While we like to keep our clients happy, some of our biggest problems begin when our proposals are sidelined by changing priorities. We can also lose money before we realize what is happening. To keep your balance and stay the course in an unpredictable project environment, here are some useful strategies:
1. Ensure that a contract is in place that lists project tasks, time required, and amount to be paid. Make sure that your contract has a change clause so that if either you or your client requires a substantive change (such as adding focus groups, sites or tools) there is a quick and relatively easy way to make revisions. Both parties simply agree to the required changes, write them in, and sign.
2. Develop a Work Plan which expands on the original proposal and clarifies expectations. You can interview key informants, review additional documents, and finalize the tasks and schedule. If possible, get the steering committee as well as the client to sign off on the plan. This way everyone is in the loop.
3. On a monthly basis, provide a brief Status Report that lists project tasks along with their current status (complete, in progress, or not started). Add a quick descriptive paragraph about successes and emerging issues. Use the report as a deliverable for your milestone billing,
4. Follow up with a monthly conference call with the client. This provides an opportunity to confirm that your current assumptions about the project are correct. The conversation strengthens your communication links with your client and enhances project immediacy. It allows you both a chance to identify issues and find solutions.
5. Have a policy of no surprises. Make sure your clients know you feel this way and that being informed is as important to you as it is to them. Then as they deal with their own changing world, they may be more likely to keep you apprised as well.
Strategies such as these have many benefits. Most importantly, they allow you to scan the rough seas ahead, make course corrections, and stay responsive, all within the agreed-upon parameters of your proposal.
Gail V. Barrington
Originally published in the Independent Consulting TIG Newsletter, Volume 5, Issue 3. September 2014.
For more information on consulting topics see in Barrington, G. V. (2012). Consulting Start-up & Management: A Guide for Evaluators & Applied Researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE.