“Help! or “No, really, I need Help!

We start part 3 of working with a consultant after the first de-brief. 


You’ve signed the confidentiality agreement but for most organizations that just enables you to have a de-brief through which they give you a thorough download on the project. In the broad category there is the paperwork you owe the client and ultimately the paperwork they need you to complete and return.

The paperwork from the client falls into two categories:  legal and financial. They are related of course but are for two different purposes.


YOUR paperwork – the Proposal (or Scope of Work)

I can’t over stress the importance of the Proposal.  It serves as a guide for the project to:

  1. Outline what you need to complete for the project to be considered ‘done’
  2. Clarify if or why you may need to go over budget or need additional budget

I had a business law professor (during a graduate certificate program at NYU – underscoring why professors with real-world experience are so valuable) that effectively said to lay everything out in the contract. While this isn’t the contract it does lay out the scope of the project. It eliminates confusion, directs timelines, keeps you both on track.

Never never never think the client can remember discussions.  They can perhaps but make their life and your life easier by laying it completely out in the Proposal. I suggest it include the following:


  1. Company and department, clear title of project
  2. Background and scope of the project

Actual proposal

  1. Specific deliverables
  • this should consider collecting information, reviewing information, analyzing information, materials being revised by clients and then reviewed by committees at the company
  1. Timing
  • needs to consider when the project should be complete; review periods
  1. Expenses
  • For the work that I do, I always bill at actuals for any expense and provide examples such as phone, copies, materials, shipping, PowerPoint.
  • For car travel, I don’t charge for traditional back and forth to the client if they are within 45-60 minutes away. Longer than that you can come up with some expense but note that some client’s contracts may outline what you can charge for travel. You can go to a IRS website — https://www.irs.gov/uac/2017-standard-mileage-rates-for-business-and-medical-and-moving-announced to use its standard mileage reimbursement. Of course I always charge back tolls and parking. I always add that I assume no air or overnight travel. If that’s the case, the client’s company usually has guidelines on what they will reimburse. Larger clients may make the travel arrangements for you because of their policies so I never address it in the Proposal unless it’s a specific need outlined in the de-brief.


Consultant Tip:  Remember to include counsel if that’s a key factor in the kind of work you do. That means the periodic phone calls with the client and others, emails, looking things up for them. The best is to provide it per month but remember it should be outside of the project work – any counsel specific to a deliverable should be included in that.

Assuming the client is comfortable with the proposal, they can begin their paperwork.

CLIENT paperwork – Legal (Contract, General Services Agreement, Consulting Agreement)

Contract/General Services Agreement:  For large clients, it’s a contract or a general services agreement. These are lengthy documents, fairly traditional in what they cover and in scope. If it’s a large client, these are usually straightforward, almost nothing you can do to change them and unlikely you would need to change them. The things you can incorporate in the contract is the timeframe (I try to get it for 2 years but make sure you put a timeframe in it), and of course make clear the name of your company or your name.

Insurance:  The one thing they usually ask is about insurance you may have. I need only worker’s compensation (yes, even a sole proprietor needs this) and general liability insurance and often they ask for that to be in the M$1 range. Don’t worry – total for both is about K$1.5/year and you can deduct it as a business expense on your taxes. I suggest getting it because most large companies ask for it. I went to Hartford but most business insurance companies have this.  It’s very easy to do.  However, some consultants need more insurance so you need to find out the kind of insurance you need based on the kind of consulting you do. This article provides a nice overview of the key kinds of insurance you may need.  As I mentioned, I have only workers compensation and general liability but you may need more so look at it carefully. https://www.forbes.com/sites/thesba/2012/01/19/13-types-of-insurance-a-small-business-owner-should-have/#935abca20d39.

Consulting Agreement:  Agencies or smaller companies may use this and it’s often the combined legal and financial document. Assuming you are a consultant that does business with several organizations or companies – read this carefully. In fact, you may want to have a lawyer review this EVEN IF IT’S SHORT.  Here’s why – oftentimes I have seen consulting agreements be very very limited. They will have some kind of non-compete clause in there. Read this very carefully before signing. It may be very good and realistic but sometimes it isn’t. You should agree to not work on anything competitive at the time and you should not compete with an active client. That’s just good business smarts. However, sometimes (and I think this is inadvertent) a consulting agreement includes geographic restrictions, severe time restrictions, unrealistic restrictions that either you or they can’t really “do.” You have to be comfortable with it; with your status and experience as a consultant and the kind of work it is. If you’re unsure, have a lawyer review it. You can always reject the lawyer’s advice. Lastly, you can just keep the timeframe for the project to a minimum so that even if the restrictions are tight, it may be for only a specific amount of time.  I’m usually okay with at most six months after the project or relationship is completed but that is very unique to a specific job.  You have to be comfortable with it.

I won’t address how you budget because that’s a different topic.  However, a consulting agreement usually includes this because it serves two purposes from the client’s perspective. 

CLIENT paperwork – Financial

This is the task order and purchase order and usually this is for larger clients. Bottom line is that usually to get paid you need to have a purchase order (PO) number.  The PO is the general agreement and the task order is usually within the PO. Most times for me, they really are the same project.  But for some consultants, you may have a larger PO with individual tasks and that is when it becomes important to distinguish them. 

Client’s usually provide you the template for the Task Order and you fill that out based on the template.  Often, it’s cut and paste, which is why all the things you did in the Proposal are so helpful – you don’t have to create anything new here.  The client then proceeds on their paperwork and eventually (could be a month) you get a PO. Rules are usually that you need a PO before beginning work.

Finally – make sure all the timeframes in the documents align!  You can’t submit an invoice for a date that precedes the date of the General Services Agreement/Contract.

Getting Paid

How you and the client want the invoice is up to you.  I am pretty clear but that has to do with how I account for my time.  I try to submit an invoice every month, but many clients pay every 60 or 90 days. You have to fill out a W-9 someplace along the line and if you’re a company – you include your tax ID number; individual it’s your social security number.

Key – ask the administrative assistant at a large company how the invoice submission process works and abide by it.  While initially these systems can be challenging, when you do it correctly it’s easy to follow.  For one large client, I have this written out and saved in my computer.  There are steps, but if you follow them it’s painless.

 Managing the Project

 Projects are different; clients are different. What I find is the most important thing as a consultant is to be proactive versus reactive. The project doesn’t move forward until the client responds and/or reacts. In other words, if you haven’t heard from the client, call/email/text when appropriate time has passed.  PROACTIVE.

That’s it then – how to at least start working with a client and how to work with a consultant!