Why Top-Notch Soft Skills Are Vital for Software Consultants

February 7, 2020

Mike Cavaliere

people meeting in room
Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

We routinely get comments from our clients like this one (actual quote):

“I was just telling someone yesterday how much I’ve enjoyed working with Mike and Isaiah, and so has our developer, [name omitted]. They are doing good work, they communicate well, and they are personable. What more can you ask for, right? I’d love to chat with you about how you kick off projects internally though — I think we could learn from Echobind on that end, given how quickly the guys hit the ground running.”

- One of our many, beloved Echobind clients

This result is no accident. We look for excellent communication skills when hiring engineers, and we nurture it as a part of our company culture. It’s not enough to be a good coder at Echobind; you need to be a good communicator. You need to be empathetic to your clients. You need to keep their business goals in mind and adapt to their personalities.

Here are a few ways soft skills manifest in a better reputation for our company:

Clients don’t worry that they’re wasting their money.

Our people proactively communicate and don’t sit on their hands. If they’re blocked on a task, they escalate it; if no one can unblock them, they get moving on another. We’re not getting paid to sit around, nor are we the type of people that like to sit around. We’re builders, strategists, and product-focused technicians.

Our clients realize this soon after starting to work with us. Pretty quickly, they inevitably trust us in the same way they would a salaried member of their team. After all, they’re not paying us so that they can waste their time keeping tabs on us; they’re paying us to save them time and money by doing the engineering work they either don’t have the time, expertise or bandwidth for.

Clients thank you for preventing problems.

We’re always proactively thinking about their businesses and alerting them about the potential risks we see.

Sometimes we’re able to do this because we’ve got more knowledge in our respective domains (people often hire us because of our React and React Native experience, for example), so we notice problems that aren’t obvious to those with less expertise in said domains.

At other times, this is possible simply because we’re acting as another set of eyes that isn’t part of the same team day in day out. Regardless of why we proactively alert clients to potential future problems.

Maybe their software’s dependencies are out of date, which increases their tech debt and will haunt them in the future; perhaps it’s a foreboding security vulnerability or performance challenge that will come as they grow their codebase.

Whatever the case, our people don’t resist the urge to speak up and alert everyone about these challenges. Saving the client pain (either near or far) down the road is good karma all around.

Clients aren’t afraid to confide in you.

Clients and human beings in general, are more inclined to tell you things of a sensitive nature when they’re comfortable with you. Building a deep sense of trust with your client gives them the confidence to let you know what might be going on internally at their company, which can affect how you do your work. There might be an upcoming change of management, a pivot in technical direction, or anything that could affect the trajectory of your project.

Or maybe there are members of their team who are struggling silently, knowing this could help you as the consultant give that team member a bit of extra support. Good software consultants aren’t code monkeys; they’re outside engineers who become deeply embedded members of your team, even if just for a short time.

In summary, if you’re a software consultant or individual freelance engineer, make sure you’re thinking of the client, and getting them to enjoy working with you and talking to you. The benefits for both you and them are huge.

More about:

Mike Cavaliere

Mike Cavaliere is a Senior Engineering Strategist at Echobind. He’s been working with web and mobile software for two decades as an engineer, manager, and one-time CTO. He’s written dozens of articles, been on a number of podcasts, and authored a book entitled Cut into the Jamstack: Build and Deploy a Full-Stack Application Using React and Next.js. He’s a parent of two boys, loves travel, cocktails, comedy, and most music, with a special place in his heart for 1990’s hip-hop.