By Dr. Nika White
President and CEO, Nika White Consulting, Best Selling Author of “The Intentional Inclusionist®” and “Next-Level Inclusionist: Transform Your Work and Yourself for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Success”
Dear Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consultant,
Congratulations! You have made it. You started your consultancy business after years of preparation. You crossed your T’s, dotted your I’s, and invested fully. You didn’t feel quite ready, but you made the leap nevertheless, and now, you are prepared to open your doors to clients.
As a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant myself, I have spent several years guiding non-profits, governmental agencies, corporations, and educational institutions on how to reach a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment. Although I do not regret any partnerships, I wish I had been more directed on my journey.
Here are the three key questions I wish I had routinely asked to help decipher which clients would be most aligned with my consultancy’s service offerings and the way my firm likes to approach DEI work.
Before you begin, stop to ask yourself these questions.
1. Why this client, and why now?
As a diversity consultant, you may have multiple reasons for working with a client. Perhaps a proposed project or DEI initiative inspires you, and you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work. On the contrary, you may have a client or project you’re not enthusiastic about but feel a moral obligation to take action.
Both of the above scenarios are possible. It’s important to know that you don’t have to and likely will not be excited about every project that lands on your desk. Regardless of your excitement, it is essential to think about why you want to work with this client at that particular moment.
For example, it was not difficult for me to see how transforming institutional practices in the South Carolina government could have a ripple effect in the place that I call home. I felt a personal connection to the client and wanted to help them build a more inclusive work environment.
To assess if this particular client will be a good match for you and your offerings, I suggest analyzing what drives you to be a DEI consultant.
∙ What problems do I enjoy solving with DEI?
∙ What industries speak to me and my interests?
∙ What personal connection do I wish to have with my client or their problem?
∙ How can working with this client help me create the change I want to see in the world?
These questions will guide you to make more thoughtful and informed decisions about your clients. Once you find the right people to work with, your consultancy business will inevitably transform for the better.
2. Am I taking this client because we are aligned or because I am desperate?
This can be a difficult question to address, especially for new DEI consultants. When I first started, I was eager to get my business going, and I was not as thoughtful about which clients I accepted into my practice.
In the beginning, I was consulting with clients I did not believe had strong convictions about the work of DEI and executing unsustainable projects based on the perceived lack of commitment to implement the infrastructure necessary. Ultimately, there were times I found myself misaligned, unfulfilled, and unable to connect deeply with my clients and the work in ways I had hoped for.
Throughout the years, I realized that taking on all clients who reached out without considering alignment adversely affected my consultancy business. I am now much more selective regarding which clients I form a partnership.
If you are unsure whether to take on a client, ask yourself: am I taking this client because I believe I can help? Or is it because I’m new and desperately in need of income and recognition as I build my business?
The truth is, as you develop in your business, clients will come. Choosing the most aligned clients early on will lead to your ideal clients later on. Your ideal clients should fit well in your consultancy scope, and the results you provide them should feel aligned and actionable.
I understand if you are just now gaining traction in your consultancy business, finding new clients can be a tricky spot to navigate. For optimal success in the long run, I highly recommend being intentional. Be intentional about who your clients and building a partnership that feels empowering for all parties involved.
3. Is the client ready to do the heavy lifting in the partnership?
As consultants, we are here to listen, learn, diagnose, and suggest changes to an organization. We shed light on where the client can improve and how they can transform the way they interact with DEI in their organization. However, our job is not to do the heavy lifting for the client. We are the guides, and the clients are the ones that must carry the torch and keep the good work going.
Early in my career, I made the fatal mistake of offering my services to a client who could not sustain the work in their organization. I was committed to the project’s success, but the institution was not ready to make the critical changes necessary for long-term results. There were meetings with high-level executives about institutionally incorporating DEI practices, but the commitment was not properly implemented.
If a client cannot do the heavy lifting, commit to the necessary changes, and carry them forward, your work may not succeed.
A failed partnership can be a disappointing experience for everyone involved. We want to avoid letting our clients and ourselves down in the consultancy process.
The key is to make sure your client has the tools and motivation to implement your suggestions at various levels of the organization.
The changes you are offering should be actionable, sustainable, and effective. Only when the client is committed to the long-term work of carrying on diversity, equity and inclusion will you see the fruit of your labor flourish in your practice.
Whether you are brand new or expanding your client base, choosing the right client to work with will set the tone and reputation for your consultancy’s future.
If you can ask yourself critical questions about whom you plan to work with, why, and how they will carry on the torch, your business’s purpose and contribution will be magnified.
It can be easy to skip these questions and go for clients that seem great for your business on the surface, but upon more in-depth inspection, you may find they were a hindrance to your business’ success.
Always approach your consultancy with mindful attention to your clients and purpose. The rest of your success will follow.
Best of luck,