Back when I was working full-time as a direct practice social worker while building my consulting business on the side, I had two types of clients. The clients I had at my day job who wanted me to help them with tasks such as applying for Medicaid, finding housing, or accompanying them to their medical appointments. My business clients, on the other hand, were executive directors or program directors wanting assistance with facilitating a workshop, designing a program or evaluation, or implementing an evaluation. Two different types of color, two different sets of challenges and opportunities.
It didn’t matter whether the clients were either seeking services on their own or where coming to me by referral. The common thread with these clients was that, eventually, the relationship would end.
In social work and in other helping professions, there’s a process that takes place when working with a client:
Phase One: Engagement, Assessment, and Planning
Phase Two: Intervention and Goal Attainment
Phase Three: Evaluation and Termination
This process also takes place when you transition away from working one-on-one with individuals and begin working directly with nonprofits, community groups, and government agencies. Today, I’m focusing on Phase Three and how I’ve been applying it to how I reflect on the work I’ve done with my consulting clients.
Regardless of the length of time I’m contracted to work with a client, at the end of each relationship, I use this process. It’s very simple, and sometimes it’s more about quiet reflection, though I may write or type up how I’m feeling. I highly recommend using this process as it helps you to not only be reflective, but also be more strategic in how you choose your clients moving forward:
1) How did I feel about the overall project?
When a potential client fills out my client questionnaire , it gives me the chance to screen them before speaking with them face to face or by phone. It’s very encouraging when you’re contacted to gauge your interest in working for someone, and sometimes I’ve jumped at the chance to work with a client simply because I’ve always wanted to work with that group or organization. When a potential client tells you what they need and why they feel you’re the person for the job, it’s very flattering but I try to gauge my interest in working on the project based on my own interests, and if I can actually provide value to the client. Some questions to consider:
- How did I find out about this project, or how did the client find out about me? (Did the client contact me directly or was the client a referral?)
- Did I enjoy the focus of the project?
- Have I worked with this population before or did this project give me the opportunity to work with a new population?
- Did this project provide opportunities for me to learn new skills?
- Was this an opportunity for me to work with a group or person that I consider my ideal client?
2) How did I feel about my work/role within the project?
Some jobs are a piece of cake, while others may be more complex, for a variety of reasons (See #3 below). You can always go with the flow, but there may be some things you need in order to do a good job. Some questions to consider:
- Was I consistent in managing my work flow? (Did I feel on top of my deadlines, and did I communicate my next steps thoroughly?)
- Did I have access to everything I needed in order to do a good job? (Program documents, access to data and other important information, applications, access to staff and program participants, etc.)
- When I hit a shag, what did I do? (If the client suddenly needed something that I was unable to provide, could I learn to do it, or could I reach out to other colleagues that could offer insight?)
- Were there any circumstances that preventing me from submitting my deliverables on time?
- Did I feel confident and competent when facilitating or presenting in front of my client, staff, or stakeholders?
- Did I utilize new technology or strategies that I felt would be useful for the project (and how did the client respond to it?)
- Did my work scope change in any way? (Was I expected to do something, only to be given a new set of tasks that prolonged the project?)
3) How did I feel about working with the client?
Some things can be chopped up to circumstances occurring at the time, and with other things you can tell that this is how the client typically is. I had one client who was very passionate about the project and its success, but being micromanaged by the staff member associated with the project drained me to the point where I couldn’t wait for the project to end. Also, things you you didn’t mind at the beginning may become annoying later on. For example, I didn’t mind receiving and sending texts to client from my business cell phone when I first starting getting client work, but after a while I started to feel some type of way about it. I would create a new email to respond back to the client. In my on-boarding process, I now specify that clients email me directly and that I do not respond to texts. Some questions to consider:
- Did I have adequate access to the staff members associated with the project? (Was there an assigned staff person connected to the project, or multiple? Did I have to report to one person or several?)
- Were there any red flags at the beginning that I should have paid attention to? (Challenging my consulting fees or the terms of my contract, the client having no experience with working with a consultant)
- Did the client pay me on time?
- Was the communication between myself and the client engaging? (Could the client adequately communicate their needs, and could I understand them?)
- Was the client respectful of my time? (Clients sending emails at all times of day/night, scheduling multiple meetings, sending text messages when I prefer email or phone, feeling like I’m being micromanaged)
- Did anything occur within the organization that impacted the way the client interacted with me, and vice versa? (Major staff changes that impacted the flow of the project, emergencies in my personal life)
- Did the client allow me to fully bring in my expertise, or did they solely want me to complete tasks based on how they normally do things?
- If given the opportunity, would I work with this client again?
These questions are not only for reflection, but for the purposes of having clarity in the kinds of client work and relationships you want to have. For some clients, your responses to these questions will make you shy away from working with them again, and with others you may have liked the project or in working with the client, but there was a breakdown somewhere. If you want to work with a client again and there’s an opportunity to do so, take these three questions and have the client reflect on them from the client’s perspective, and see where your answers overlap or vary greatly. Use this as an opportunity to figure out how you can work with the client moving forward.
Or move on.
RAISE YOUR VOICE: How do you reflect after a client relationship ends? Share below in the comments section.