As I was starting my new practice, a friend referred me to a potential client that could have been a big fish for a young marketing business. He had warned me that this client could be difficult, but overall, it seemed like the kind of business I would want to promote. Upon meeting the client, I knew we were not going to work well together – our personalities, and more importantly, our approaches to business and marketing were not in sync.
The business, itself, seemed interesting enough. And with only a few clients in my portfolio, I decided I had to pursue this client. Despite my misgivings about working with this client, I worked up a proposal and prepared a presentation for the board of directors.
As new entrepreneurs, or even seasoned entrepreneurs in a slow season, we may fall prey to “any client” thinking. You know the thoughts: “Any client is better than no client,” or “Taking this client will help me pay the bills until I can get the type of clients I want.”
Despite insisting on a quick turnaround on the proposal, the day of the board presentation, the client called me and did everything possible to discourage me from taking the meeting. Eventually cancelling on me, we did agree to reschedule. Apparently, the board was told I flaked. A week later, I discovered the client hired a personal friend.
I had mixed emotions – disappointment of losing the potential financial gain and the challenge of the work, but mostly relief that I wasn’t going to have to deal with a difficult client. I moved on to find several opportunities that really suited me and my marketing style.
A few months later, one of the board members reached out to me to let me know that the friend didn’t work out, and they would love to talk to me again. I was able to say, “No, thank you,” with ease.
Most entrepreneurs I know have similar stories. Sometimes life intervenes for us and gives us time to gain perspective. Sometimes we have to go through the terrible client experience to learn our lesson. What if you had a process for intervening on your own behalf?
How do you avoid the trap of taking “any client?”
You know the entrepreneurial basics like having a cash reserve, but some of the softer skills may not always be as straightforward. Here are some to think through as you evaluate clients.
Know Your “Why”
Thanks to the critical Simon Sinek book, “Start with Why” is part of the entrepreneurs’ vernacular. Have you taken the time to develop your “Why?” What is your philosophy for your business? Why are you in business? What do you want to achieve with your business? To paraphrase Sinek, “If the client doesn’t match your ‘Why,’ don’t do business with them.”
Trust Your Gut
When you meet with someone, you likely have a feeling about them. You know whether or not they are someone with whom you want to be involved.
If you don’t feel a connection with a potential client, it will often lead to problems down the road. Having rapport with a potential client will make the working relationship easier. If you are approaching a problem with respect and trust, you will likely come to a solution that benefits everyone.
Remember you could be entering a long-term relationship with this client. You want to set it up for success!
Get Comfortable Saying “No”
For some of us, saying “no,” is easier than it is for others. For those of us who tend to be people pleasers, it’s a tough word to utter. Guilt for disappointing the other person, doubt that something else will come along, and lack of understanding from those close to us who think we’re making a mistake all weigh on us.
How do you say “no?”
- Take your time. Ask for time to consider the offer, and really weigh your pros and cons.
- Run the opportunity through your “Why.”
- Take heed of your gut. If you don’t feel right about it, don’t do it.
- Trust yourself. Only you know which clients are right for you and your business, not your employee or other clients.
- Stand firm. You were brave enough to start your business. You are strong enough to walk away from bad business to pursue the good!
During these COVID times, it may seem more difficult to turn down business. Remember these times won’t last forever. Don’t make critical business decisions based on fear.
In our next article, we’ll discuss how to use marketing to attract your ideal clients.