In the current economic uncertainty ethnographic consultants are asked to intensify their client focus and to demonstrate and improve the relevancy and impact of their work. This paper reports on a case of close collaboration between client and consultant during an ethnographic consulting project. It discusses three crucial challenges: the challenge of aligning expectations and clarifying roles, the challenge of cultural differences and confusion over ethnographic methods, and the challenge of finding the right rhythm between close interaction and useful separation. Written from both the consultant and the client perspective we describe how similar situations were experienced differently by both parties, analyse what underlies some of these tensions, and suggest some lessons for ethnographers and clients alike for future close encounters. The paper suggests that the central challenge lies in finding the right balance between client-emic and client-etic positions and in inviting clients into the process of doing consulting ‘magic’.