Expect the unexpected.
Clients express the help they need in different ways. Most describe it in terms of a solution, e.g. someone to facilitate a half day strategic session in 3 weeks. Rarely is the request phrased in terms of a problem that needs solving, e.g. we need to rethink our mission in light of declining membership or funding cuts. Or like a doctor treating a patient with localized pain, the pain may only be an excuse and the real issue is more serious or embarrassing.
Alternatively, your client may not have expertise in every field. They may self-diagnose an issue that you discover, because of your expertise, is actually a symptom of a deeper issue. For example, they may want help with spokesperson training without realizing they also do not have the foundation of a solid brand. They need someone with specific expertise to diagnose their challenges and triage the most important ones for them.
Here is an example: before I met a new client who asked for “marketing help”, I checked their website. Since it looked ok, I guessed that they needed help with other promotional items, like so many other small non-profits. When I arrived, I met a staff of 20 and sales of $5million. This was not a small non-profit which needed a rebrand. This was a large non-profit that was transitioning from “start-up” to “established” and needed help formalizing roles in their marketing department.
A project may end up being very different from what you initially thought. With ⅓ of my MAS clients, I do end up delivering what they originally asked for. But for the majority of clients, I end up uncovering way more issues that they initially asked me for.
by Graham Boyce and Lelia MacDonald