Business

What Have You Learned Lately?

No one wants unhappy clients, but sometimes a client engagement that has gone wrong will teach you more than 10 client engagements that have gone right.

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•  Did you fail to charge enough for your services based on the amount of time it actually took you?

•  Were the performance milestones clear to you, but unclear for your client?

•  Did you take into account whether your timeline was dependent on actions that your client had to do?

•  Did your compensation structure allow for the possibility that your client might terminate the project early?

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These are just some of the common issues that arise for services professionals in ALL fields.  Consider whether any have happened to you and how you can take them as learning opportunities to improve your next client engagement! 

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Are Your Services S.M.A.R.T. ?

Are Your Services S.M.A.R.T.?


Let’s expand a little on last week’s post regarding how consultants and other professional services providers can help avoid the problem of being required to re-perform services without any additional compensation as a result of a poorly drafted client agreement.

While some types of projects do lend themselves to a more general description of the services to be provided, I have found over the last 20+ years that in most situations having a well-drafted statement of work leads to happier and more profitable client engagements.

How do you make sure your statement of work actually works?  Make sure it’s S.M.A.R.T:

* Specific

* Measurable

* Achievable

* Relevant

* Time Bound 

Even though the SMART acronym was first applied to goal setting, it is a great guide for your statement of work too.  

Here are some things to think about for your next client project:

SPECIFIC - What materials will you provide?  What materials will the client provide?  Will you attend meetings?  By telephone?  By Skype?  In person? Will you provide reports?  How many?

MEASURABLE - What is the definition of successful completion of your services? How many hours will you work?  How many tests will you run?  What are interim and final milestones? 

ACHIEVABLE - Are you promising an end-goal that you cannot control?  Does your performance hinge on the client (or a third party) taking certain actions?  

RELEVANT - Are the services tailored to the client’s specific needs?  Are you trying to describe too many different projects in the same SOW?  Should it be divided into multiple SOWs?

TIME BOUND - When you will start your work?  When will you complete your work?  Do you have interim milestone dates?

So be S.M.A.R.T. out there and Let’s Get Down to Business!

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Do Not Inadvertently Over-Promise in Your Client Engagements

As a professional services provider, or any entrepreneur or small business, it is essential to in fact always deliver more than expected if you want to develop, and retain, happy clients.

A common mistake that many professional services providers make, however, is to agree in their client engagement agreements to perform their services “to the client’s satisfaction.” It *seems* like a great idea - you *want* the client to be happy. Who doesn’t?

What you have really done though is to bind yourself to the potential for unlimited re-dos of your services at YOUR EXPENSE. Why? Because with the phrase “to the client’s satisfaction” you have not created any concrete, measurable milestones or goals that the successful completion of your services can be measured against.

Therefore, the client has *all* the power to say “I am not satisfied with the services/report/software/etc., please make this list of changes” as many times as they want.

One of the most important pieces of advice I give to every consultant or other services provider is that you MUST (truly, a non-negotiable) (1) have concrete, discrete and measurable milestones so that both you and your client know exactly what your obligations are, and/or (2) include a phrase along the lines of “If Client reasonably believes that the services are materially deficient, Service Provider shall do no more than X hours of re-performance of services at no additional cost. Any requests for re-performance of services in excess of X hours shall be at the rate of $Y per hour.”

This way both you AND the client have matching expectations - which is key to developing, and retaining, a happy client.

The End is Near!

The end of the year is coming - are you ready? As the end of the year approaches, companies should assess whether they have any existing contracts that are coming up for renewal.  In the rush to get new deals done by December 31st, it is easy to overlook a review of current agreements.

Contracts typically have 30-day (or longer) notice provisions to terminate in advance of renewal dates, so it is important to review them to determine whether you have (1) contracts that will automatically renew that you no longer need, or (2) expiring fixed term contracts that you need to extend. NOW is the time to make this assessment, and to either issue timely termination notices, or amendments to extend contracts which are expiring. 

As you do this assessment, if you don’t already have a contract management database, you may want to consider setting up at least a simple spreadsheet or other tracking method to note future renewal dates and termination notice provisions, especially for any agreements that may not be on a calendar year basis that you discover during your year end review.

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