In Part 1 here, we talked about how to identify what could be a good project, why you might want to do a project for a company first (to try before you buy), and how to prepare to get the work.
In this post, we’ll talk about pitching the project, following up, and getting the work.
Pitching a project can take a little time, or it can be a major time investment. My suggestion is to start small and identify something that is relatively easy to do and will generate some immediate value to the client. A gap analysis or some kind of assessment can be an easy first project, providing you are confident you can identify some real value for the client.
Your first project will enable you to get to know them, and for them to get to know you. If you build rapport and demonstrate value, you may have the opportunity to pitch follow-on work.
Actually, that is frequently the big goal.
The first project may be small and may not be at your full rate. You may be OK eating some time doing research and learning about the company because you will be compensated for that investment with the next project.
Remember to always position the value the client will get and not your process. Yes, the client should know you will follow some sort of methodology, but that should be a small part of the pitch.
You will probably have to send a proposal. I like this short letter proposal format, which has been working like a charm for my clients.
If the prospect likes your proposal, you still may have to go in and do a presentation to other stakeholders – or to whoever controls the budget for the project.
This is the part where clients call me because they are pulling out their hair. They tell me the prospect was so excited and they said they wanted to start ASAP, but now they aren’t returning calls or emails.
As the consultant, you have probably gotten yourself all fired up about the project, started doing research, and fantasizing about what you’ll spend the money on.
However, it’s usually a case of hurry up and wait. They asked you to rush to send them a proposal, and you might have worked late into the night or over the weekend, but now it’s sitting on someone’s desk waiting for approval.
Or, they decided to get a few more bids.
All I can say is keep following up until you get an answer one way or another. If they say they’ll get back to you on Tuesday, it’s fine to check in Wednesday afternoon. If they say they’ll get back to you this week, send an email or call the following Tuesday. I never recommend people reach out on a Monday.
I hope you asked for some payment in advance of starting. This will vary depending on the length of the project. I try to get at least 25% and hopefully 50% in advance to cover preparation time, and to make sure they are the type of client who will actually pay their bills.
It’s important to identify the key players and personality types when you are doing a project. You will most likely need to get information from people or ask them to do things for you, but you are not their boss and they may not have a lot of incentive to help you.
Being polite and figuring out what drives them can make your life a lot easier, and your project more successful.
Remember to be diplomatic when you identify things that could be improved, or things that are clearly wrong or a mess. You may have to call their baby ugly, so think carefully before you speak or write.
Your first project (OK, all projects) will be a little bumpy. Nothing goes exactly as planned. People will miss deadlines, system access will be delayed, someone crucial will be on vacation – it’s all part of the process. Build in a cushion of time in your proposal because you will most likely need it.
Most of all, have fun! You may find that you love consulting. I know I do.