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Immediately After: The 6 Steps to Take When You Win a Consulting Project

“Sunny day. Sweepin’ the clouds away.” These opening words to a classic TV theme song are an apt description of how we feel when a client says “Yes” to a project. (Extra points if you name the TV show.) The moment a prospect turns into a client is affirming, a vote of confidence, and a signal that we’ll soon engage in what we enjoy most: applying our experience, expertise and skills to help others succeed.

But the hours and days after you close a gig present a huge opportunity that is often squandered by consultants. Taking the right steps immediately will…

  • …make the rest of your project more enjoyable and less stressful.
  • …set you up for success/minimize the chance of the project going sideways.
  • …tee up the next project.
  • …provide fodder for brag letters to other consultants.

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With so many benefits on the line, let’s walk through the ABCs of kicking off a project.

Thank You Letter – Shoot this out within the hour. If you don’t already have a template for your thank-you letter, set one up now. Some of the hallmarks of a great thank-you letter:

  1. Reassure the client that they have made a great decision.
  2. Communicate excitement.
  3. Give them something to do.
  4. Outline the immediate next steps.

Project Portal – Set this up within the day and forward the login information. Some consultants use a service like Basecamp or specialized software for this. I’ve found these are usually overcomplicated and don’t get used by clients or consultants. Therefore, I’ve developed a very simple, effective portal that keeps the client informed and the project on track.

Feedback Loop – You’re familiar with the concept of working on your business vs. in it. The same holds true for projects. Work on your project and in it: be as diligent seeking feedback about the project as you are gathering information to achieve the objective.

Within the first couple of days, agree with the client on how and when you will regularly receive their assessment of how the project is faring.

Information Request – On virtually every project you’ll need additional information from your client. Equally important, clients perceive any activity, including their own, as an important sign the project is off to a good start. Customize your standard Information Request to fit the project and email it with the Project Portal login credentials.

Progress Tracker – Confirm the indicators of success and put mechanisms in place to measure progress. Forward this to the client within one week. Even qualitative indicators can be captured and tracked. A few of the benefits:

  1. Early warning signal if the project is off the tracks.
  2. Concrete evidence of progress makes for happy clients and strong testimonials.
  3. Scorecards are a huge boon when selling future projects.

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Fieldwork – The vast majority of projects offer a legitimate rationale for interviewing senior executives. Start scheduling those in week one, casting as wide a net as possible. Customers, vendors and competitors are also excellent targets. Why?

  1. Broader perception of activity.
  2. Better information leads to better results.
  3. Exposure to additional decision-makers with their own problems that… hey, you’re just the right resource to help them out!

Don’t let the first few days of a project be haphazard. Give yourself a checklist including the items above and whether you’re as grouchy as Oscar or as loveable as Kermit, everything will be A-OK.

What else do you (or should you) do within days of winning a new project? Please share your input below.


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10 Comments
  1. Jaime Campbell, CPA, MBA
    July 8, 2015 at 6:40 am Reply

    Within days of winning a new project, I always:

    (1) Get a retainer
    (2) Arrange calendar appointments with the client either for working sessions or check-in calls.
    The pair of actions balances out risk for the client.

    I also:
    (3) Share the good news with my team, which keeps morale high
    (4) If we have agreed to use a mutually available project tool like Basecamp or Asana, I set it up

    Depending on the size of the project and certain other factors, I also:
    (6) Place an order with one of my clients who is a gift basket vendor (“client retention specialist”) for a “Thank you for placing your trust in us!” / “Welcome to the Tier One Services family!” basket.

    • David A. Fields
      July 8, 2015 at 9:35 pm Reply

      I hope everyone reading noted that a reliable way to receive gift basket is to hire Jaime! Seriously, that’s a great list, Jaime. It mirrors mine in many respects and adds an internal, team component I had left out. Nice build.

  2. Welbeck
    July 8, 2015 at 7:10 am Reply

    Thanks David for these powerful highlights. Can you share more on the project portal which you developed?

    • David A. Fields
      July 8, 2015 at 9:37 pm Reply

      Re the portal: I received so many comments offline about my portal approach that I’ll put something together to address this. Perhaps a small package that includes all the pieces you need to set it up on your own site. When I get this assembled, I’ll definitely let you know.

  3. Niyi
    July 8, 2015 at 9:02 am Reply

    Feedback is very important. In the haste to deliver results, you might forget that the client wants to know what you are doing.

    Thanks for putting this together

    • David A. Fields
      July 8, 2015 at 9:40 pm Reply

      I agree 100%. That’s in part where the portal plays an important role and also your fieldwork. Even confirming a FARCI matrix with the client will help ensure your feedback loop is highly functioning. It also helps to remember that listening during and after the project are part of the business development process too. Thanks for highlighting the importance of communication back to the client.

  4. Jennifer
    July 8, 2015 at 7:47 pm Reply

    Hi David,
    Great insights and framework for a project kick-off. I will use this. I’m also interested in the simple portal you mentioned and how you created it.

    • David A. Fields
      July 8, 2015 at 9:41 pm Reply

      As I mentioned to Welbeck, I received so many comments offline about my portal approach that I’ll put something together to address this. I’ll make sure it works “down under” so you can adopt it too!

  5. Adam
    July 8, 2015 at 11:01 pm Reply

    Hi David, great article, thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to learn more about the client portal. I typically use Dropbox.com and create a client folder that I share with them so they have access to the latest deliverables that I’m working on. I have to ask, what’s a FARCI matrix?

    • David A. Fields
      July 9, 2015 at 9:26 am Reply

      Thanks for the kind words, Adam. FARCI, is a consulting-specific adaptation of an old, “decision rights” approach. I’ll quote from my book:

      One of the best frameworks for laying out decision rights on a project is the FARCI approach, in which decision points are mapped out in advance with five roles:

      • Final approves (F)– This is the one person (most often) or small group (rarely) who has the final say on any disputes that can not be handled by the designated approver(s).
      • Approves (A) – The person, or people authorized to make the decision (i.e., approve). If this is multiple people, or if a party can dispute the approver’s decision, a separate, final approver is necessary.
      • Recommends (R) – Those people inside your organization and/or on the consultant’s team who make a recommendation for the decision at hand.
      • Consulted (C) – Those people, inside and outside of the organization, whose input is sought, but who are not decision makers.
      • Informed (I) – People who are informed of the decision after it is made.

      FARCI takes the question of inclusion down to a tactical level, specifying who will be included in various decisions within the project.

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