Note 1/1/2017: I’ve updated my client questionnaire. Take a peek here.
Starting off on the right footing with a potential client is important. I do this is by using potential client questionnaires: one for potential clients that are interested in my program evaluation consulting services and one for people who want to invite me to be a speaker for their event. Today, I’m going to focus on the questionnaire I’ve developed for individuals who are interested in my program evaluation consulting services.
A client questionnaire helps you get a snapshot of where your potential client currently is, what problem they’re hoping you can solve, and how they see themselves using the final product in the future. A client questionnaire also helps you to gain clarity on what the client needs, so as to avoid repeatedly going back to the client throughout the project to for more information.
I use a client questionnaire as a preliminary way of connecting with the client. Some people are good at responding to a request, getting on the phone, and taking it from there. I like to at least know a little about the organization/agency, their experience with working with external evaluators, and what programs or services they want me to assist with before I have contact with them.
I also use the client questionnaire as part of my client connecting phase before I start a project:
- Client questionnaire
- Phone conversation
- Face to face meeting (this can be done in person if the client in located near you, or over Skype, Google Hangout, and the like)
- If all goes well, review and sign contract
- Get to work
If you don’t have a client questionnaire, I highly recommend you create one. You don’t need any elaborate software. Mine was created using Google Docs. If you don’t know what questions to ask, here are the questions from my questionnaire. Feel free to use the questions that work best for you, and update it after every couple of clients to address any recurring issues you’re having:
Preliminary information: This can include the individual’s name, their role within the organization or agency, and a contact number to reach them.
Tell me about your evaluation project: From the client’s perspective, where do things currently stand with their evaluation project or evaluation tools, and how do they envision you helping them? Are they looking for you to lead an evaluation, help them revise their current tools so their staff can do the evaluation themselves? Figure out how your role will be shaped.
Who typically conducts your evaluations?: Does the organization typically utilize staff members (regardless of what role(s) they occupy at the organization)? Do they typically utilize external evaluators? Are volunteers helping? This question helps you to see if the organization has dedicated staff members that can lead an evaluation or if they prefer to hire out. Also, the answer can be indicative of several things, including size of the organization, budget constraints, or if they just want to take a more hands-on approach to learning about evaluation.
Based on your current programs or services, how has your staff incorporated evaluation activities in the organization’s work?: This question is important because it shows me that the organization at least utilizes evaluation activities. Some examples I give on my questionnaire include focus groups, surveys, in-depth interviews, pre and post tests, or observations. I also give the client the option of mentioning other activities they’ve done or would like to do.
Do you have prior experience with working with an external evaluator?: There are several factors that go into bringing on an external evaluator versus keeping it in-house. An external evaluator can bring on an unbiased perspective to a program or service compared to staff who are more intimately connected to it. Some funders or stakeholder can view an external evaluator as more credible. Also, an external evaluator may have a particular expertise that someone in-house may not have. For example, external evaluators are often exposed to a variety of programs and services from other organizations, different methods, and other practices that may be useful in an evaluation. This question also can bring up some concerns such as the cost of hiring an external evaluator, the time it’ll take to manage an evaluation if you’re not in-house, or if the evaluator can quickly acclimate to the culture of the organization or agency.
What sounds the most appealing to your current needs?:What do you expect for me to do?: I allow the client to select whatever they want. For this question, I have the following:
- Have an evaluator independently review your current evaluation tools and make recommendations for improvement
- Have an evaluator conduct an in-person training on evaluation activities and work together to determine the best tools based on your current programs/services
- Have an evaluator independently conduct evaluation activities for one or more of your programs/services
- Have an evaluator work with your staff to develop new evaluation tools specific to your programs/services
What do you typically use evaluation activities for? It’s important for me to know why an organization uses evaluation activities. It can be a variety of reasons, from reporting to funders, to staff improvement and accountability, to understanding the value of what their program or service is providing.
When do you expect this project to take place, and is there an expected deadline for completion?: Knowing how much time will be expected will help you plan around your other clients. This is also helpful in determining if you can realistically provide good work for the client.
After our work is done, do you anticipate any future project you’d like to work on?: This question leaves the door open for any future work with your client. It’s OK if the client isn’t sure right now if they want to work with you in the future.
How did you discover me? Is there someone in particular I should thank?: How did the client find out about you (by referral, social media, word of mouth)? I’ve come to find that many consultants get work based on the recommendation of someone else.
Your questionnaire is never set in stone. Once you see how you prefer to operate, you can always make revisions. One thing to note about a client questionnaire is that it needs to be short and to the point. That’s why I prefer to speak with a potential client after I receive the questionnaire. After I get a completed questionnaire, I start my research on the organization (which is highly recommended) to get a sense of its programs and services, as well as the overall spirit of the organization. It helps to know a little about the organization (and it makes you look better if you ask specific questions about their program or service). The phone call serves as the avenue to ask more in-depth questions.
While the questionnaire helps you to screen a potential client, the phone call will help you and the organization determine if you will be a good fit. As much as you’re screening the organization, always remember they’re screening you too.