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I'm about to branch out into taking on some contracts on the side. What would be some good questions to ask of a potential client during a first meeting?

I've thought of a few things that seem pretty obvious:

  • What is the project?
  • What are the deadlines?
  • What's the budget?
  • What/how do they want me to deliver the completed work?

Is that it, or are there any tricky things to watch out for?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 40 down vote accepted

Who is the client and what does he/she do?

Do the services they need mesh with what you offer?

Do they understand the type of services you offer?

Do they understand your rates (and not question them)?

What are they looking for in a provider?

Do they understand your work process?

What is their communication preference?

Are there any hurdles that will be difficult to overcome (i.e. separated by several time zones)?

Do they seem to respect you?

What type of reputation do they have?

What is their general availability?

Do they have a sense of humor or are they all business?

What type of project is it?

What is their budget?

What is the timeline for the project?

Who is the audience?

What are the goals/objectives of the project?

What are the deliverables that are expected?

What are the expectations in terms of responsiveness and meeting milestones?

What are the benefits expected from this project?

What is the background on the project (is it brand new, was it started previously)?

Does the client have preferences for the project that you should be aware of?

Will the client want regular status check-ins?

Will there be any training, follow-up or support necessary after the completion of the project?

Who will be your contact person?

Who is the decision-maker?

Who else will you be working with?

More here. As a bonus, here are some red flags to watch for.

Hope that helps.

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Specifications - be very firm about it. Ask them when the specification will be delivered. Unless you are doing general hourly work with no limits, you need to bid against the specification. Inform them that any change to the specification will result in a new quote to cover the changes.

This is not to be grumpy, but to save you from an uncommitted client who doesn't know what they want (or changes it frequently), and doesn't understand exactly what they are paying you for. If the client doesn't have a specification, feel free to offer to bill them hourly for helping write it.

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1  
I could not agree more. Think of the specification as a contract between you and your client that lets both parties know when you are done with the work. Without that explicit understanding, someone is going to be unhappy, and if your client is unhappy, you will be unhappy. –  Adam Crossland Jun 10 '10 at 18:56
    
and if you are unhappy, your client will be unhappy too –  KevinDTimm Jun 10 '10 at 19:01

Make certain that you get a definitive agreement on what is expected of you after completion, ie: bug fixes, updates, etc. These can come back to bite you as some companies will run back to you in three months with a whole list of changes and insist that they are covered under the original contract which means no money for extra work.

In short - define a very specific end to the contract.

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How will we communicate? If you are doing side work, as your question states, you will want to make very sure that your side work does not intrude into your primary job. Phrase it as a question to your client, so you can get an idea of what their expectations are and then immediately begin setting boundaries that they are not to cross. Give back a commitment to regular updates with a very proactive communication style. That ought to keep them happy without compromising your ethical commitments to your primary employer.

Best of luck, Anna.

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