The moment immediately after a prospect becomes a client your consulting project begins. Beginnings matter. Which is why the best practices to start your projects are discussed below.
Consider some famous beginnings:
“Four score and seven years ago…”**
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”**
“Call me Ishmael.”**
“Seems to me that button is in the worst possible spot.”**
People remember beginnings. They establish the tone for consulting projects, and communicate competence, collaboration, and direction (or lack thereof).
They’re also a critical inflection point
The moment your client agrees to work with you, his anxiety is like a full balloon on a helium tank’s nozzle— if you tie it off properly and quickly, everything will stay under control; otherwise it will shoot to the ceiling then spaz all over the place, knocking things off kilter and alarming people.
Of course beginnings aren’t really beginnings. Beginnings are the visible result of thought, planning, preparation, intent and experience.
The producers of Seinfeld considered, reconsidered, wrote, rewrote, rehearsed and taped the first scene more than once before we saw it.
Lincoln framed, reframed, drafted and edited the opening to his address multiple times while enjoying first-class travel to Gettysburg on the Acela.**
Thoughtfully construct your project beginnings in advance—well before you close consulting engagements. Below are 10 practices I currently follow:
1. Project Beginnings Plan
Your process for starting new consulting projects should be well documented. It’s part of your overall client-experience plan. You have one of those, right?
2. Congratulations Email
Within minutes of a client verbally approving an engagement, send out an email congratulating them on moving forward with the project and noting that your work together is going to provide great value. This immediate reassurance is important—it ties off the balloon at the moment of highest vulnerability.
3. Project Portal
How will you be keeping your client up to date on the project? I use a very simple project portal, which I set up the day the client gives verbal approval. Then I give login information for the portal in the kickoff letter.
4. Kickoff Letter
Within a day of receiving written approval, send a letter (I attach mine to an email) congratulating the client again on their smart decision and laying out any immediate information they need to know. This could include logistics of the project, immediate next steps, and so forth.
I typically include the Request for Information and login information for the Project Portal in this letter. (See below.)
5. Request for Information
You’ll need information from the client, right? Probably quite a lot of information. Send an organized, comprehensive checklist of information to the client within a day or two of receiving approval. That gets them moving on the project immediately and contributes to the sense of “dust flying.”
6. Internal Kickoff Draft
Your client may want to send a note to his organization letting them know about the work you’ll be doing. Sending a draft of that letter for your client to use is a nice touch.
Most consulting projects involve at least a few interview of client personnel. Start scheduling them the day after you send the kickoff letter. That’s more dust flying.
8. Implementation Plan
If your project involves multiple, involved steps, you may want to send a detailed implementation plan. I cover that plan in the kickoff meeting and include the major milestones in the project portal. Your implementation plan should include the progress trackers you’ll use to measure success.
9. Kickoff Meeting
If you’re working with a large team and/or on a large project, it’s useful to have an kickoff meeting on the phone or at the client’s site. You’ll usually schedule this within the first week or two. I often have a small meeting with the core team and a larger meeting with every stakeholder and person affected by the project.
10. Periodic Updates
In your portal, you’ll be providing periodic updates. As soon as the portal is working, set up your system for periodic updates. Remember, updates are a two-way street and you should regularly solicit your client’s feedback on the project.
Those 10 practices are what I use to start every project off on the right foot. What else do you do?
Text and images are © 2022 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.