Diagnose the problem

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.images-16

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.

Slide1A 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