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How to Make Sure Every Project is Good Fit Upfront

Have you ever had an introductory meeting with a client where you walked away feeling great about the project and then…

  • your proposal falls flat?
  • you get the job but the client’s expectations are totally unrealistic? 
  • you promise to do something that is outside of your comfort zone and ultimately can’t deliver? 

You are an expert in your field. You know all of the intricacies of what it takes to do the work. Sometimes that can hinder you in getting the information you need from your client and ensuring that they understand what the process will look like. You know too much, which can prevent you from asking the right questions and explaining things clearly. This can put you in the position of not fully understanding the scope of work, which can lead to unclear proposals, frustrated clients, and projects that set you up to fail. Do these five things so you and your client  are set up for success from the start. 

Develop a standard pre-contract process 

Intentionally create pre-contract questions ahead of time so that you ensure you get the information you need upfront. You’ll want to pair these with a standard description of your services. For both of these, have someone read them who knows nothing about your work to highlight areas where your expertise might be getting in the way. You’ll also be able to add to and adjust both your pre-contract questions and your services overview based on your interactions with clients. 

Design this process so that you’re basically writing your proposal as you go - asking them upfront for all of the information that will show that you understand what they need and can position yourself as the perfect fit for the job. 

Hear what your client wants

Notice that I said hear and not ask. You are the expert here. Your client might have an idea of what they want, but you are the person who knows what will actually help them achieve their goals and the right path to get there. As you go through your pre-contract questions make sure to push your clients on places where their answers aren’t thorough enough, they have unrealistic expectations, or are asking for things that won’t help them meet their goals. Your clients are going to respect your expertise more if you use it to guide them through the process as opposed to just saying yes to everything they ask. 

Check your assumptions

After each question reframe what you’ve heard to ensure that your familiarity with the work isn’t filling in the blanks for you. For example: 

You: How do you envision my role?

Client: I envision you as our lead on social media strategy ensuring that execution is happening and we are meeting our goals.

Reframe: It sounds like you’d like me to create the strategy and supervise the execution of that strategy as needed.

Client: Actually, I’m envisioning you crafting the strategy and then executing it from start to finish.

Find the intersection of ambitious and feasible

Part of being an entrepreneur is taking risks and trying new things. As a project strategist I often take on types of projects that I’ve never done before. Stretching and learning new things is part of what makes this kind of work exciting. I also have a replicable structure and a set of standards that ensures I always deliver on my promises and I never miss deadlines. You can promise your clients the sun and stars, but if you can’t deliver them, on time, then that promise never mattered in the first place. Being able to deliver starts at project initiation by ensuring that you are crystal clear with your clients about what they want and what is feasible, and crystal clear with yourself about what you can deliver, and by when. 

Don’t be afraid to say no

I’ve seen so many contractors get into a position where they couldn’t deliver what they said they would or on the timeline they promised because they didn’t push back upfront around what was possible, what actually aligned with their expertise, or what would help their clients achieve their goals. Always frame push back in terms of quality and results because that truly is the driver and something that is mutually important to both you and your client. Don’t hesitate to say no to part of a project or an entire contract if it isn’t a good fit. Agreeing to do things that are unrealistic or that you can’t actually do is only going to lead to unsatisfied clients and no repeat work. 

A wise man (my dad) once told me, "It is not how many times you say yes that will keep you in business, it is how many times you learn to say no."


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