Your Partnership with Us: Designing Communication

By Shabnam Gideon

Many new clients express frustration with poor communication from experiences with former consulting partners.

Some tell us about the positive impact of cooperative communication on interpersonal and business outcomes. Worst case scenario, some clients are altogether apprehensive of the whole “external firm dynamic.”

Focus Lab strives for proper communication with each client. For us, that begins with whether our clients share our same ideas and expectations. We think a lot about how clients receive what we say and do, which starts with how we understand them. We’ve employed several exercises (DISC assessments, stakeholder interviews, pre-scoping questionnaires, etc.) to help us develop that understanding. This provides insight into your communication style and particular touch points, thereby paving the way for success. The outcome of these exercises is knowledge that is indispensable to an effective and reciprocal working relationship.

As such, all your communication with Focus Lab is a purposeful, fairly tailored experience. But not in a scary or robotic way; in the same way you might talk about a concert with your friends differently than you do with your mother, or in a tweet. It’s just a fact of human conversation that we adjust to meet our audience.

So, what exactly does this look like when you work with us? Allow me to draw from interpersonal relationships a metaphor for your developing relationship with us. Shall we?

-Flirting stage. You shoot us a wink via email, or phone or our contact form. Based on how much your message communicates and whether there are any evident deal breakers, you get an emailed response from Will, our new business team leader.

-Vetting stage. This is when we start asking questions; in your case, that’ll be an email or two, and perhaps a phone call. We each ask: What are you looking for? Can I see myself spending time with you? Do we have common interests? If the stars align, we arrange to dig a little deeper, and we send you a comprehensive questionnaire that helps us roughly gauge the extent of your objectives.

-First date. We’d love to hear your voice, to have some open dialog in real life, and so Will gives you a call. He’ll get to know you, ask follow up questions from the questionnaire, and get an idea of your timeline and budget. He’s funny and smart. You’ll like him.

-Second date. Second dates make or break a relationship. This is where we lay it all out in the open. We call this Discovery. Given mutual agreement, we engage with you for a few weeks to better understand, document, and scope your project. You’ll work with me and, if your project includes branding, Summer, our brand strategist. This in-depth Q&A produces detailed recommendations and a proposal for moving forward.

-The proposal. Yes, we move pretty quickly. Now, having spent real time with you through video calls and emails, we make you a couple offers for your full project engagement. We tailor these to your various budgets, and give you the opportunity to respond.

-In a relationship! This is huge. We’ve agreed to engage for a period of time and now we’re all on the same team. We’re thrilled you’re with us! This is when we apply what we learned in the sales and discovery phases to communicate with you effectively and ensure relationship harmony.

-Meet the family. We’ll invite you to our first of weekly meetings, in which you’ll meet your project team and we’ll walk you through the project plan. We’ll also invite you to Basecamp, our PM communications solution. This is where we funnel all project-related messages and deliverables. You’ll hear from me and/or Charisse immediately and regularly. And you’ll have direct access to your strategists, designers, and/or developers.

-Weekly gifts. Every Friday, we post the work we’ve scheduled for the week to your Basecamp project for your review. We include a message describing the work and reminding you of the purpose and of next steps. This gives you the weekend to enjoy the goodies and get excited for our weekly date.

-Weekly dates. We meet weekly via teleconference for feedback on the previous deliverable, questions, design approval, and next steps. If your project is a lengthy one, we’ll provide phase-by-phase progress reports. These meetings allow us dedicated and uninterrupted face time and serve to ensure open communication and deepen the relationship.

-Friendly check-ins. Sometimes it’s nice to talk to someone outside of your primary relationship. For that we have Erik, Focus Lab co-founder and account manager. If at any time, you’d like third-party counsel, Erik is there for you.

-Procreation. Better yet: co-creation. Together, and because we set up such a solid foundation for understanding and communication, we eventually deliver and/or launch what was just an inkling a few weeks or months ago. It’s beautiful and perfect.


As part of project closing, we have a follow-up meeting with you to get and to give feedback. You’ll meet with me, and I’ll ask questions to expose the parts of the relationship that went well, and those that didn’t. We use your feedback to improve our processes; and every one of these calls has been useful to that end. I’ll also share our team’s feedback from working with you. It’s a two-way street and we’ll be honest about our experience. We’ll discuss potential follow up projects. We’ll remind you to reach out to us for assistance in taking your creation into the world, or if you need additional work down the road.

In a few months you’ll hear from us again. We want to know about your successes, to hear how your conversion rates have increased, and, if you’re willing, to get a testimonial from you about your experience with us.

And that, my friends, is our time-tested methodology towards fluid, functional, and enjoyable communication with our clients. We welcome feedback, thoughts, and the opportunity to give it a try with you.