Working with clients: part 2
In the second part of our series on working with clients, we focus on how to effectively manage your time and mitigate project ‘slippage’, as well as turning briefs into smaller, manageable deadlines.
All of these tips can also be applied to in-house projects and ensure smooth-working between departments and across the varying hierarchies.
1. Pitch your ideas with clarity and conscientiousness
Establish what the client is looking for and the intended deliverables, but be considerate if these ideas don’t translate to an achievable reality with the resources that are available, in terms of time and skill. If you have alternative ideas on how to achieve a great outcome and it differs from their outline; be conscientious of how you word this. Illustrate how a tweak to the proposal could achieve a better outcome for the project and emphasise how your ideas are based on, and a development of, their original vision. You do not want to tear apart their ideas in a pitch!
2. Acquaint yourself with a good project planner
There is no ‘one’ type of project planner or system that is necessarily superior to another. Pick one that works for you and use it to its full capacity. Put aside a portion of time each week for forward-planning of projects; this is also useful for flagging up potential deadline clashes in advance. The more you can keep your clients and in-house team briefed of all deliverable dates, the better.
3. Be realistic about what you can provide
It is easy to feel under pressure in a face to face client meeting to promise things which are not necessarily deliverable. If you find yourself facing tough questions ask if you can follow-up on that issue after the meeting, when you will be able to confirm available resources and capacity to meet their requests. If you agree to deliver something and realise it’s not possible half-way through the project, then you’ll have one unhappy client. Save yourself the hassle and go into any meeting with a clear outline of how much time and the kinds of skills and resources that are readily available (this is where the forward-planning becomes very important).
4. Hold regular in-house meetings with people on your team
If you have other people on your team working on the same project take 30 minutes each week to catch up on what each of you are doing, and assess if any resources can be pooled to achieve objectives. If you each end up talking to the client(s) on a separate basis, depending on what parts of the project you are delivering, you need some time to reconcile these various strands of info and ensure the team is functioning towards the same ends in tandem.
5. Break down any briefing you get into smaller, actionable tasks
You have a high-level goal, such as getting accounts ready for audit, but you can also create a separate plan that details the steps involved to achieve this task on deadline. Perhaps you will need to ask other departments for information, or set up meetings with key individuals – if you can flag up the potential elements that could be delayed by other people’s schedules, you can plan to tackle them first. Following projects in an entirely linear fashion can occasionally slow them down.
6. Plan in time for last-minute changes
Anything can happen during a project so try and build in an hour or two each week to allow for any deadline slippage or ‘back to the drawing-board’ moments. Advise your client that you will be doing this to ensure the overall deadline can be achieved, and so that they also know just how much time can be allocated to any amendments that appear last-minute or half-way through. It’s about managing expectation as well introducing a level of risk management.
7. Learn the client’s ethos
You should be aligned with the project goals as well as the overall ethos of the client, to help those values flow through their project. Show that you are engaged with their company and that you will produce work that matches with their own standards, whether that be strong ethical working or reliable data with integrity, for example.