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Liaising with Clients: Getting it Right

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Whether a coder or a consultant, working life is made easier when you can deal with your clients efficiently and effectively. When faced with a project that seems to be hellbound, most of the time it is not a clash of personalities or competing priorities that is to blame, but communication difficulties. It doesn’t have to be so difficult; lay down some ground rules and you can get back to doing what you do best.

First things first, for a clear idea about what you’re supposed to be doing, it’s  a good idea to have a contract setting out the terms and conditions under which you’ll be operating. This makes it clear to both yourself and your client what you’re going to be doing, which means less confusion further down the road.  It’s also a useful step to take as it will force everyone involved to firm up the details of the project before it gets underway, including who is responsible for what and how things are going to get done, again making later disagreements less likely.

One of the easiest ways to lose control of a project is having to report to multiple multiple. Don’t do it; put your foot down and state that insist on one constant point of contact throughout the process. This doesn’t mean you’re going to refuse to answer emails from the managing director. Rather, any requests for changes or updates should come from one person, the project coordinator, if you will. If all your instructions are chanelled through just one person, there’s less chance that you’ll end up chopping and changing as different people put in their two cents.

To make the process as smooth as possible, make sure that your client is kept abreast of your progress on a regular basis. It could be something as simple as a weekly email to let them know that you have everything under control, or could be formal meetings to show that you have reached certain goals and are ready to move to the next stage of the project. For your own peace of mind, it’s a good idea to have a checklist of what needs to be done and roughly how long you anticipate each stage to take. It will keep you on track and make reporting back to your client far more simple.

Finally, despite good intentions on all sides, sometimes a project will simply fail to come together. In such circumstances, set a hard deadline after which you are either going to start charging extra or walk away from the whole thing. Make sure that this is in your contract; there is nothing more maddening than people who try to change terms once a project has begun.  While it may seem like you’re giving up, if you have reached this stage, it will either have become obvious to you that you cannot fulfil your contract or there have been so many changes made that the project is not the same one you signed up for.

You can make liasing with your clients a relatively straightforward process, or you can turn it into an exercise on a par with herding cats. It’s entirely up to you. Clear communication will minimise the cat herding elements. Be clear about the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved and working with your clients should be a breeze.

[Image by NatalieMaynor]

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