Help! or “No, really, I need Help!”

We start part 2 of working with a consultant after you’ve identified that you want to work with a consultant and you’re pretty sure you have the right consultant. Confidentiality agreement is signed and you’re ready to sit down and go over the project…

Project Overview -The First De-Brief

This is the thorough briefing that should provide the information to map out the situation. It’s better to do this in person primarily because the consultant gets a “view” of the client’s environment which will help in mapping out the scope of the project. The consultant also may have the opportunity to meet other important people in the client’s world – administrative assistant, co-workers, bosses, etc. I put administrative assistant first because this will be the person you will need to partner with for paperwork management and access clearance.

The very first de-brief meeting sets the stage for how a consultant is perceived at managing a project. So, if you have never worked with a specific client before, it’s important to understand this.


Consultant Tip:  Also helpful is understanding how offices, cubicles, meeting rooms, campus are organized. It gives you a sense of the complex world your client lives in and ultimately what and how you can help. Remember, often times clients work in silos, and I’ve literally said things like “the person 2 desks to your left has the contact list you need.”  Always see your client where they work – at least once. It’s a good idea to be there every now and then on a project though

The idea of a consultant is to help get a project done. So, I believe, they should try to make your life easier. Unless the Client wants it differently, I send invitations, I schedule calls. It ensures it gets done and it’s one less thing the Client needs to do. In the invitation, I try to be clear as to what is the purpose of the meeting or call. You want to ensure you use your Client’s time wisely.

I always try to copy the assistant on these initial meetings so that this person is kept in the loop. Scheduling time on a calendar is based on the constraints of the email system. So, whatever the timeframe for a meeting or call, I try to end it a few minutes early. The Client does appreciate it. Sometimes in the message I say the meeting call is likely to be less so that the Client also doesn’t feel like they’re being overwhelmed with questions. -send to most client’s and they appreciate the time.

Things the consultant needs to check before getting to the Client’s office.

  • Always have the assistant or the Client’s phone number on you in case you need to call when you arrive.
  • Do you need to be cleared through Visitor’s. If so, confirm at least 1 day ahead.
  • Is there a shuttle bus or do you walk, drive to the meeting location. Security usually helps you out with this, but you need to make sure you arrive in sufficient time to figure it out.
  • Then once in the correct building, you need to get to the meeting location
  • Bring your laptop and ask Security/Visitor’s Clearance if there is a Wi-Fi passcode for visitor’s. Even if you have your own, they have firewalls that can prevent your system from working.
  • Timing – -I always try to get to a location 15-20 minutes ahead of time – particularly for a new Client

Consultant Tip:  I use a backpack for my laptop and other materials. It’s also a backpack that can be opened for TSA so it’s very useful.  It’s easier to unpack and move around on shuttle buses, or even walking in a city with a backpack. I rarely use briefcases anymore.

Consultant is There – What Next

First things first. You need to take notes and you need a pen. I take written notes and have found (thanks to a media publicist) that a steno pad works best to keep notes by date. Bring 2 pens. Invariably one doesn’t work.

Consultants need to know that many Clients call you in because the scope of their work is overwhelming. They will present you the world around the whole situation or issue and often don’t clarify what exactly they need. That is the Consultant’s job. And it may be the most important job you have – to clarify exactly what the Client needs. That will determine if or how successful you are. You need to clarify it succinctly. I have found that most projects take less time to manage than the client thinks and that’s mostly because they are overwhelmed with many other projects.

As a consultant, what do you need to know:

  • Timelines, timelines TIMELINES. When is the whole project due and when are parts of it due?
  • Who is involved, who are the decision makers and influencers, who does your client need to work with and for whom – ask for names, roles, contact information
  • Who are the challenging people on the project and what are their expectations
  • Scope of Project — What does the client want of you on this project – counsel, writing, analysis, recommendations, managing the project (includes setting up for reviews and participating in reviews, meetings, etc.,)
  • What paperwork needs to be in place and WHO should you work with (usually the administrative assistant)
  • If appropriate – what does success look like to them. Not always a question you need to ask but sometimes you need to know “if this works, how do you picture it?”

You’ll need to get all the information, presentations, decks, etc., that your Client can provide. Don’t waste their time and say, “send me only…” because that means they have to review it!  Let them send what they can and you determine what’s important and valuable to the project. Remember, that’s why they’re hiring you.

Last item – Work Proposal

 Once you get the de-brief, you need to then begin to put the proposal together. Most important thing is to thank the Client for the work and let them know when you think you’ll get the proposal to them. Remember – Clients tend to need the work ‘yesterday,’ so while you need to put a good proposal together, you also need to do it quickly.

Next:  Getting that paperwork moving and managing the assignment (hoping you get it!)

 Please please please share your insights as well and maybe we can provide each other a “how to” guide on working with consultants.