E-commerce consultant Scient, for example, follows a four-step process: conceive, architect, engineer, and extend.
In other words, after the initial consultation, the company allows three to eight weeks for planning a strategy,
then it begins the project, going through phases of designing, building, and fine-tuning. Many consultants offer
similar guidelines, which can help projects stay on track by providing the client with clear benchmarks.
Sometimes a company knows it needs help but is sketchy on the details. "Companies come to us, and they don't
know what they need to do," says Agency.com's Peter Kestenbaum. "We have to ask questions like, 'What
does the support structure look like? What are the global aspects? What are the maintenance aspects?' " According
to Kestenbaum, an e-commerce site depends on the answers to these questions for its breadth and depth.
When talking to new clients, Matt Brocchini, a partner at Web site consulting firm Helium, tries to get them to
articulate their goals in human terms. "I try to get people to explain, without reference to technology, how
life is going to be different when we are done."
Some people choose niche consultants to serve as virtual handymen.
"We have become a general purpose, problem-solving SWAT team," Brocchini says. "When a client has
a problem with a lot of different dimensions, such as technical, design, user experience, and business considerations
that don't fit neatly into one group that can handle it, that's when they come to us."
For services that require a specific deliverable, such as a name, consultants charge on a per-project basis.
"There are about eight or nine steps to complete a project, but if we have to do only five steps, we'll charge
less," says Idiom's Frazier.
For example, the company creates a set of specific name objectives, meets with a creative team to brainstorm about
1,000 names, and narrows them down to a handful. Sometimes the client attends the brainstorming meetings, and other
times names are presented after the meeting. There are no guarantees that the client will like the name, but Frazier
doesn't worry much.
Still, he recognizes that there are some things even a top-notch consultant can't mend: "If you don't have
a good product or service, it doesn't make a difference how great the name is."