion, aim to integrate yourself gradually by demonstrating your value through your expertise and contributions. Show how your work aligns with the team's goals and enhances their efforts.

Remember, your success as a consultant hinges on your ability to navigate this dynamic and position yourself as a valuable resource rather than just another external vendor.

Fallacy #4 - A loose plan is a good plan.

It’s not. A loose plan might give you a false sense of flexibility, but in reality, it often leads to inefficiencies, miscommunication, and missed deadlines. By now, you have likely developed expertise that allows you to predict common challenges, streamline workflows, and deliver consistent results. That’s hard to do without a plan.

Action Steps:

  • Define Clear Objectives: Start by setting specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals for your project. Understand what success looks like for your client and tailor your plan to achieve those outcomes.
  • Develop Detailed Processes: Create detailed workflows and processes based on your experience with similar clients. Document each step, establish timelines, and ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Anticipate Challenges: Use your expertise to anticipate potential obstacles and plan for contingencies. This proactive approach will help you mitigate risks and handle issues more effectively.
  • Measure and Adjust: Implement regular check-ins and performance reviews to track progress and make necessary adjustments. This allows you to stay agile and responsive without compromising the overall structure of your plan.

By creating a well-defined plan, you not only enhance your efficiency but also build trust with your clients. Your plan allows them to see a clear path to achieving their goals with your guidance.

As a kid on those spontaneous road trips, my mom led the way. I just needed to bring myself. As an employee, my manager led the way. I just needed to bring my experience and an eagerness to get the job done. But as a consultant, I needed to lead my client to achieving their goals. This means taking initiative, asking the right questions, understanding the nuances of each industry, and developing a detailed, actionable plan. It’s about shifting from a passive role to an active one, where you are not just part of the journey but guiding the way to success. Embrace this leadership role, and you’ll avoid the pitfalls that can lead to failure as a consultant.

dino reichmuth A5rCN8626Ck unsplash 600Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash