When you’re running your own studio, you might find yourself playing double duty as new biz lead and account manager. But watch out — the transition from sales pitch to project plan can trip up even the most talented creative entrepreneurs.
Here are six quick tips to make sure you’re setting your team up for a successful project, and establishing healthy boundaries at the onset of your new client relationship.
- After the scope is signed, set aside time to discuss it
Once the contract and scope of work are signed, dedicate an hour to going through each document line by line with your main point of contact on the client’s side. This is an easy step to skip, but a critical juncture to get some more information that might feel weird to ask about later on in the project, once work is off the ground. If the client team is small enough, this can be a worthwhile exercise to do as part of your initial kickoff meeting. Especially when a project is moving quickly, people can make a lot of assumptions about what a deliverable will look like, or what the process may be to get there. Take time to talk about each phase of the project to ensure there’s a shared vision for what success looks like.
- Ask about the number of stakeholders and their decision making process
Nobody wants a new cook to show up to the kitchen when the soup is already simmering! Make sure to have this conversation as early as possible with your clients. Who are the ones you’ll need to lobby for support, and who are the ultimate decision-makers? Who’s responsible for wrangling feedback and coaching their colleagues to a resolution when there are differing opinions? Is there someone who can veto a decision even if there’s consensus from the rest of the group? Document the process as it’s explained to you, and include this in your final project plan.
- Establish the best ways to communicate with one another
Is it better to have a standing meeting every week, or biweekly? In the event that quick feedback is needed, is email, Slack, or a phone call the easiest way to get in touch? Decide on a cadence for check-ins as well as the best format and tools for the team to use. Maybe action items and scheduling requests are best sent over email, while simple questions are easiest to resolve over text message. Everyone is different, and that’s okay! Just set some ground rules early.
- Make sure your client understands their role and responsibilities
Your clients are every much a part of your team as the folks who are creating deliverables for your project — but they might not see it that way. Be sure to outline every step in the process where their input will be needed to move forward. For example, providing background materials like research reports, marketing plans, or brand guidelines is a key step that they may need to complete before any work begins. They’ll also be required to not just deliver feedback in a timely manner to keep work on track, but to consolidate and prioritize stakeholder comments so that you’re not left to decipher which bits carry more weight than others. Familiarize yourself with red flags for bad clients — the earlier you spot them, the more likely you can course correct.
- Create a timeline that takes your client’s bandwidth and milestones into account
Are you working backwards from a launch date, a board meeting, or some other immovable milestone? Know these key dates early, so you can plan around them. If your client needs a full working week to provide feedback, rather than just a 1-2 business days, work this into your schedule so that the turnaround time is properly reflected in your process. If the project timeline is already aggressive, have a candid conversation about the commitment it’ll require from both sides in order to achieve the clients’ desired outcome.
- Have your client sign off on a detailed project plan, too
Even if you’ve built a reliable scope of work with a tool like Wethos, it’s always helpful to get your client’s signature on a more granular timeline that reflects the overall work process and responsibilities of each involved individual. Always be sure to include language about what happens when responsibilities are not fulfilled, and make sure your client understands the implications of delayed feedback or introducing a new stakeholder late in the game. It’s easier to issue a change order for another round of revisions, for example, if the client has already acknowledged that changes to the project plan may result in additional fees.
When running your own independent creative studio, it can be tempting to skip account management processes like these and get straight to the work itself. Taking time for serious talks up-front doesn’t just make you seem more confident and professional, it can make your projects more profitable and painless in the long run.