Bookends: The Consultant's Secret Weapon


When working with clients, specifically client appointments, there is a habit I call bookending that increases my engagement and determines how effective my time with the client is going to be. And like bookends, this involves doing something before the appointment starts and something after the appointment ends. It doesn't matter whether you are meeting in the office, outside the office, or virtually. The practice can be adapted to each situation.

The front end of the bookending habit involves just 5 minutes before the appointment starts. If I am meeting a client somewhere I try to arrive 8-10 minutes early and complete the front bookend sitting in my car. If it's a video conference or phone call I stop what I'm doing 5 minutes before the start time.

What I do next is a combination of agenda review, mental rehearsal and pep talk. First, I look over the prepared agenda and make sure nothing has come up at the last minute that needs to be penciled in. There is usually something that pops into my head that isn't on the page.

Next, I think about the space I'm going to be walking into. Where am I going, who am I likely to see along the way. I remember or lookup the names of the receptionist or the sales manager or whomever I'm likely to run into.

Finally, I think about my client. I thank God for them and I tell myself how much I care for them. I think about how much I want what is best for them. I remind myself that their best interest is my first priority and my job is to pursue it enthusiastically.

This exercise does several things. It fully prepares me to do the work I've been hired to do. It helps me present myself and my company well, even to those that might not be directly involved in the engagement. And it puts me in a frame of mind to sincerely and enthusiastically serve my client.

The backside of the bookend is just as important. After I'm finished I crank up the car, turn on the air conditioning and settle in for 10-15 more minutes of serious work. This mindset is important. It's tempting to finish a long appointment, let your shoulders down and breath a deep breath while listening to music or checking email. It's even more tempting to rush off to the next thing on a busy day. But stay with me for a few more minutes. We aren't done yet.

First, I pull out my notes and go through them. I add detail, finish sentences, polish up diagrams and just make sure what has been captured on the page is reflective of what happened during the meeting.

Next I take any commitments or todo items that I committed to during the meeting and put them on my master todo list. And I take anything that the client has committed to and add it to Basecamp.

Last I pdf my notes into Evernote using Scanner Pro and update the Trello card where any project information is kept. I will also append any client handouts or other documents gathered during the meeting so that I know where to find them, and any references in my notes to handouts are easily accessible.

This usually takes about 10 minutes. And it's a great 10 minutes that makes sure nothing falls through the cracks. But about 50% of the time something else happens that drives my productivity through the roof.

It's not uncommon for me to finish that last step, look at some of my action items from the meeting and think "I can crank a few of these out right now." It might be email follow ups to other partners or team members. It might be updates to a forecast or KPI model. It might be tweaks to a database app or a dashboard. It might be setting up an appointment with one of the client's vendors to talk about getting something we need. And right there, in my truck, usually with an iPad propped up against the steering wheel I experience some of the most productive work I'll do all day. It isn't busy work. It is critical, must do stuff, that is as relevant in the moment as it's ever going to get. If you want to feel accomplished spend some time working from your client's parking lot. It's magic.

Bookending isn't so much a discipline as a habit. Once you stop forcing yourself to do it and just embrace it as the way you do things it becomes a powerful practice that makes you standout from all the other people your client will meet with throughout the week.