Planning a contract and setting parameters

Creating a clear framework for a new client can avert the risk of promising to deliver too much, and trying to deliver the impossible. In some cases, your negotiations may even mean you decide to walk away from an unsuitable project.


When negotiating with a new client, it may be tempting to rush the initial process, particularly if you are new to consultancy and keen to take on the work. But it is vital not to take shortcuts that mean you begin the contract without a clear picture of what you are trying to achieve, and how you are going to deliver.


The first step is to design a needs template for the project, looking at what you feel the customer wants, what they don’t want, and what you can and cannot offer. Set all this out in writing before you meet the client for the initial meeting.


Vital statistics


It may help to have an aide memoire when you are making an assessment visit – particularly if you are new to working in this way. It’s an aspect of your OH training that you can draw on, and essentially it means getting a thorough understanding of the organisation, the number of employees, nature of work and overall culture.


Make sure the potential clients know enough about you. Give them a simple résumé detailing your experience and qualifications. There is a tendency to hide behind business cards and qualifications rather then telling people about track record and capacity. Provide as much information as possible. Offer to provide references from a recent client if possible.


Who holds the power?


You also need to find out how bureau­cratic the organisation’s processes are, and where the power base lies. Who makes the decisions? How complex is the decision-making process? And is it an entrepreneurial organi­sation, or one more rigidly hierarchical? Look at the market sector, and make sure you understand the context it operates in.


Ask simple questions such as – why did they contact you? How did they learn about you and why? Was it an Health and Safety Executive visit? Has there been an accident? And do they want to improve their OH service over time, or are they looking for a quick fix? All of these things will have an effect on the way you can work with them.


If they do want a quick fix, then talk this through with them. Will this work for the organisation?


Culture is relevant – you need to check that there is a budget for this communicating to employees about the proposed service. Get as detailed an understanding of the organisation as you can. Ask to see any relevant business plans, and look at where the money is coming from. Who is going to monitor this? Who is going to liaise with you? Where would you fit in?


Existing policies and procedures are also relevant. Does the organisation have good policies in place? Do they have employee handbooks and written procedures? If so, look at these.


It’s vital to look at what your role will be. Are they expecting you to work as a consultant, or are you being asked to deliver as well? In either case, you will need to assess work patterns, the age profile of staff and their ethnic background so that you know what form of delivery is most appropriate.


It’s your choice


An initial visit to the organisation is very useful. You can learn an awful lot from a walk-through – meet staff, ask about their work, see conditions for yourself. It’s particularly useful if you have experience of a wide number of different workplaces.


Remember that you have as much choice as the potential client about whether to take this forward. If you visit and don’t think you can take the contract on, say so. It’s very important to meet the people you are expected to work with, and to find out if you have a good rapport. Knowing your customer is the key here.


Don’t give rough estimates during the initial visit – wait until you have time to work this out properly. After the initial visit, create a plan of action, and packages of delivery. Can you offer the solutions they need? Do they have a good understanding of what you are proposing?


Ensure you also have very clear time lines and project planning in place. Setting goals is the key, but make sure you can stick to them. If it takes three or four weeks to draw up a proposal, stay in touch during that time. Don’t just disappear – keeping in touch is important.


If you have no clear idea of how long it will take to prepare the proposal, don’t over-promise at this stage. Take as much time as you need to work out exactly what you can deliver. Be sure to be as clear and transparent as possible about what you need from the client, as well as what they can expect from you.


Key points




  • Design a needs template for the project, looking at what you feel the customer wants, does not want, and what you can offer.


  • Give your potential client a simple résumé detailing your experience and qualifications.


  • Find out how bureaucratic the potential client’s processes are and where the power base lies understand the market sector and the context it operates in study relevant business plans and budgets, reporting lines and where would you fit in.


  • Assess the organisation’s policies, staff handbooks and written procedures.


  • Look at what your role will be, whether they expect you to work as a consultant or deliver services yourself.


  • Assess work patterns, the age profile of staff and their ethnic background.


  • Make an initial visit to the organisation and meet the people you are expected to work with.


  • Do not give rough estimates during the initial visit – wait until you have time to work this out properly.


  • After the initial visit, create a plan of action and packages of delivery. Ensure you have very clear time lines and project planning in place.


  • If it takes three or four weeks to draw up a proposal, stay in touch during that time.

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