Our transition from cosy full-time writerly employment to a precarious consulting model has been a wild-horseback ride, to say the least. We’ve done some really exciting work; we’ve also picked up quite a few lessons on life and work. Here are a few anecdotes from our travails: some of triumph; some of learning; but all of growth. This is where we’ve been; here’s where we are!
One of our customers asked us to review their API documentation. We went through the documentation carefully, editing it, enhancing it; we also made recommendations on additional information that customers may find useful. We submitted the updated version for review in about three weeks, compiling all our updates in a structured 150-page document. We felt we’d done a tremendous job reviewing the documentation, making it more structured, more comprehensive, more accurate, and grammatically flawless.
But our customer wasn’t delighted. Turns out she only wanted us to do a quick high-level review and point out things that were clearly missing. She expected it done in under a week. We’d taken longer, done much more than expected, and—what’s worse—charged much more than expected.
Our understanding of the term “review” was different from our customer’s; and we didn’t check. Had we clarified with the customer precisely what tasks she wanted us to complete as part of the review, maybe the outcome would’ve been more delightful.
Always ask the customer precisely what it is that she wants to get done, and how long she thinks the task should take. This may take two additional minutes of the customer’s time; but this clarity goes a long way in ensuring predictable billing, transparent expectations, and customer delight.