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What you should do at the end of every consulting project

Hey IC-Hubbers!

It's a Friday and I managed to finish my work early, so I felt inspired to write this action-orientated post to help you LEVEL-UP your consulting business!

And it's all about what independent international development and social impact professionals (freelancers, consultants, etc.) should do at the end of a consulting assignment.

No, I'm not talking about popping the champagne, although you definitely should try and celebrate all the wins along your impact consulting journey.

I'm talking about ensuring that you capitalise on that project to:

  1. Spread the love and recognise your client (publicity).

  2. Learn from the experience so you can improve (feedback).

  3. Use the project to get more projects (testimonials and referrals).

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1. Spread the love and recognise your client

Every project is an achievement. If the project itself went well, then you should take the time to recognise your own work and the work of your clients. If it didn't go well, then you have the chance to learn (see the next step); and to celebrate that it's finally over ;-).

After all, just as not every Beyoncé song reaches number 1 in the charts, not every one of our consulting projects is going to be a resounding success.

So, recognise the achievement!

How do you do this? We recommend writing a LinkedIn post upon project closure, in which you both communicate what you did and give due praise to your client. This not only helps you to show your network (including your potential clients and others who will refer you to potential clients) what services you provide, it also spreads the love and shines a light on your client (who doesn't like being congratulated and having their ego massaged?).

It can feel awkward just posting out of the blue, so ideally I do the post once the main project output is published. Here's an example from just a couple of weeks ago.

And you can tag the IC-Hub LinkedIn page in your celebratory LI posts so we can reshare and celebrate with you!

2. Learn from the experience

Improving at anything is about getting feedback, adapting behaviour, then getting more feedback.

As independent consultants, that coaching and feedback loop doesn't come as naturally and in as structured a way as it might in conventional employment, where one's boss generally has a clearer incentive to help you improve (hopefully!).

As independent consultants, we have to coach ourselves. One way that I do this is by having a project closure call at the end of each project. In it, I ask the client for feedback.

Now, you may need to push your client to provide full and frank (i.e. useful) feedback; as mentioned, they really don't have that much incentive to provide truly valuable feedback (from their perspective, if they liked your work, they'll offer you work again in the future. If they didn't, they probably won't).

Here are the main questions that I ask (I literally have this as a script in Evernote!).:

  1. How do you think the project went?

  2. Which aspects of the consultant's work did you like?

    1. Some aspects you may wish to consider are: quality of work/analysis/deliverables, client communication/responsiveness, alignment of work to agreed objectives, fees, etc.

  3. Which aspects of the consultant's work could be improved and how?

    1. Some aspects you may wish to consider are: quality of work/analysis/deliverables, client communication/responsiveness, alignment of work to agreed objectives, fees, etc.

  4. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you need consultancy support?

3. Use the project to get more projects

I heard someone say early on in my consulting career, "You get work through work".

It's so true.

For a viable independent consulting business, you only need a few regular clients. In fact, my main two clients today were my first two clients eight years ago.

Of course, a lot of that is about doing good work and hoping people refer you. But here's a tip that will help push that process along.

First, in your project closure call, make sure you ask that question 4 above. Normally, clients - especially large NGOs and UN agencies, in my experience - tend to look for consultants to start at short notice once they've had everything approved. But they might already have in mind their pipeline of consultant needs and by asking them that question 4, you can jog their brains to say, "Oh, actually, we have a project coming up in a couple of months if that would be of interest?".

Second, I always say at the end of the project closure call:

"Thank you for your feedback. Would you be willing to share a reference and testimonial? This will be a short paragraph that summarises some of the feedback you discussed today. It will appear on our website with your first initial, surname and organisation. If you agree, I will draft a couple of sentences based on the feedback you've shared today and send it to you for your approval."

I've never had a client refuse this request. Most people are kind and understand that as independent professionals, we need to tell people what we do and how good we are at doing it. Once you've got that testimonial, you can include it on your website (check out this article to see whether you need a website). Or find a place on your CV or LinkedIn.

Finally, I sometimes challenge the client to send a quick email to five of their colleagues or contacts referring me. I share with them a draft email to use, which introduces me and my expertise (the "elevator pitch" - students of our IC-Hub Start-up Incubator and IC-Hub Level-up Accelerator will know exactly what we mean here), along with my CV and contact details.

Build this system into each and every one of your projects and you'll hopefully be generating a steady stream of social impact work in no time!

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