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  • Writer's pictureCJ DiMaggio

Reading minds and making plans

Writing proposals is probably my least favorite part of consulting. So many times, I quickly get a sense of what a client needs and I’m eager to get to work for them.

But first I have to outline all my assumptions and show my strategy for how I’m going to get the work done. Then, of course, I have to give my client an estimate for what it will all cost, plus a schedule and maybe even a Gantt chart.

Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m back in school, preparing for a test. Except that I’m not being tested on how well I know the subject matter, but instead on how well I’m reading my client’s mind.

Many of my clients are new to due diligence or real estate development or market research. They have a vivid vision of what they’d like to accomplish, but they need help with the details. They may have never needed a business plan or an entitlement strategy before now, and they may never again. They need me to translate their vision into a format that others will understand. They need investors to lend them money, or they need elected officials to approve their plans.

Even though I’ve prepared dozens if not hundreds of similar studies, they expect theirs to be unique. Unprecedented. Novel. Scintillating.

Sometimes, I fall short. Even after asking them lots of questions to make sure I’m understanding their vision, they’ll get cold feet, or they’ll hire some other consultant who may have given them warmer assurances.

When that happens, I feel as though I’ve wasted my time. I look forlornly down at a proposal that took me hours to prepare but now will go nowhere and produce no revenue.

But then I catch myself and muster a smile. I realize that all that work wasn’t in vain and that I accomplished some very important things, after all.

I showed my client that I cared enough about them to take their project seriously.

But more than that, by putting all my assumptions in writing, I was able to focus on exactly what I knew and exactly what I didn’t: things like boundary conditions and unknown variables that can make or break a project down the road -- even a very good project.

And the next time around, I’ll be even more ready for the challenge, and wiser for the experience.

Good projects are made by good scoping. By putting together a good scope, a good schedule, and a good estimate, you can inoculate a project against costly changes later on.

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