Hope For The Best; Expect The Worst


The problem with being a consultant is that people are always asking you questions.

Not just clients either; once you add the word “consultant” to your shingle, everyone from your mom to your UPS driver will start hurling questions at you like you were the Cootie Kid in a grade school dodgeball game. Doesn’t matter what your specialty is. If you call yourself a consultant, people are going to assume you have the answer they’re looking for. Sure, it’s exhausting, but I should you should have thought of that before signing on for the gig.

Well, duh.

It used to be that I’d get questions about computers, networking, UNIX, customer service, marketing – any of the things for which I have been recognized for my opinions, or even expertise. Nowadays, the conversations tend to go more like this:

Person A: “Hey, what do you think about this bundle offer I got from my cable company? I can get cable tv, internet and VOIP phone service for an incredibly low price!” *

Netmeg: “Well… that *sounds* like a deal, but… weren’t you just telling me that your cable TV goes out several times a month?”

Person A: “Yea, but…”

Netmeg: “And weren’t you just running off to Panera the other day because your internet had gone down for the second time this week?”

Person A: “Uh…”

Netmeg: “Wouldn’t it be something if it turned out the reason the phone service is so cheap is so you can’t call and complain when the TV and internet go down?”

Person A: “$#*%&^!” [ hangs up ]

* for six months; new subscribers only; substantial penalty for early withdrawal; void where prohibited.

Well, duh.

I call this type of consulting “Hope For The Best; Expect The Worst.” While it’s always good to keep a positive attitude, you have to know that from time to time the universe will conspire to hand you your ass at the worst possible time. It’s inevitable. And it’s your responsibility to be ready with your roll of duct tape when it does.

Unfortunately, most people don’t identify their single points of failure until after they’ve failed, when of course, it’s too late. Ok, it happens. The important thing is to learn from it.

If your job and your life would be utterly screwed without a working computer at all times, then you better make sure you have a spare available to you in case smoke and fire and jello start pouring out of it, or your laptop gets stolen. If the future and well being of your employees and/or clients reside in the contents of that computer, you better have lots of external hard drives lying around to back things up to. If your business requires reliable phone service, then don’t tie it to an unreliable carrier to save a few pennies.

Well, duh.

Nothing made me madder this past week than seeing articles in the tech press recommending small businesses consider using Google Voice (along with the other free Google tools) because “the price is right”. THERE’S NO SUPPORT. Got that? NONE. You can’t even send Google an email these days unless it’s on a very narrowly pre-approved issue. To my mind, it’s just flat out irresponsible to recommend this product to companies for something as vital as their *phone service*, and leave them unaware of how Google operates. And I sure as heck wouldn’t advocate staking your business on it.

I came to this philosophy late in life. From the very first time I accidentally poured a glass of iced tea into an uncovered IBM PC AT, nobody on the planet has fried more computer equipment in more weird and wonderful ways than I have. My wall at the office looks like the side of a WWII fighter plane; my partners have taped little pictures of keyboards to the wall to note my many “kills.” And it only took ten years until finally, after the cable modem went down six times in two weeks, I realized that for about $15/month I could get a low speed DSL line installed to tide me over when Comcast failed. My phones are separate from my internet, and I can get my hands on a gas powered generator in 35 minutes if I have to. But this is all the product of many many many fails, where I thought surely I would never pull myself back up.

Well, duh.

Find your single points of failure. Prioritize them in the order of how close to suicide they’d bring you. And then back them the hell UP. Obviously you can’t buy duplicates of *everything* – but you can always devise a plan.

I’m going to leave you with a catchy little song by the great philosopher Mel Brooks. I have borrowed his title for this post; I hope he doesn’t mind. His take in the song is actually the opposite of what I’m using it for so there’s no real reason for me to include it except that I’ve always loved it, and love the movie it came from. And if you think for ONE MINUTE that this entire post was written as an excuse so that I could drop that link –

Well, duh.

Your Comments

  • Rhea Drysdale

    Mel Brooks AND practical business lessons! Love it. As I run to get backups for the backups…

  • Sean Dolan

    Great post Netmeg! Your wit and humor extend beyond the 140 characters I’m used to.

    Well. . . duh. ;)

  • Stephen Eugene Adams

    This economy has had everyone shopping with price in mind first and then quality and service rated second and third. No wonder there are so many low cost choices out there. The old adage that you get what you pay for is more and more applicable as low cost competitors enter the market. I think we will see that the reliablility of internet service will start to be a main consideration when choosing a communication company in the future and that a reliable offsite backup system will be a must. You kind of have to wonder how great cloud computing will be if your internet goes down. Great post Well….duh.

    • Heather Villa

      So true Stephen. You pay less, you get less. When I see a service that is advertising something at a much lower cost than competitors, my first question is, “Why?” They have to be offering less in some way. Apples to apples, people.

  • Tove Tronslien

    There are two pieces of advice I like to give.

    First being”You get what you pay for” You pay nothing, you get very little and for sure going to have a hard time getting anywhere demanding anything.

    Second “the more functionality you stick into one piece of equipment, the more chances something will go wrong and you are more handicapped when one functionality breaks.” While this can relate to processes and procedures I think it is particularly true for hardware. HDTV with built in DVD, VCR, all-on-one Printers etc, I don’t get it. If one part breaks you either have to replace it all, send it away for repair, while you are without any of the functions, you operate without the broken part, but maybe at reduced capacity, or you get a stand alone piece of equipment that specializes in delivering one service. Take your pick.

    BTW, I don’t think you have to be a consultant to be asked many questions I think it is enough to be a professional. If you’re a doctor and join a party, you bet you will be asked questions about health. If you’re a gardener and end up in a conversation, you will be answering questions about how to make a nice lawn. If you’re dry cleaner you will be asked how to remove stains. I think the difference is, people are more prepared to pay when the word consultant is in the title.

    • netmeg

      Well yes, of course, but that didn’t *fit*.

      As George Carlin used to say – I call ’em the way I see ’em, and if I don’t see ’em, I make ’em up.

  • Chris Miller

    I have been what my other half calls a peach since loosing my main client a couple weeks ago, meaning I have to go back to an office job. Part of being a consultant is dealing with issues like separating your business, clients, and work circumstances from who you are – but this is the first time I’ve attempted living solely on consulting, and the pressure is a bit more when you have to pay rent with this income. I started thinking maybe I’m not that good at being a consultant.

    I never thought of it like you’ve explained it, but I guess a consultant isn’t so much something you do, as an aspect of who some people just are. Well, duh.

  • Ann Holman

    Great post Meg….great common sense dosed with some humour. We often risk the wrong stuff thats just so easy to plan for but not so easy to solve. Just off now to check I’ve covered all my sensitive points! :)

  • Miri Stone

    Loved that video – fantastic. And that’s a resounding “H*ll Yes! Back that sh*t it UP!!!”

  • netmeg

    I don’t think there’s a single definition of a consultant (at least not one I’d accept) Most clients came to me originally because of the perceived knowledge differential. Once the relationship has been established and is working well, I will get asked about everything from from PPC landing pages to how to buy a laptop to dealing with feline digestive disorders. And sometimes when they ask, they already know the answer, but they just want to be reassured that it’s the right one.

    Of course, there are also the people who aren’t really interested in what you have to say unless it validates what they’ve already decided to do. But I promised my family I wouldn’t talk about them on the interwebz, so we won’t go into that.

  • Dr. Pete

    Preach it, sister ;) I think being an IT manager irrevocably changed my view of potential disaster. It only takes one 2am drive to the nearest data recovery center with your server hard drive containing ALL of your client’s websites (and the future of your entire business) to realize that contingency plants aren’t just a convenience.

    • netmeg

      Well I’ve always been semi aware, but what seriously freaked me out was 9/11. I mean, it was a long time before I could consider anything other than the horrendous loss of life, but once I did, and I saw pictures of all the paperwork from the offices floating around, I was traumatized all over again.