I was involved in a phone conference a while ago with a potential new partner. It was an interview of sorts. They were interviewing me and I was interviewing them - which is the way it should go when you are considering establishing a new business relationship. One of the questions they asked me was, "What are the characteristics of your favorite clients?"
Wow. What a great question! I didn't have to hesitate at all. In fact, I could immediately give an example of one of my favorite clients who happens to be a mutual acquaintance. Then I started to explain why that client ranks among my favorites.
Here are the characteristics of our favorite clients:
- They have a clear vision. I really love folks who come to me with a clear vision of who they are, where they are going, and even an idea of how they plan to get there. The conversation starts with a great idea they have to meet an identified need for their organization. They have already charted out their ideas and they have at least the beginnings of a solid program design already in place. Let's contrast this with people who come to me with a simple, "We need money" attitude. They usually have only the seed of an idea, if that. And they rarely have a vision. What they have is a desperation for cash. That rarely is enough to be successful securing grant funding, and it is almost never enough to successfully implement an effective program.
- They are very well-organized. In the grant writing process, there is a certain amount of data gathering that takes place. My favorite clients have excellent data systems and clearly understood responsibilities so it's easy to get the information we need quickly.
- They understand that they have an important role to play in the grant writing process. They do not expect that since they have hired a grant writer, they are off the hook. Not only do they know there will be some work for them to do, but they want to be involved in the process.
- They make time for their part in the grant writing process. My favorite clients make sure that, when we have am impending deadline, I am the call they take - no matter what. They allocate the time it takes to help me get the job done. And they don't complain about it.
- They assign a contact person to work with me directly on the project. My least favorite clients don't assign a single contact person; they want me to communicate directly with four or five high level administrators - all of whom are usually too busy to really focus on the project. A single contact person makes it easier on everyone.
- They are flexible. When we start a grant writing process, we establish a timeline. About half of the time, something happens to pull us off the timeline. Sometimes the client isn't able to get us all the data on time. Sometimes we have several projects going at once and we fall a day or two behind. of course, we always stay on track to meet the final deadline, but our favorite clients remain flexible and don't freak out if a draft shows up on Tuesday morning, rather than Monday afternoon - especially when the ultimate deadline is more than a week away.
- They treat us as professional partners in the project. While we are really good at the actual grant writing work, our favorite clients understand that our real value to them comes in our experience - as grant writers and experts in education and social services. They are respectful of our experience and our time.
- They have high expectations. This goes along with treating us as professionals. They expect good quality work and they are willing to call us out if we do not performs appropriately, for whatever reason (a rare occurrence). I have the utmost respect for those who expect excellence.
- They take care of the business side of our business arrangement. They do what it takes to get a contractual agreement written and approved. They ensure that we are paid in a timely manner. Conversely, our least favorite clients never have time to get the contract taken care of and, after the grant is submitted, they seem to forget that we did anything for them that requires payment.