When you get a new client, there are a few steps you need to take before a project begins.
First, you need to define the project itself to figure out what the client wants and needs, and if you’re the right person for the job. Then, you’ll need to start building a contract (Professional Services Agreement) that solidifies the details and puts in the legal requirements of each party.
After that, it’s best practice to put together a project scope document that outlines key elements of the project’s aims, deliverables, constraints, and milestones or key performance indicators (KPIs). This way, people involved in the project don’t need to scour the contracts to find basic information.
So let’s take a look at each of those steps in detail.
Project definition and why it’s important
The project definition is the most basic requirement of any new client relationship—if you don’t know what they need, how are you going to do your job?
Usually, the potential client will open the conversation with some ideas of what they want to hire you to do. After the initial interaction, you can (and should) ask the client some clarifying questions, such as:
- What are the project objectives, and (if applicable) who is the intended audience?
- What are the required deliverables?
- What is the project budget?
- Are there any other constraints or limits to be aware of?
- Is the project recurring/ongoing or a one-off?
- When does the project need to be completed (if it’s a one-off)?
Making sure the client answers all of these types of questions is essential. You’ll need to know exactly what they want, if you have the resources or experience to take on the project, and to see if the client matches your business niche.
The main drawback of this back and forth is the amount of time it takes to move from opportunity to onboarding. Plus the time wasted if the potential client turns out not to be a good fit. So what can you do? Automate.
Automating the project definition
One of the simplest ways to introduce some automation in this process is to build an online form that asks the above questions. You can put the form on your website for potential clients to fill out to receive a quote or other tailored response.
Using a form this way helps you filter out some of the enquires that are obviously not a match (e.g. budget too low, wrong niche, deadline too close or far away). It also helps you go straight into the practical details instead of needing to clarify the surface-level information.
However, you can also automate the customer onboarding with Salesforce (using Cloud Coach). Using Cloud Coach allows you to have smooth handoffs from sales to project launch with a single click. The information collected from your sales/outreach team automatically ports over to a new project, where the next stages can begin.
Building a Professional Services Agreement
Once you’ve decided that you are able and willing to take on the new client, you’ll need to put a professional services agreement contract together before any work starts.
The contract legally binds you and your new client in a professional relationship, so you need to make sure you have the fine details set out to avoid any legal issues down the line.
In the professional services industry, there are two main types of contracts or agreements: fixed price and retainer structures.
Fixed price or retainer structure
The type of contract you choose to set up with a client depends on both their needs as well as yours as a business.
A fixed-price agreement is a type of contract where you agree to provide services or particular deliverable(s) for a pre-agreed fixed amount. This structure tends to work well for testing out new client relationships, or if your business running costs are stable the majority of the time. Though be wary of scope creep in these types of contracts.
A retainer structure on the other hand is a type of contract that sets up ongoing or recurring fees for the client. Think of it as a subscription. You charge your client the recurring retainer fee for agreed services but you’re then able to charge more for other billable services, like “add ons”.
While every client will have unique needs, most professional service businesses will have the same few sections of their contracts, including:
- The project scope, as gathered in the project definition phase.
- The deliverables and due date of them (or the frequency if applicable).
- Project budget or other compensation.
- Legal sections as required such as liability, confidentiality/NDAs, representations, licenses, indemnity, etc.
- Change order, or stipulations for any changes to the scope or legal paragraphs.
- Space for required signatures and dates.
Negotiating the points of your professional service agreement can be fine art. If you experience pushback or changes you don’t fully understand, it’s always worth having someone with legal expertise check the changes and look out for your interests.
While there will always be a human element to negotiating professional service agreements, there are some parts you can automate. One capability your PSA solution should have is templating.
For example, with Cloud Coach, you can create contract templates that help you speed up the process for future clients. You can have the same basic legal paragraphing, but tailor the project scope and client details.
Setting the project scope
You might think that since you’ve got the parts of your project scope detailed in your contractual agreement, you don’t need a separate document for the scope. However, having a simplified version of the project scope in an accessible document makes it easier to scan and check as the project goes on.
Having the simple project scope document allows you to see if you’re achieving what the client wants, double-check details like milestones and dates, as well as find key stakeholders and contact information.
Thankfully, this is another area where you can create a template, saving even more time.
As an example, a project scope template can be as simple as this:
By picking out the key information from the professional service agreement and making it easy to see, there is less chance of miscommunication.