Client Servant or Partner?

A lot of my work recently has been about value… supporting consultants to raise their fees. In today’s competitive market, fee-pressure seems to be a common problem across professions: from international consulting organisations to national law firms to independent project-managers.

In order to raise fees, you have to raise perceived value. To raise value, your services have to be valued. So do you.

It’s all too easy to be seen as the client’s servant. Whatever we say about ourselves (credibility) there are certain behaviours – in meetings and on email – that may still diminish the value of our services… even before we quote for them.

When it comes to fees, your words are only a small part of your credibility. Your behaviour may well dictate a larger part of the equation.

The key to success is shifting from “client servant” to real “client partner”. In this way, you build a peer-to-peer relationship with your client, right from the first meeting.

Here a few examples of Client Servant behaviour:

– Allowing yourself to be interviewed by the client / prospect
– Trying too hard to be “interesting”, instead of being “interested”
– Going into detail too quickly, without context
– Answering “how” questions, instead of reframing them
– Not bringing any insights to meetings: just turning up to respond to their agenda
– Being too readily available
– Conducting self-preoccupied client reviews, instead of exploring value/usefulness
– Quoting a daily (or hourly) rate too early
– Taking too many notes
– Discounting your fees (often even without being asked!)
– Talking about you, instead of them and their world
– Not know how (and when) to share success stories
– Bringing technical insights to the wrong people
– Being solely interested in “give us an assignment” conversations
– Long, rambling emails, too full of detail

And there are more. In today’s crowded markets, it’s all too easy to be seen as “just another service-provider” desperate for attention.

If that’s the norm, what are you doing to stand out? How can you establish a peer-to-peer relationship with your client, where you are seen as a real partner and not just their servant?

You are welcome to get in touch:moc.l1534839303abolg1534839303-ocv@1534839303nhoj 1534839303

With effect from January 1st 2017, all new website updates are on
Together with some of my associates, we are forming the Value-Centred Organisation: supporting professionals to raise the value of their work.
This site will stay online for a few months and then will be withdrawn.

Ordinary Plenty

It’s Saturday morning. The clock strikes ten as I sip my second coffee listening to a “tick tock” that has marked precious time for four generations of Nilands. Time passes.

I’m troubled by a thought that, since yesterday evening, has wormed its unbidden way into the fabric of my consciousness. No matter how I try, I cannot shake it off. It won’t leave me alone.

Here’s the scene. I was sitting on the Eurostar, coming back home to Brussels. All week, I had enjoyed a wonderful week in London: stimulating conversation, professional prospects, cozy times with family, new friendship, promising collaboration. Not a cloud in sight.

I look around me. The carriage is strangely silent for a Friday evening. Many of my fellow passengers are asleep, faces lengthened by exhaustion. Two advertising executives pop a cork but even their loud celebration soon becomes strangely muted into whisper long before we enter the tunnel.

Why so quiet? A decade ago, I would have been surrounded by animated chatter, the giggle of lovers on a weekend away, laughing groups on bachelor(ette) parties. What’s going on?

There is an inescapable answer written across the faces around me: tiredness. The few people that are still awake are plugging away on their laptops: spreadsheets, mail, powerpoints. Not movies. Life for international professionals seems to be getting tougher.

I reflect back over my week: so many ambitious, talented people seeking to differentiate themselves, get more done, be valued. Earnestly hoping to influence, to lead, to succeed. I too share their drive for excellence – that’s not what’s troubling me. Nor does seeking to explain ambition to those who don’t have it bother me; I’ve exited that futile discussion years ago.

What’s troubling me this weekend is… what about everyone else? Those who have ambition and drive and stamina have choices. But what about the huge numbers of people who simply want conventional career, security, love, home?

It’s a new thought for me. I’m a bit ashamed to write this, but it’s true. My life has always been spent with the minority. Since the age of ten, I’ve been in full flight from anything like majority or average. I liked classical music when all around me liked pop. While other adolescents were discovering the “wink and elbow language of delight”, I was so deep in Dostoyevsky I lost track of time and forgot the disco was even taking place. As an adult, I’ve repeatedly aligned myself with the 5%, paying the price, of course, but also reaping the rewards. I stopped worrying about “average” so long ago that I cannot tell you when.

In my book “The Courage to Ask”, there is an executive called Maria. On a night flight across India, she looks down at the twinkling lights of the sleeping millions below. In an uncharacteristically emotional moment, she painfully realises that she can never be one of them. But Maria soon brushes away the tear and goes back to the life she has chosen. Being average is not her way.

But what about the sleeping millions? And before the next amateur psychologist buttonholes me with my self-projection via Maria — probing me on my own sense of isolation or belonging — can I just stop you there?  No really, nothing to add, can I just stop you there?

This weekend’s troubling thought are not about personal isolation. That’s been such a constant companion, it’s now a comfortable old cloak. Though threadbare and outworn – not to mention decidedly unfashionable – a long-term migrant soon learns to wrap himself in his own belonging. That’s not the issue (at least not this weekend). That’s not what I want to talk about.

For once, I want to talk about the 95%. How will the majority cope in a world that exhorts us to be self-aware, self-reliant, self-authoring, self-sufficient and self-directing? A small minority may learn to stand out from the crowd… but what about the crowd? For huge numbers of people, life is getting tougher, more exhausting. “Don’t be one of them” is hardly a sufficient answer.

So where can we all look for solutions? Honestly, I have no idea. Today, I’m not joining-in with the ubiquitous self-directing philosophies of “Look Within”.  Surely there has to be more democratic, more accessible ways than inviting millions of us to gaze at our own psychological selfies? I’ve hung around with dozens of people who’ve immersed themselves in years of self-development and I seriously question if they are any happier than those who’ve dozed on their afternoons off. Indeed, many of the most developed are also the most exhausted… back to the Eurostar again.

Surely there must be something more accessible? In terms of creativity, the poet Patrick Kavanagh suggested one interesting way into a more restful and magical space decades ago. In his poem “Advent”, he writes:

     We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
     Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder

Like Kavanagh, could we all benefit from more everyday reality and fewer projects? What John O’Donohue described somewhere as the “small miracles that demand no attention”: the prosaic bits and pieces of daily life that are there for everyone. Sort of mindfulness… but without another bloody course or book!

And the hoped-for rewards? Does it work? I don’t know. Back to Kavanagh…

     O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
     For the difference that sets an old phrase burning 
     We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
     Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
     And we’ll hear it among decent men too
     Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
     Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
     Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and
     God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
     The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
     Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement. 

Now it’s been a while since “I barrowed dung in gardens under trees”. But next week, I’m going back to Ireland, so who knows? I guess I won’t solve the problem of the sleeping millions, but among those “dreeping hedges” perhaps I’ll discover there is no problem at all.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Time passes.

Day 2: Pitching tents

Jeez… Pampers are expensive! Now I understand why refugees with little kids really need them. Clothes can be donated with a sigh of relief, but you have to dig a lot deeper to buy Pampers.

Particularly sizes 4 and 5, in case you are reading this and planning to bring some to Parc Maximilien. You will be welcomed 🙂 Things are much better organised today, thanks to a team headed by Gilbert Coulson who stepped into the void and started organising volunteers at 7am this morning.

Day 2 for me started with a shopping trip: Pampers, razors and shaving cream. Not because refugee babies are hairy… their fathers simply want to look their best for that all-important interview with the Office des Etrangers. If you think that going for a job interview is stressful, imagine going for that interview on which your entire life – and that of your family – depends.

I got assigned to pitching tents. Overnight, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) had dropped off 50 large tents so we got stuck in: the blind leading the partially sighted. By 11am, I was an expert, by lunchtime a veteran. My fellow team-members included Nadine from Yorkshire,  Jihane from Brussels and Hata from Baghdad. Pitching refugee tents is a multicultural activity. 

The tent pegs were hardly in place before the tents were occupied. About 200 new people had arrived overnight, including women and children. The feeding stations were noticeably busier today: many of those who arrived seemed hungry.

For now, there is plenty of food and clothes. What’s needed is soap, toothpaste, shampoo, Pampers, sanitary towels, disposable razors. Please see the following link for the latest info:

I spoke to Ihab, a friend of Hata who had been helping with the tents. The two friends had been travelling for a month: via Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and now Belgium where they hoped to be given asylum. I tried to ask Hata where he got the “F#CK ALL” t-shirt: it’s still a mystery.

Our conversation is interrupted by a Whassap msg. Someone isn’t happy with my post yesterday, pointing out that it may sound like I am judging people who go to the gym rather than use their time to help refugees. I reply that it was just my personal choice: I’m not judging anyone. I’m letting this one go… the world has bigger issues that the little sensitivities of the fortunate.

Back to the tents. Nadine and Jihane are now our accredited “interior designers” and the inside of these tents are looking really cosy. I wonder who will find refuge in this one tonight? And with the winter months ahead, I wonder how we can find a way to also provide shelter in spare rooms around the city. I’m sure there are hundreds (even thousands) of residents willing to help: even if it’s just a bed and shower between the hours of dusk and dawn.

I’m still trying to find a web-developer to help with this, and to link up with any similar initiative. Can you help?

Or can you sponsor us?

Or can you connect me with anyone else doing this in Belgium, who needs support?

We don’t want to duplicate any efforts, but it would be great to get this under development in the days ahead. Tents are fine for now… but in the winter months, it will be a different story.

As I packed up to leave, I got to see the results of our efforts. One happy family installed.

It’s been a good day. I’m happy to be a part of this great city.




My afternoon with refugees in Brussels

It was particularly hard to part with my rucksack.  We had done the Camino and Vietnam together, like old friends.  But nostalgia apart, it was just going to spend the winter in storage, when it could be serving a family of refugees making their vulnerable way across Europe.

Rucksacks are highly prized by refugees; too valuable to be languishing in storage when the greatest humanitarian crisis to hit Europe for generations is unfolding outside my door. Rucksacks, jackets, shoes, razors, soap, painkillers… these are precious articles to a refugee.

So… I packed the car and made my way to Parc Maxmillian, where hundreds are camped near the centre of Brussels. After Germany, Belgium is a popular halting point on the “great northern way”. Just as tourists migrate southwards, refugees migrate northwards. A refugee Camino, if you like.

Perhaps I expected to be shocked, but in truth I spent one of the happiest afternoons of the year with these gentle Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian people. With some of my fellow Bruxellois, too: several NGOs had set up food stations and heaps of clothes and shoes had already by donated by kind-hearted citizens.  People like Lene and Marlene, two neighbours who had driven in from Leuven, their car laden with shoes, coats, jackets and a couple of sleeping bags.

I sat on the grass and chatted with Asis, a young Syrian whose little brother was asleep in his arms. His interview with the authorities is scheduled for tomorrow and he hopes to be in a “maison” by tomorrow night. I hope so, too… his little brother looks pale and exhausted. Did they need anything? No, thanks. If tomorrow goes well, they have all they need. His eyes expressed his gratitude… and his pride, too.

A woman started to photograph us while we chatted, but Asis anxiously waved her away. Why? Syrian security police scrutinise photos online and take revenge on remaining family in Syria. Wow. I resolved to be careful taking pictures in the camp.

What do they need? Painkillers, plasters, toothpaste, razors, warm jackets, rain-gear, tents, groundsheets. For now, there are plenty of clothes. But with more refugees expected the day after tomorrow, this could all change.

(See for the latest information.)

Asad, a young Iraqi was more upbeat and happy to be pictured. He’d made his way to Brussels from Baghdad and was full of praise for the welcome he had received in Belgium. Indeed, as we chatted, cars kept pulling up, their boots swiftly hoovered empty by eager hands.

The contents of these car-boots will all be needed. Every indication is that this is just the beginning; we expect thousands more in the months ahead. With four million Syrians (alone) now on the move, they have to go somewhere.

The response of my fellow citizens is wonderful. I feel proud to be living in a city that does not wait for its government, but goes right ahead and acts. Social media has empowered us all: for good causes and not just for selfies.

Nevertheless, I’m happy with my little selfie this afternoon with Asad. The crisis on our borders now has a name. My afternoon conversations with Asis and Asad make them real people, not just the “swarming horde of migrants” that fear-inducing politicians would have us believe.

It’s a privilege to be a part of Refugees Welcome. I was going to join an expensive health-club for the winter. But I’m having second thoughts. When my future grandchildren ask me some day what I did during Europe’s biggest humanitarian crisis, I don’t want to just say “I went the gym”.


If you know of any online service willing to match refugees in Belgium with homes willing to shelter them, please let me know (moc.l1534839303abolg1534839303-ocv@1534839303nhoj1534839303). There is in Germany and Iceland, but I cannot find one here. Nor in the UK. 

Are you a web-developer? Would you will willing to develop such an application? Similar to in Germany. Or would you be willing to sponsor such a development, together with me? Again, please let me know (moc.l1534839303abolg1534839303-ocv@1534839303nhoj1534839303).

If you’re searching for information on John Niland, speaker and sales coach, please visit his updated website below.You can also inquire with John directly at moc.l1534839303abolg1534839303-ocv@1534839303ofni1534839303

Copyright 2018 John Niland · RSS Feed

Website by Hanna Kuikka