Starting a consultation process- framing communication

My top tool for framing communication with clients and partners is Google docs.

I use Google docs from the very beginning of the consultation process.  The versioning feature makes it safe for the client to feel free to brainstorm.  The commenting feature makes it even safer to ask questions without feeling intrusive.  The iterative process makes it a real exercise in a new type of “active listening.”  And because it is shared online it can be asynchronous. (Though I do wish there was a better change notification process. :-/)

Even before we do a legal doc I now create a google doc of expectations of what we will address in the legal doc.

It also makes it much easier to do NDA’s when clients can more easily post their appendixes of exceptions to my standardized doc.

Often I start the process by creating the document and sharing with the people that will need to own the process. I start with an outline based on informational interviews we have had earlier.  Sometimes I even start the document during the meeting with the client, esp. if they are new to google docs.  I can explain the use of the tool in person and this really speeds up the process of educating them. 

One nice thing about starting with an outline is that it gives structure and frame without dominating the process.  It is much easier to add to a outline than it is to rewrite more detailed text that someone else has written.

I try at first to focus on goals.  This might just be because I am a natural negotiator but I believe if we understand the true intent of all parties the rest is flexible and can change through the iterative process. Here is the order I like to use:

  1. Client/partner stated goals
  2. My interpretation of our goals
  3. Group goals (interpretations of other maybe not directly involved in process eg customers)
  4. Evaluation of value of the goal (prioritization etc)
  5. Assessment of if achieved
  6. Metric of success
  7. Constraints
  8. Deadlines

I also typically create a basecamp project immediately.  I admit I don’t often keep it updated daily but it is a good place to organize, add and assign action items in a shared, visible way.

And this doesn’t necessarily belong in this discussion… but I also typically immediately make clients create their social media presences.

This means:

  1. Checking and getting domain names
  2. Twitter accounts
  3. Facebook page
  4. WordPress blog
  5. A designer for immediate branding :-)

I move fast because there are so many evil squatters out there.  I don’t know how many times I have been playing with a keyphrase and had some jerk decide that because I just tweeted it he should have it :-/  I am pretty sure that the process is automated at this point…