Winning projects is what independent consultants concentrate on most, but sometimes how you wrap up your work with a client is just as important as how you start the conversation, especially if you hope to win client recommendations.
Best practices and tried and tested tips were revealed in Episode 287 of the Umbrex Unleashed podcast, featuring David A Fields, consultant and author of The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients.
Hosted by Will Bachman, the show finds its jumping off point thanks to a question from listener Caroline Taich, who asked for advice on the best way to end a long project. Let’s dive in.
Packaging the project files for handover
Most of the time, a project doesn’t end when our work on it is done. Consultants will, therefore, want to hand over the project documents in a concise and easily transferable manner so the client can continue to access and add to the project themselves.
- Start as you mean to go on and be sure to keep good “project hygiene” throughout the contract. This will make handing over and presenting the material all the more easy at the end.
- Create a folder in Dropbox, Google Drive, or something similar containing all the project files. Most importantly, this should be accompanied by a spreadsheet table of contents listing all the documents by file name, file type, and a short summary of the file content, with a link to the file.
- If possible, present the information in a way that makes it easy for the unit you worked with to present it to another team or even as a case study at a conference. “That creates visibility for your client, and it’s even better for us as consultants if we have a client presenting the work and crediting us than if we were presenting it ourselves,” says Bachman.
- Finally, be sure to align with your client on a clear and detailed action plan of what comes next. Prepare a one-page checklist for the lead client with key actions and milestones for your client to check in on the project’s progress and success.
Recommendations and referrals
Assuming your client is happy with the work, it’s never too early to get testimonials, says Fields.
However, asking for a testimonial upfront can lead to forced-sounding quotes. He suggests using the following template at any point during the project:
- “Can I get some feedback from you about how things are going so far? I’m going to write this down/record if that’s okay so I can share it with my team.”
- “What’s gone well so far?”
- “What would you like to have seen?” (This is not necessarily good for your testimonial but useful feedback, all the same)
- “What was of the absolute most value?” (You always want to leave the client with something positive in their mind)
- “Quick favor, do you mind if I take your words and use them as a testimonial?”
Once the project is over, Fields suggests asking one more question that “yields incredible testimonial content,” — a tactic Bachman jokingly refers to as, “The David A Fields Jedi mind trick.”
The magic question is:
“If you were talking to a colleague who was thinking about using us for a project like this but was kind of one the fence, what would you tell them and why?”
Maintaining relationships after a project
Consultants should never finish a project and think of it as over.
“My belief is that the foundation of consulting is relationships,” says Fields. “Relationships allow conversations, conversations lead to opportunities, opportunities lead to projects.” He says we should all strive to think of our clients as people rather than paychecks, and work to nurture and sustain relationships, whether they lead to more projects or not.
“If you build relationship wealth, the business will take care of itself.”
Here are some tips for how to do this when wrapping up a project:
- Schedule follow-up calls or meetings for three or six months down the line. Even if the project doesn’t require it, follow up on a more personal level just to see what’s new with your client. If you get this in the diary before you part ways, you don’t have to spend time arranging it later.
- Connect on LinkedIn with everyone you worked with, either when you first come into contact with them or at the end of a project. Also make an effort to like, or better still comment, on any content they share on social media. This gives both them and you more visibility.
- Ghostwrite an article about the project your client lead could publish
- Prepare slides your client can use to present the work to colleagues
- Add select clients to your holiday card list. This reminds them of you in what can be a quiet time for consultants and sends the message that the relationship is more than just professional.
Asking for introductions
If you know your client has some great contacts in their network, you’ll naturally want to be introduced. Although it can feel awkward, Fields says it’s all about your approach to generating new business from old contacts.
“It’s actually quite easy to ask for introductions as long as you have a sincere desire to meet people and be interested in them and not to sell to them,” he says.
Here are some approaches to try:
- “I know you’ve met a lot of people in your line of work. Who have you found most intriguing?”
- This is where having some form of personal content production, such as a podcast or a blog, pays off, as you can say you want to interview one of your client’s contacts. “If you’re offering something to them, there’s more reason for the person to make the introduction,” says Bachman.
- Bachman also suggests telling the client that you’re looking for some help/background on their contact’s particular field. “If it’s something specific, they may be more likely to respond,” he claims.
- Inspired by this idea, Fields encourages consultants to stand themselves in good stead by also helping others when requests are made. “Help people who need a hand, and right now that’s a lot of people,” he says.
Project completion checklist
As an additional resource, we’ve created this handy downloadable PDF Project Completion Checklist: