Delivering consulting (or other services) projects takes a lot of work, and you always want your client to be happy at the end. However, many firms neglect a critical, implicit part of the project: keeping the client in the loop.
Imagine you hire someone to build a house. You go over detailed plans with the architect, answer lots of questions, and then leave the country for a while. You get a call saying the house is done, so you return. What are the chances that you’re happy with the house? (My friends who have built custom houses tell me it’s hard enough to get things right, even with constant oversight.)
So don’t go off into your own world and think you’re going to dazzle the client with your brilliance at the end. (The more brilliant you are, the easier it is to get sucked into this trap, because occasionally, you will, although even then, it often won’t be the kind of brilliance they wanted.) Keeping the client in the loop is important on 2 levels:
- Making sure you are doing the right stuff.
- Emotional reassurance for the client that you are doing the right stuff.
Don’t underestimate the second part. When the client feels good about the project all the way through, they will feel good at the end. If they are worried and nervous along the way, even if the measurable results are the same (which is unlikely, because the project will get off track), they will not feel as good. Then they will be less likely to hire you again, less likely to refer you.
Brennan Dunn has some great tips on how to do this over at Double Your Freelancing. I’ve found that busy executives often prefer an even shorter update, with clear next steps if they need to take any actions (often to get you access to people or resources that might be holding up the project), and I like keeping a running online document, combined with weekly emails.
How should you do this? Start during the sales cycle. You can suggest what has worked well in the past, as many clients aren’t prepared for this question, and ask how that would work for them. They may ask for more detailed reports, less frequency, more frequency, using their tools, etc. Do what is going to make them comfortable, even if it’s a little bit of overhead for you.
During the project, tie your weekly deliverable updates to the business goals of the project. Some clients will wonder why they don’t get these emails from their employees. 😉 And instead of going into the wrap up meeting hoping that it will go smoothly, you’ll already know.