The Art of Business: Recommending Projects to Your Client
Congratulations, you landed the client based on your stellar personality, a few well-turned phrases, and an impressive portfolio. Now it's time to develop and present your first full-fledged set of project recommendations.
How do you go about putting together a set of recommendations detailing potential courses of action? The answer in a nutshell is know your client, because what's right for one client may be wrong for another, even if they're in the same industry with the same goals.
Here are a few key client-related factors worth considering when putting together recommendations:
- Cost. You or your client may have fantastic ideas about what needs to be done, but are they affordable? Cost is usually the first bitter dose of reality that shapes a recommendation. Keep in mind, though, that cost is not your client's primary concern. The fact that they hired you in the first place is a clear indication that they're willing to pony up to get a job done. Your client's primary objective is getting value out of the cost. Therefore your proposal can include options that are out of bounds, financially, as long as they offer a clear value proposition and are balanced with options that are clearly within the cost parameters set. Regardless, include an accounting for value as well as cost with every option; Option A costs X amount of dollars, and these are the benefits you'll receive or pass up based upon your decision.
- Timing. The expression "need it yesterday" quite often doubles as a business plan for many companies. How quickly does your client have to get to market? Will it be at the expense of quality? Building market share? Rolling out an integrated marketing plan? Every company operates under the tyranny of time, and one of your tasks is to help your client balance time and quality. If you rush to get it done and it turns out poorly, only one thing is for certain -- you'll get blamed. Your job is to advocate, within reason, for as much time as it will take to do a good job.
- Client Interest and Resources. Some clients like to hand off a project and not see it again until it's done, others like to roll up their sleeves, and for better or for worse, jump right in. In your recommendations, take into account the scope of your client's interest and resources, including the time and inclination your client has for helping you complete the project. The company may have hired you precisely to rid it of one big headache. If that's the case, draft a recommendation for doing it all yourself or hiring outside help.
- Corporate Culture. Step back and take an honest look at the corporate (or personal) culture. Your most brilliant ideas may run counter to a very conservative culture and, hence, will meet with resentment, if not downright hostility. Conversely, your client may so love the avant-garde that anything that smacks of traditionalism will be quickly discounted. Shake up your clients with some boundary-stretching suggestions, but keep in mind the cultural parameters already in place. Often, they are unassailable and there's no use in trying.
- Corporate Politics. Ah, yes, the silent killer of great ideas: office politics. If your idea upsets the status quo in a company that idolizes status quo, it probably won't fly and you'll be considered an "outside agitator" (I love this title but it doesn't read well on a business card). If your recommendations bypass the input of a particularly overly controlling manager, your recommendations probably won't fly either. It's awfully difficult to assess the internal politics of a company, particularly when you're new to the environment. But a little sensitivity in this area can go a long way in helping you present recommendations that will be appreciated and most importantly, approved.
Okay, you've taken into account your clients needs, interest level, resources, financial position, organization culture, and internal politics. Now comes the hard part, building consensus.
I remember when my wife and I first started looking for a house. With each showing, our realtor was, of course, providing her recommendations. The first house of the day was a dazzler that we could never afford. Then she showed us a series of houses in our price range. She ended the day's tour by taking us to a dump that we could afford but would never want to buy.
I didn't understand her strategy then, but I do now. By showing us the mini-mansion, she was giving us a good dose of cost reality. By ending the day with the dump, she was helping us understand the true benefits of the middle-of-the-road houses we could truly afford. In essence, she helped us form a consensus by presenting two recommendations that were clearly not right for us. We bought a "charmer" at the end of a cul-de-sac.
You can use the very same strategy. And indeed, it's good advice to let your client choose from a menu of options, some of which may not be practical. Present your recommendations in a clear and coherent manner: the lowest cost, fastest completion time, highest quality. Lay out the costs and the benefits of each. Be passionate about your ideas, and don't be afraid to speak your mind. Be honest and frank. Keep clients involved in the decision making process.
And, then, let your clients make the final choice.
When your client owns the decision, they're invested in its success. And having your client on your side is the easiest way to get a job done well.
Read more by Eric J. Adams.