Consulting 101 Series: 5 Suggestions for Managing Client Emergencies

Client emergencies pull you away from the other projects that should have your focus and use up time you didn’t have to spare. These five suggestions can help you handle those emergencies without it taking a toll on the rest of your business.

Do you have too many client projects with distracting issues, causing you to lose focus? Are client emergencies leaving you frustrated and wanting to pull your hair out? Stop! Don’t do it…frustration and anger is not the answer.
What I have here are 5 ways to refocus and regroup and get you through the day and hopefully get you to the point where you can begin solving some of those nerve racking, emergency mode, show-stopping project issues or emergencies.

Be objective. It’s so easy when we get a bit flustered and are faced with what we may consider emergency situations to start letting other influences and inputs alter how we might normally react to a situation. Step back from the situation and don’t think about it in personal terms. Stop thinking about what might be your failure and start thinking about what you need to do to fix the problems at hand…no matter whose problems they are or what caused them.

Do not be reactive. Ok, we need to react to situations, to issues, to emergencies. But we can often react too quickly to try to “fix” something before it gets out of hand and in the process our “act without really thinking” rescue thinking can end up causing more problems. Think of those reactive emails you have sent that you wish you could get back 10 minutes later. You probably should have waited 24 hours to send that email. While we don’t often have 24 hours to react to a project or consulting emergency, thinking it through a bit and discussing it with a team, colleague, customer or other entity would likely lead to a better and more thoughtful reaction…and probably more successful, as well.

Control your emotions. This one sort of goes with the one above. Keep the emotions in check. Acting on emotions at that moment the emergency hits likely won’t lead to the best possible reaction to the new issues at hand. Breathe deeply and even walk away for a bit if you must. And remember that showing significant emotions in the heat of the moment will not breed confidence on your customer’s part in your ability to handle the situation.

Keep everything in proper perspective. Make sure you compartmentalize the problems at hand. I’ve been in those situations where if you don’t keep things in perspective, if you try to look at the vast mess that has become your consulting initiative, it would be enough to make you shove your laptop in the bag and run off for the latest car rental shop and drive to the coast. But you must keep it in perspective. Projects don’t kill people…people kill people. So if you can look at it for what it is and realize it’s “just a project” and not the end of the world, then you can get through it. And you’ll probably gain a lot of respect from the project client for your cool handling of the situation. You’re the expert…act like it.

Keep your number one focus on those things you can control and attempt to fix. Finally, know your limitations. You can’t always fix everything. That’s ok. You likely didn’t create the entire mess either. Every mess usually comes with a little help to make it worse. Focus on what’s important and critical today…this hour. Think about those wins you can acquire. Focus first on those…accomplish those…then move on to the next item. Don’t try to multi-task too much…not at all if you can avoid it. Multi-tasking is way overrated and often we end up with many lose ends at the end of the day instead of several fixes in place.


Consulting – especially in technical situations – is not really for the faint of heart. It can go well and you can be a superhero that your client calls back again and again. And sometimes it can go horribly wrong. It’s how we handle the worst of these situations that define us overall and those are the times we learn the most. My professional motto is “You’re only as successful as your last customer thinks you are…” Works for me. So take each situation as it comes and tackle those emergencies as calmly and cooly as possible. Watch your customer for confidence and frustration…you need to keep them going through these emergencies as well. The last thing you want it is to handle the situation so poorly that they have to call in help or even possibly remove you from the engagement altogether.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

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