While being an independent consultant or freelancer is extremely rewarding, a key success factor is upfront project preparation and proactive client management during any project. There is no finance department then can handle your salary and office expenses, or marketing support to tell you whom to reach out and offer your professional expertise to. Similarly, there is no consulting ‘partner’ to shape the project and coach you through difficult times. These, and many other tasks that you never gave a second thought to as an employee, solely become your responsibility when you decide to become your own boss. It is but natural that somewhere in the midst of all these responsibilities one might end up overlooking something that is essential to the successful completion of a project.
To aid in this, we have compiled a check-list that every independent consultant should go over before starting a new project. It will help you plan the pre-project phase, organize the important aspects of your work plan, and ensure at the end you learn and enhance your skills from every project.
Pre project selection
1. Understand the client and the project
The first step to delivering a successful assignment is to understand what the client organization expects from you, what the goals of the organization are and how the project you’ll take on helps achieve those. Understanding the project and deliverables will help you judge whether or not it is in line with your skills and expertise and will also enable you to plan how you would like to accomplish the end goal.
Client context — even a broad understanding will help you gauge what you will contribute to through your work
- Client’s background — size/scale, industry, products, location, history
- What is the context in which the client is operating
- What department is the client lead working in and how does that department fit within the organization
Project context — These will help you plan your work and set time apart for individual tasks in the project
- What is the purpose of the project
- What is the end goal or main outputs required
- What other resources might you be collaborating with
- What is the time frame for delivery
2. Understand how your skill set matches the project
Before you decide to go ahead with a project, ensure that your skills and experiences are what are needed for it. Many people just focus on their strengths, but it is also necessary to understand your areas of weakness and possible mitigation — at a minimum you need to ensure you can actually do the project. It is much better to turn down a project than to discover halfway that you could fail and run the risk of negative feedback from the client.
Evaluate yourself on the basis of the following:
- List the technical skills that the client requires along with past examples that demonstrate your capability in those fields
- List the soft skills required for the project and how well you exhibit the same
- What components of the project are you concerned that you may struggle to complete — how can you mitigate this along with any questions or clarifications about the project that would mitigate these
Post project selection and pre project start
3. Clarity of details regarding execution of work
- A comprehensive list of project deliverables
- Timeline for project completion: In case the project has to be done in phases then timelines for every phase so that if the project exceeds the original timeline you can charge for it accordingly
- Budget: Often issues arise when it comes to fees charged by independent consultants. To avoid this later, ensure there is agreement over the amount to be paid and if this amount is fixed or variable based on time worked
4. Always, always have a contract in place
There can’t be enough stress on how important this is. Freelancers have a lot to lose if they don’t have a formal contract with the client or have one that doesn’t cover an important aspect since they aren’t covered by the same laws that employees are. Hence, it is necessary that a contract is in place and covers all the important details such as scope of work, mode of payment, deadline for payments, professional liability, confidentiality etc. Flexing It can help you estimate how much you should charge for a project here.
5. Align expectations on your availability and project deadlines
Most professionals who turn to freelancing do so because they prefer to work with their own schedules instead of being bound by a 9–5 schedule. Make sure your client knows when (days and time) you will be available and for what duration.
- any designated nonworking days
- any regular times of the day not available
- (when appropriate) that you like working evening or weekends
6. Set a mode of communication
Every project is different. One might require you to work out of the client’s office and for another, you might never meet the people you’re working with. Have clarity about how you and the client can be in contact and share information (e-mail, phone, collaboration tools like Slack, Skype). Also even if the project is remote always try and do at least one initial meeting via Skype — nothing beats a face to face connection.
7. Take care of the finances
Check with the client on what basis and how the payment will happen. Is it going to be a full amount at the end of the project or will it be percentages tied to the stage of project completion? Will your fees depend on the number of hours you put in or the quantum of work you deliver? How soon do you expect to receive the payment after raising the invoice? Clarifying these will help you gauge what monetary gain you can expect from the project.
We hope this helped, and do let us know tips or must-dos that you have seen work for you in your career.
Watch out for our next blog where we discuss good practices that independent consultants should follow during and after completion of a project in detail. Here’s a brief overview:
- Communicate problems, if any, with solutions
- It’s always better to communicate more than less
- Regularly update overall deliverable expectations
- Automate/outsource tasks
- Ask for feedback….and ask if the client would like feedback