Being an independent consultant or freelancer is extremely worthwhile; however, upfront project preparation and proactive client management during any project are keys to success. Unlike a corporate set up, there is no finance department to handle your salary, or a dedicated marketing team to tell you whom to reach out and offer your expertise to. These tasks become your responsibility when you decide to become your own boss. Amidst of all these responsibilities, one might end up overlooking something that is essential for the successful completion of a project.
Below is a check-list that every independent consultant must go over before signing up for a new project. From the pre-project phase to organizing the important aspects of your action plan, this list ensures that you learn and enhance your skills from every project that you take up.
1. Know the client and understand what the project demands
The first and the most crucial step to ensure success of the assignment is to understand what the client expects from you, the end result that the organization requires, and how the project will help them fulfil that requirement.
Know the Client — even a broad understanding will help you assess what you will contribute to through your work
- Client’s background — industry, products, size/scale, location, history
- The context in which the client is operating
- The department in which the client lead is working in and how that fits within the organisation
Know the Project — These will help you develop your work plan and set timelines for each task in the project
- Purpose of the project
- The end result required
- Other resources you might need during the project
- The time frame for delivery
2. Match your skill set with the project
Before going ahead with a project, make sure you possess the skills and have relevant experience required 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 realize halfway that you could fail.
- 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 part of the project you may struggle to complete — how can you mitigate this. Ask any questions about the project that would mitigate these
Before starting the project work
3. Clarify all details essential for execution
a. a detailed list of deliverables
b. timeline for completion of full project or timeline specific to phases
c. Compensation. To avoid conflicts related to fee charged by independent consultants, ensure that there is an agreement over the amount to be paid.
4. Contracting is essential
Since freelancers aren’t covered by the same laws that employees are, it becomes extremely important to have a formal contract in place covering all the important details such as scope of work, mode of payment, deadline for payments, professional liability, confidentiality etc. While it’s a common notion that contracting and ‘extra paperwork’ might drive away clients, be assured that a good client will always be happy to invest the additional time rather than deal with a confrontation later.
5. Agree on expectations, your availability and deadlines
The one reason why a lot of professionals turn to freelancing is because they like to have their own schedule in place rather than being bound by a 9–5 schedule. Ensure that your client knows about your availability (days and time) and for what duration.
Let them know
- any designated non working days or holidays
- any time of the day when you would not be available
- (when appropriate) that you like working evening or weekends
6. Set a mode of communication
A project might require you to work remotely or work out of the client’s office. Have clarity about how you and the client can be in touch and share information (e-mail, phone, collaboration tools like Slack, Skype). Also, in case the project is remote always try and do at least one initial meeting via Skype — for a face to face conversation is always different.
7. Clarity about commercials
Check with the client the basis and the nature of payment. 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? This is absolutely critical since this will allow you to plan your finances better in the face of irregular cash flows.