You have just delivered the final product to your client, and everything works perfectly. The customer is happy, and you’re happy. But does it end there?

In a project with a specific end, such as renovating a home, a builder works from a blueprint, completes the work, and the two parties then go their separate ways. In this example, there’s no need for direction or documentation on using the new staircase, windows, or light switches.

When a job in the technology field reaches completion, however, things are a little bit more confusing. A consultant can’t just walk away. It’s necessary to decide how much documentation to leave behind and how much support the client will need in the future.

This article will offer some tips on how to successfully close a client project. Bringing a project to a successful conclusion involves three factors—support, documentation, and education.

Is a consultant’s job ever really done? With ever-changing hardware and software trends and the introduction of e-business, it’s often difficult to draw the line when consulting for a customer. “When dealing with Web sites, there is a beginning but rarely an end,” said Alex Kahl of Kahl Consultants , a San Francisco Bay area firm that designs Web sites for small businesses.

Kahl also noted that Web sites always need to be upgraded, repaired, and improved. It would be an unwise career move to just end business relationships with clients and stifle future job opportunities.

Of course, continued support varies according to the job and the contractual agreement decided upon by both parties. Some clients want continued support and maintenance, while others just want a job completed. “We mandate that clients buy at least one to three months of maintenance after completion of a project,” said Terri Walter, management supervisor for Dentsu Communications, a Japanese-based consulting firm.

Inevitably, there will be questions posed to the consultant after the fact. If a contractor takes the money and runs without giving a client sufficient explanation and documentation, all fingers will point in his direction when problems arise. “Clients will not hesitate to throw your name out,” said Kahl.
Make everything you intend to deliver clear from the start using our project checklist.

  • Spell out what constitutes free and fee-based support in the contract.
  • Leave with the client sufficient documentation of the job you performed.
  • Communicate to the client any malfunctions or problems that may occur.
  • Educate your client as to all the work you do and all the fixes you make.
  • Never sever ties with a client.

Of course, documentation is also extremely important. It outlines all the work you did if there are any problems or questions in the future. Many companies hire multitudes of consultants at different times to do different things. Consultants do a job for a client and move on. You want to ensure that your work is well-documented so the client or the next consultant can continue their business without having to call you and ask a battery of detailed questions to which you can’t remember the answers. It also reduces the wasted time that would be incurred if you had to revisit a client site to resolve an issue. Sufficient documentation provides a safe and seamless way to move on to the next job.

On the other side of the coin, it’s ludicrous to think that you, the consultant, must give continued support to all clients over an extensive period of time. It may feel as if the questions and problems never stop. This is when you must be up front with your client about your services. “Set them up for what could happen,” Walter said. She suggests making clients aware of what constitutes free support, such as repair of malfunctions, answers to questions, and a certain level of education.

Education, though it may be limited, could be the most important thing that you give your client. KPMG Consulting has a theory when dealing with clients: Show them how to plan strategic business practices, don’t just hand them the plan. Explain to your clients what you are doing for them from the get-go.

“When you do a fix, show your clients what you did so they can fix it in the future,” said Kahl. This curbs repeat calls for the same problem, he explained.

“You always want to teach the client,” Walter said. “The more you impart that learning, the more they respect you and are willing to work with you in the future.”

Eventually, you have to cut your ties. Note, however, that cutting does not mean severing. The size of the client and the volume of business they give you may be a factor in how, when, and if you end your business dealings at all. However, letting a client go gradually is key to nailing down a good reputation and projects for the future.
How do you wrap up a project? Share with us your views and strategies on how to finish up client projects. Post a comment below or send us a note.